If you build it, they will play: New courts at Point Loma’s Barnes Tennis Center welcome pickleball players
But pickleball advocates who have proposed converting some tennis courts at the Peninsula Tennis Club in Ocean Beach say the 19 new pickleball courts coming to Barnes are just a small step toward a dedicated facility.
Pickleball players lined up for packed courts on a weekday evening isn’t unusual. But that scene at Barnes Tennis Center in Point Loma is something new.
The center primarily is busy with tennis from morning until early afternoon. But when the pickleballers come to play after their workdays are done, the courts are packed with 50 to 60 people, according to Todd Sprague, a Barnes board member and president of the nearby Peninsula Tennis Club.
There are now seven new pickleball courts at Barnes — with 12 more expected to be completed by mid-August.
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That might be considered good news in the San Diego pickleball community, where an increasing number of players have been looking for more places to go.
But the announcement of the Barnes pickleball courts caught Stefan Boyland, Mike Shinzaki and many other pickleball advocates off guard.
Boyland and Shinzaki, founders of the Pickleball Association of San Diego, have proposed repurposing six of the 12 tennis courts at the Peninsula Tennis Club at Robb Field in Ocean Beach into 20 dedicated pickleball courts until the city can build a new pickleball facility, which they estimate could take five to 10 years.
Two local advocates of the growing sport propose a regional pickleball facility with 25 to 50 courts at Robb Field. However, the city of San Diego says it ‘has no plans’ to do that.
They said they have been working with the San Diego Parks and Recreation Board — a volunteer advisory group — for years as a precursor to a long-awaited meeting with the city Parks & Recreation Department.
The news about Barnes “felt really rushed and secretive,” Shinzaki said. “It did not sit well with local residents. We would have preferred it if we had been included more in the collaboration.”
But to others in the racquet sports communities, the new courts are a victory, especially considering the demand for more pickleball facilities.
Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It uses a lightweight ball and a smaller court than tennis. The game can be played by singles or doubles, and each game lasts 15 to 25 minutes.
It has been described as one of the country’s fast-growing sports, but its popularity has become a problem. Like elsewhere in the United States, there are too many players and not enough courts.
One solution is to repaint tennis courts so both sports can be played on the same area. However, neither the tennis nor pickleball sides have been happy with adding lines.
Another solution is to convert little-used tennis courts into pickleball courts.
The Pickleball Association has advocated such a takeover of some of the tennis courts at Barnes Tennis Center and the Peninsula Tennis Club for years.
Barnes has long contended that it would be unable to accommodate additional pickleball players if it meant giving up any of its tennis courts, which it has said are in high demand by tennis players.
Peninsula has made similar assertions, saying tennis also is growing in popularity and that more courts are needed for it.
Tennis advocates — many of whom also play pickleball — have long stated that they shouldn’t be forced to turn over tennis courts to another sport.
In trying to provide more pickleball courts, San Diego has installed more than 60 indoor and 32 outdoor courts around the city.
Boyland and Shinzaki, however, say many of the new courts aren’t dedicated for pickleball only.
Shinzaki said the Pickleball Association proposal would fund and manage the temporary pickleball courts at the Peninsula Tennis Club and pay to return the courts to tennis after a new pickleball facility is built.
“And the city can decide who runs the future place,” Shinzaki said.
If the six courts — half the number at the club in Ocean Beach — are repurposed, PLHS tennis players and leaders fear they’ll have no place to go.
Tennis officials, however, say that proposal is unnecessary with the new courts at Barnes.
“I personally appreciate that Mike and Stefan have brought the need for pickleball facilities to the city,” Sprague said. “But they only had one solution, which was to take over existing tennis courts and convert them to pickleball.”
Sprague described Barnes’ solution as “supporting a much broader ecosystem” that includes tennis, pickleball and padel.
“We can’t lose any more tennis courts,” he said. “We were able to meet the need for more pickleball courts without taking away the viable and valid tennis courts.”
The first phase of construction took place in March and April, after padel players asked for more courts for that growing sport. Padel mixes tennis, pickleball and squash and is played on an enclosed court smaller than a doubles tennis court.
Sprague said the logical place to put new padel courts was on the center’s three old pickleball courts. Barnes agreed to that on condition that the padel players paid to relocate the pickleball courts to another spot on the property.
The move allowed the center to build four pickleball courts on space that wasn’t large enough for a tennis court.
In Phase 2, three new courts were added to another spot too small for a tennis court. That area was completed at the end of June.
Phase 3 should be completed in August, Sprague said. That work has moved part of the center’s parking to an open field so the existing lot could be repurposed for 12 pickleball courts.
Barnes officials said the key was figuring out a way to add pickleball courts without losing tennis courts.
“We can’t lose any more tennis courts. We were able to meet the need for more pickleball courts without taking away the viable and valid tennis courts.”
— Todd Sprague, Barnes Tennis Center board member
“This will enable us to run professional pickleball tournaments and host some really nice events,” Sprague said.
“Both padel and pickleball are on a pay-as-you-play, per-hour basis,” he said. He added that the additional income will be used for youth programs, starting with tennis and then expanding to pickleball and padel as more young players come on board.
As Sprague walked around the new courts, people could be heard laughing, running and hitting the ball.
“Ultimately, the players who use those courts are our people, and I’m happy the sport of pickleball can continue growing. So we will take it as a good first step and better than nothing.”
— Mike Shinzaki, Pickleball Association of San Diego
Victoria Alexander and Jeremy Watson, both from contractor Volo Sports, are helping to run the pickleball courts at Barnes.
Alexander, who is Volo’s national marketing manager, is a former college athlete and a relatively new pickleball player herself.
“We’ve noticed a lot of people have migrated over to pickleball from tennis or squash,” she said. “Often they just can’t play at a high level anymore and want something more low-key.”
Whether pickleballers have been playing for years or for the first time, Alexander said her job is to make sure they find the niche that’s right for them.
“We’re here for the pickleball community,” she said. “For people to be playing on top-notch courts and receiving top-notch feedback is really nice.”
“The players are enthusiastic and so positive,” he said. “The players comment that they are appreciative of having courts close by in such a clean, wonderful facility. The courts at Barnes are beautiful, and this is one of the new, premier pickleball facilities in San Diego.”
Watson, who plays and coaches both tennis and pickleball, said he believes players don’t have to choose one sport or the other.
“Barnes proves pickleball and tennis can coexist, and I’m not hearing about anyone being unhappy that the tennis courts are being left alone and new pickleball courts are being built,” he said. “We can all have fun and play all the sports.”
But Shinzaki and Boyland reiterated that the goal of the Pickleball Association of San Diego is to create dedicated pickleball facilities managed by the pickleball community.
“While we are proud that these are baby steps in the right direction, we don’t want city officials to mistakenly believe that the problem is resolved,” Boyland said. “It’s not just a matter of building pickleball courts en masse. We don’t want to be beholden to other sports.”
Shinzaki said he’s proud that pickleballers have come together to make their voices heard. Without that, he said, the extra courts would not have been built.
“Ultimately, the players who use those courts are our people, and I’m happy the sport of pickleball can continue growing,” Shinzaki said. “So we will take it as a good first step and better than nothing. ...
“But the work is only just beginning. San Diego is still without a dedicated pickleball facility, and that is what matters most to me.”
Barnes Tennis Center is at 4490 W. Point Loma Blvd. For more information, call (619) 221-9000 or visit barnestenniscenter.com or its Facebook page.