The history of Bend Pickleball Club is very much intertwined with the development of the Pine Nursery Park courts (see 2013, below). But initial discussions occurred in late 2010.
Note: While a small number of people gave the Club its start, a tremendous number of people are needed to keep it running. Membership dues are kept low thanks to income from tournaments, but it takes over 100 volunteers to host a successful event. Never forget that without these volunteers and the Bend Pickleball Club board members, the Club could not exist. Way too many members contributed to the Club over the years for us to list them here, but if you see them on or off the courts, please take a minute to thank them.
The following timeline was recapped in 2022 with thanks to A.J. Fraties, Lee Moore, Christie
Gestvang, Kirk Foster, and Brian Firebaugh. A special debt of gratitude is owed to Werner Zehnder, a patriarch of Bend pickleball, for his time, effort, and expertise in putting this history together.
A.J. and Irene Fraties, Roger and Karen Fellows, and Les and Lori Scott were “snowbirding” in Casa Grande, AZ, discussing the sad state of pickleball in Bend—no courts, no organization, no funds. They decided to form a club when they got back to Bend.
2011 – Founding
Back in Bend the above six players invited Lee and Verna Moore, Rip and Valarie Osterhuber, Lisa Palcic, and “Tumalo Ted” Keener to their first meeting on June 18 and formed Bend Pickleball Club (the “Club”). The Club elected A.J Fraties as the first President, Karen Fellows as Vice President, Irene as Secretary, and Lee Moore as Treasurer. Verna was Club Photographer. Topics covered at that time were by-laws, building the Club roster, identifying primary places to play, master play schedule, and media exposure. Dues were set at $50/year. While the Club was able to “secure” some court time at the Central Oregon Community College, Sequoia High School, and from the HOA at Mountain High, members still were looking for community tennis courts, cul-de-sacs, empty paved lots, and city parks for additional playing venues. Winter play started at the Bend Senior Center on two small, non-regulation courts. By the end of 2011 the Club had 63 members.
2012 – Places to Play
Things started to rock. The Club received permission to “officially” play at the tennis courts of Summit and Mountain View High Schools on Saturdays in the summer. The tennis players were not too keen about pickleballers intruding on “their” courts. The Club had to get liability insurance to cover play at venues. A storage facility was rented to house nets, balls, paddles, tape, etc. A large sum was spent on tape, yet the Club had achieved a balance of $1,446.31 as of June 21.
Roger and Irene assisted with lots of coaching and training. Irene and A.J. became Regional USAPA Ambassadors and did many presentations up and down the Central Oregon Corridor. Bend Pickleball Club members helped get pickleball started in Redmond, Sunriver, Sisters, and at COCC. The Racquet Shoppe (co-owned by Lisa Palcic and Sabrina Fefferman, now closed) started selling pickleball paddles and balls. Thanks to Sherry and David Shirley who scouted out the Boys and Girls Club facility and organized play there, members could enjoy indoor pickleball throughout the winter months. By the end of the year, the Club had nearly 100 members but still no courts to call home.
2013 – Partnership & Fundraising
Club members were determined to secure their own courts for play. A.J. had an initial meeting with Bend Park & Recreation District (BPRD) management. Thereafter, some 30 members attended a BPRD board meeting to explain that the Club would like BPRD to build us eight pickleball courts. Some of the board members had never heard of pickleball, and they wanted to build multi-sport courts in different parks in the city. Club members argued that we needed all eight dedicated pickleball courts in one place because pickleball is very social, and we wanted to hold tournaments. (Years later we were told that our group, wearing T-shirts specially made for the meeting, left quite an impression on the board!)
A.J. and Werner Zehnder had several meetings with BPRD leadership: Don Horton, Matt Mercer, and Michelle Healy. The Club committed to partnering with BPRD who gave us access to the land at Pine Nursery Park to build eight courts. But Bend Pickleball Club had to come up with $100,000 to pay the 50% share of the cost to build the courts.
A fundraising committee was formed, and all members immediately went to work. We started selling naming rights to the eight courts for $5,000 each and collected $40,000 right from the start. A fundraiser dinner, raffle, and silent auction at a private residence brought in $25,000. Christie Gestvang and Lisa Palcic co-directed a fundraiser pickleball tournament, and 166 players at Juniper Park made almost $5,000. A huge multi-day yard sale at the current site where the BPRD Pavilion is now located brought in another $10,000. Many Club members donated money in small and large amounts. Members also went begging; we approached businesses and private individuals. It was a huge team effort. You can see some of the original donor names on the plaque by the courts.
A.J. and Werner kept BPRD updated on our fund-raising progress and guaranteed the Club would have the necessary funds money by summer’s end and that BPRD needed to start hiring the contractors. BPRD’s Don, Matt, and Michelle could hardly believe it when we showed up with the check. Fortunately, they had trusted us and came through on their promise. On September 5th, 2013, we had a ground-breaking ceremony at the Pine Nursery Park. The eight courts were built over the winter while Club play at the Boys & Girls Club continued, using “Sign Up Genius,” the Club’s first reservation system.
2014 – New Courts!
