By Carri Young, BTB Associate
As tennis sees a revival and pickleball grows in stature and court usage through Covid and 2021, it’s important to maintain an objective viewpoint. A recent article has discussed the exponential growth of pickleball. Yes, the sport is growing, and it is affecting the time that a racquets department has to allocate to various sports. But more than replacing court time and tennis, it is adding to the burden of a racquets department.
Years ago it was more simple. Croquet and tennis went hand-in-hand. Only a few clubs still sport that simple combination. The Hillsborough Club just outside Ft Lauderdale, Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound, Florida, and a few others can claim that old-fashioned sporting combination for a Racquets Director to oversee. But, now we have not only have pickleball on the court reservation sheets, but in some instances platform tennis, padel, and a few pop tennis offerings.
Given that we, here at BTB, advise and manage clubs with multiple racquet sports, it’s imperative that any Racquets or Tennis Director realize that any number of hours on court inhibits them from providing a first-class service to members. And as we watch pickleball growth carefully, we are watching those off-court hours being spread even more widely across even more diverse sports.
Members and boards may argue. It is true, that unlike squash or racquets, pickleball is replacing space in many instances that tennis courts had once occupied. One of our podcast guests, Jennifer Gelhaus, sadly asks why is it that pickleball always is seen as a “replacement” for tennis. Squash is not seen as such and either should be pickleball. But the fact is that many courts are being converted or modified to include pickleball. Boards will say that if pickleball simply takes the same space as tennis partially did, the demand of time on any Director of Racquets is the same. This is simply a falsehood.
Pickleball Is Not A Competitor, But An Addition
It’s a big addition. A recent guest also on our podcast, Angela Wilson, took out two of her indoor tennis courts to add six pickleball courts. That’s exponential growth in real numbers. Where two tennis courts could service up to 8 players, six pickleball courts will serve 24 players. It’s a three time court multiplier… which means triple the number of players. If you think about it in percentage terms, the 9 tennis courts could serve at full capacity for doubles 36 players. Now the club is serving 52 at maximum. That’s almost a 50 percent increase. But, let’s put it this way. It’s two sports to order balls, equipment and clothing for. That’s doubling work there. And what if you pack both the tennis courts and pickle courts with clinics? Exponential.
You’ve Just Added Soccer To A Squash Club
Pickleball has nothing to do with tennis. It’s a different sport. Aside from the fact that it shouldn’t be seen as a competitor to tennis, it requires a whole different management style, team and time. Time is the key. As outdoor courts are built in spare spaces or are converted to pickleball from tennis, play appears to occur all day. Gone are the days when it was just tennis and play was centered around the early to mid morning times and then again in the later afternoon to early evening hours. Play with pickleball is all day long at most clubs. Gone is the break in play for watering the courts or for the heat of the midday sun.
Therefore, there’s no mid-day break for a director. Having run a front desk at several clubs and managed instructor and directors; times, I found that the pros and director would have that mid-day siesta as members were not on property and tennis courts went under mid-day maintenance and watering. It was important for them to regroup and rejuvenate. The afternoon was a restart. But now, pickleball players are at the club all day long.
So, it’s imperative that the director creates space – space not only to build pickleball for a growing demand, but also space in his or her own day to manage the increase in play across multiple formats and multiple sports.
Carri Young is a former business owner who, more recently, has managed front desks at leading golf and tennis clubs in Florida and New Jersey. A former Division I athlete, Carri is serving as Interim General Manager at Pretty Brook Tennis Club in Princeton, New Jersey, as Beyond The Baselines conducts the General Manager search.