Santa Rosa pickleball tournament organizers hope to show need for additional facilities

The pounding of highlighter yellow balls echoed the pickleball courts Saturday at Finley Community Park as hundreds of players gathered for a three-day tournament.

Part of the tournament’s mission was to convince decision makers that a large permanent pickleball complex is needed in Santa Rosa.

Around the pitches, players stretched or practiced volleying the ball with their partners while spectators wrapped in blankets watched the matches in progress.

Approximately 250 players have signed up to compete in the Wine Country “Pickleball for All” Fall Classic, the first tournament sanctioned by USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body, in North Bay.

The event, which began Friday and will continue through Sunday, was organized by local sports advocates who seek to grow pickleball in Sonoma County and show Santa Rosa that there is a need for additional pitches, said Adam MacKinnon, one of the organizers and three-time National. local pickleball champion and instructor.

Many players came from outside of Sonoma County, some from other communities in Northern California, Nevada, and even Hawaii. The multi-age event featured competitors as young as 12 and 13 years old.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 and is a hybrid of tennis and table tennis.

Often played in doubles, players using paddles somewhat larger than ping pong paddles take turns smashing plastic balls onto a low net on courts about half the size of a tennis court. tennis. The ball, which has holes, moves slower than a tennis ball, but the game is fast.

Pickleball has exploded in popularity since the mid-2010s and is the fastest growing sport in the country. It was billed as a collegiate sport and advocates are working to add it to future Olympics, MacKinnon said.

Even celebrities are investing in professional pickleball teams, he said.

Locally, defenders say their ranks number more than 1,000. But judicial space has not grown with demand.

There are four permanent courts at Finley Park and four at Howarth Park, said event co-organizer Linda Hoffman, official USA Pickleball Ambassador.

Pickleball advocates scored a victory last year when the Santa Rosa Community Services Board approved existing tennis courts in Finley for conversion into pickleball courts. There are now eight temporary courts that pickleball players share with tennis players.

“The decision to clear the Finley courts for pickleball was made due to the growing popularity of the sport and the demand for more people to play,” said City of Santa Rosa spokeswoman Kristi Buffo. . City officials were not immediately available for additional questions about whether the city plans to further expand access to the courts.

But the October vote came on the heels of tennis players who denounced the city’s decision to update the remaining tennis-only facility in that part of town and said the double strip of courts would be confusing. Shared courts were vandalized weeks after the vote after someone poured motor oil on the surface, while reserved tennis courts remained untouched.

MacKinnon and Hoffman lobbied Santa Rosa to invest in additional pickleball infrastructure and use a slice of Measure M parks and county recreation tax funds to build a dedicated complex.

“We don’t want to encroach on tennis,” MacKinnon said. “We want the region to realize that it’s a sport worth investing in, that it’s growing incredibly fast and that it deserves real infrastructure.”

Finley’s courts have no lights so they cannot be used after dusk and the permanent courts are adapted from tennis courts so they are not built to regulations, he said .

They want a complex with 24 to 36 courts to accommodate growing interest in the sport and additional tournaments, they said.

Places in the weekend tournament filled up quickly and organizers believe they could have probably had twice as many competitors had they had a larger facility.

MacKinnon started playing pickleball with her sons nine years ago after discovering they were too small to play tennis. The family remained faithful to the sport.

He hopes the tournament will show residents and the city that pickleball is worth investing in, he said.

“It’s so easy to pick up, cross-generational, and so much fun,” MacKinnon said. “It’s very competitive if that’s what you want or it’s social if that’s what you want.”

Hoffman said the city is open to working with defenders, but it’s a slow process.

Molly Pengel had to wait until Saturday morning to play as her match was delayed by a light drizzle which wet the courts.

Pengel, the official USA Pickleball ambassador at Rohnert Park, and a group of about 30 players from the nearby town traveled to Santa Rosa to support the tournament, she said.

Her sister introduced her to the sport five years ago and she quickly fell in love with it. She is now teaching others to play.

As many as 100 people come to play on weekends at Rohnert Park’s six permanent courts and six temporary courts, Pengel said, and more courts are needed across the county.

“It’s a great game,” she said, and encouraged others to try it. “Just know it’s addictive.”

You can reach editor Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or [email protected] On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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