By Scott Hammers / The Bulletin
Published May 25, 2014, at 12:01 a.m.
Members of the Bend Pickleball Club were at Pine Nursery Community Park on Saturday morning, playing the first matches on the Bend Park & Recreation District’s newly opened pickleball courts.
Located in the northeast corner of the park, between the fishing pond and the off-leash dog area, the eight-court complex is the first of its kind in Bend. The park district has a scattering of pickleball courts, or multipurpose courts that can be used for pickleball, at Larkspur, Ponderosa and Quail parks but lacked a place where several players could play at once, according to club member A.J. Fraties.
The shortage of courts has been a struggle, Fraties said, as the ranks of local pickleball players has swelled in recent years. Over the past three years, the list of active players maintained by the club has climbed from 16 to more than 600.
Fraties said unlike racquetball, which enjoyed a similar surge in popularity in the 1970s and ’80s before falling out of favor, he expects pickleball will be around for the long haul. Pickleball courts are cheaper to provide than those used for racquetball or tennis, he said, and the learning curve from never-played-before to competent novice is short.
“If you’ve played tennis, racquetball, badminton, any racket sport, all of those are almost instantly transferable to pickleball,” he said.
Played with solid paddles and a plastic whiffle ball on a court about half the size of a tennis court, pickleball includes elements from other racket sports, said club President Mike Holcomb, but places a premium on skill and finesse as opposed to power and athleticism.
Club member Sali Hurst had played tennis for 40 years before she was introduced to pickleball last year. She said she struggled to make the switch at first, but she hasn’t picked up her tennis racket since.
At the new courts Saturday, Hurst said the small court and the speed of the game have made it popular with seniors. Older players can be extremely competitive with much younger opponents, she said, as pickleball doesn’t require a great deal of running.
“Tennis, you have to cover so much more court,” she said. “Pickleball, you’ve just gotta have fast hands, quick hands.”
The courts at Pine Nursery are the first of several park district projects funded partially though a 2012 bond and partially through private contributions. Matt Mercer, the district’s director of recreation, said the pickleball club has picked up about half the roughly $220,000 to build the courts and surrounding landscaping and picnic facilities.
Under the partnership between the club and the park district, the club will be organizing play at the courts Mondays through Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Non-club members are welcome, Fraties said, but will be asked to make a $5 donation for a half day of play.
Mercer said the club will help meet the growing demand for organized play pitting players of equal skill against each other.
“If the pickleball club wasn’t equipped and ready to do this, we would be doing the same thing through parks and rec,” Mercer said.
Holcomb said as the sport grows, he expects the club will outgrow its current facility — another eight courts are included in the long-term plan for Pine Nursery Community Park — and pickleball will attract a wider audience.
“It’s not only for the young at heart, but for the young as well,” he said. “Gosh, it’s just a fun sport. It’s addicting.”
In a related video by KTVZ: http://www.ktvz.com/news/New-Bend-pickleball-courts-in-play/26168372