The courts opened in May and were an immediate hit with Club members and the community. Bend Pickleball Club hosted the Oregon Senior Games under Tournament Director Christie Gestvang, who continues to be TD, we hope for many years to come. The Club had its first Big Country-sponsored Bend Pickleball Classic tournament under TD Anne Reynolds, also, we hope, for many years to come.
By the middle of summer, BPC had over 350 members and the courts were packed. The Club went back to BPRD asking for the same deal as before—to build another 8 courts. BPRD made it very clear that there was no money in their budget for pickleball in the next 5 years. That is when Club members Werner and Susan Zehnder came forward, built the next eight courts, and donated them to BPRD. The shed was built in the winter of 2014 with money donated by members, as well as participation by BPRD.
Mike Holcomb took over as Club President only to be transferred to Kazakhstan six months later. Thankfully, A.J. Fraties stepped up again and finished Mike’s term. Kirk Foster automated online membership registration through Wild Apricot, a system still used today. He also applied to the IRS for, and was granted, 501c 7 status for Bend Pickleball Club to operate as a non-profit social club. The lines at the Boys & Girls Club got painted, taking pressure off coordinators Sherie and David Shirley and saving money on tape.
2015 – More Courts, More Members
The second eight courts opened at Pine Nursery in May. The Club was able to enter into an agreement with BPRD to have access to 12 of the 16 courts, 6 days a week, Monday through Saturday, 7:00am-1:00pm. Four courts remained open to the public in the morning and all 16 courts became public courts in the afternoon/evening and on Sundays. Such a partnership between a club and a parks and recreation district is very unusual, but it was made possible because Club members helped build the courts at Pine Nursery Park.
Member count grows to 430, and Brian Firebaugh joins the board as Membership “Czar.” Oregon Senior Games and Big Country-sponsored Pacific Northwest Regional tournament were again held at Pine Nursery Park.
That fall, A.J., Werner, and Kirk Foster again met with BPRD management to explore building an indoor facility next to the Pine Nursery courts. The restriction and financial burden placed on the group of possible investors by BPRD made the project infeasible. Werner decided to move on and ultimately built the Pickleball Zone.
2016 – The Strength of Membership
VP Kirk Foster, who had joined the Club’s board in 2014, was elected President. The board grew from five to nine members to spread the workload as the club by now had 600 members. Oregon Senior Games and the Big Country Pacific Northwest Regional tournaments were again held at Pine Nursery. A Calcutta tournament was held and raised over $10,000 for the Adams family, friends of Bend Pickleball Club, who suffered a devasting car crash on Highway 97. For the first time, winter play starts at Bend Hoops with Kirk Foster in charge.
2017 – Pro Tours Begin
The original courts #1-8 were resurfaced. Pickleball Zone Bend held Pacific Northwest (PNW) Regional Tournament at Pine Nursery. The Professional Pickleball Federation (PPF) brought professional pickleball players to Bend to compete for more than $15,000 in prize money. (The PPF shortly thereafter went defunct and made room for the future APP and PPA Pro tours). Member count reaches 650. Winter play continues at Bend Hoops.
2018 – Tournament Heroes
Oregon Senior Games with 327 players were held in Bend. 468 players attended the Pickleball Zone’s Pacific Northwest USAPA Regional at Pine Nursery.
Tournaments would not happen without volunteers. Member Kathy Foster has corralled up to 120 volunteers for each of the Club’s tournaments since 2014—perhaps the most difficult job in any tournament. Likewise, Sandy and Terry Brown have trained referees for many years, getting them prepared for tournaments. Sandy and Terry have also manned the ref desk during all the past Club tournaments. Club membership reaches 760. Winter play moves to the Pickleball Zone.
2019 – New Leadership
The Central Oregon Classic replaced the Oregon Senior Games and had 279 players. The Pickleball Zone’s PNW Classic had 477 players during the 3-day tournament. Bill Brown is elected President, with Craig Poole as VP.
2020 – Pro Exhibition
The PNW Classic tournament was postponed due to Oregon limiting the number of participants at outdoor events during the Covid pandemic. APP hosted a Pro exhibition tournament at Pine Nursery featuring eight of the best pickleball professionals in the U.S.
2021 – CORE Rating System
Courts # 9-16 are resurfaced. Beaver Coaches Sales becomes new title sponsor for the PNW tournament, co-directed by Christie Gestvang and Kirk Foster. The tournament was part of the APP Pro Tour with prize money of $25,000. 775 participating amateur and pro players over 5 days made it the largest tournament in the Club’s history.
Bend Pickleball Club, Pickleball Zone Bend, and Widgi Creek Pickleball introduced a new rating system, the Central Oregon Rating Evaluation (CORE). During the pandemic Club membership skyrocketed to 925. The board decides to cap membership at 850 and not accept new members. Amazingly, annual dues are maintained at $50, just like the original dues in 2011.
President Bill Brown steps down and is replaced by interim Acting President Teri Ehntholt. Member count is down to 900 but with close to 300 players waitlisted. Challenges associated with getting board member volunteers moves the board to introduce tiered stipends; the unusually low membership fees are raised to cover the added expense.
The Beaver Coaches Sales-sponsored PNW tournament remains a 5-day tournament with a purse of $25,000.