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Two pickleball paddles, their handles crossed are upright against a concrete curb. The one on the left is in a blue, red, yellow and black case with the words 'paddleetek' and bantam EX-L; the one on the right is in a navy blue case with light blue circles all over it and the letter Z very large and the number 5 smaller.

Richmond pickleball players say they need more courts: ‘It has been a challenge for towns across the country.’

on October 23, 2023

Standing on either side of the portable nets, pickleball players swing their paddles, creating a “pop-pop-pop” symphony at Booker T. Anderson Park, the only outdoor place to play pickleball in Richmond.

Booker T. Anderson Park now features two permanent pickleball courts and four multi-use courts for both tennis and pickleball.

Since there are not many parks near BTA for residents, especially seniors and children, to enjoy, both the city and the neighborhood council agreed that sharing the courts for different types of sports would benefit the community by providing more options, said LaShonda White, deputy city manager of Community Services.

However, sharing courts can be challenging for pickleball players.

“We have to set up portable nets. Even on the ‘dedicated pickleball courts,’ the city of Richmond put tennis lines on it,” said Darlene Drapkin, president of the East Bay Pickleball Association. “We are all seniors, and it is heavy to pick these things up and move them around.”

Four pickleball players stand abreast, about 10 feet apart on a two tennis court that were converted for pickleball, with blue taped lines. The tennis nets are at their backs and behind them are two more converted courts with four players and at least three others standing, waiting to play.
Playing pickleball on a converted tennis court at Booker T. Anderson Jr. Park in Richmond (Yichong Qiu)

In early September, the city set up a schedule for court usage at BTA. It allows pickleball players to use tennis courts if tennis players do not show up. However, since there might be over 30 players on the courts, many pickleball players still need to wait in line to play a game. 

Richmond is not an outlier. As the sport surges in popularity, the nation’s 44,000 courts are in high demand.

“It has been a challenge for towns across the country in providing pickleball courts,” Melissa Zhang from USA Pickleball said. 

According to a 2023 Sports & Fitness Industry Association report, pickleball participation almost doubled in 2022 and increased by 159% over three years. The pickleball paddle market was estimated at $152.8 million in 2021 and is forecast to grow at an annual rate of about 7.7% through 2028.

However, there is a critical shortage of pickleball courts compared to tennis courts, said Carl Schmits, managing director of Facilities Development and Equipment Standards of USA Pickleball. With 23 million tennis players and 9 million pickleball players in the U.S., there should be 37 pickleball courts per 100 tennis courts, he said. Instead, USA Pickleball data shows about 17.6 pickleball courts per 100 tennis courts. 

In Richmond, there are 22 tennis courts and two dedicated pickleball courts.

A sheet of laminated paper is zip-tied to a chain-link fensce with a tennis court slightly visible behind it. The sheet says "Booker T. Anderson Jr. Multi-Use court schedule" and lists Mondays to Sundays vertically. Under tennis, the court schedule is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The next column is for pickleball where courts are available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday, though four six hours every day, only multi-use courts are available.
Multi-use courts schedule for tennis and pickleball at Booker T. Anderson Jr. Park (Yichong Qiu)

Cathy Taruskin, the vice president of the East Bay Pickleball Association, said pickleball players tend to play four to six times a week compared with tennis players, who often play once or twice a week. She is confident pickleball players won’t waste any resources provided by the city. 

“We don’t need to tell the government what to do. We are just showing them that there is a big interest,” added Kaeleen Costa who plays three times a week at BTA. 

A common criticism is that pickleball, with its high-pitched pop-pop-pop sound, annoys people who live around the courts. That is not true for everyone.

“They are great, I love them using the courts and enjoying themselves,” said Karla Suomala, who has lived right across the street from the courts for nine years. 

White said the city’s Recreation Department is looking at various places to put more multi-use and dedicated pickleball courts. Also, the PB Development Group hopes to build 16 indoor pickleball courts, with water sports, a pro shop, restaurant and bar in Craneway Pavilion at Marina Bay. 

The proposal was initially shot down by the California State Lands Commission, which said in a July letter to the city posted by former Mayor Tom Butt, that it did not conform to a 2004 agreement between Richmond and the state requiring development at Craneway to be related to the waterfront and open to the public. 

Hong said the group has clarified and resubmitted paperwork and expects to have the courts available for the public in January. 

People of Richmond: What is your favorite park?

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