Sarasota officials see opportunities to capitalize on the sport's sustained popularity.
Could Bobby Jones Golf Club lure more visitors by offering a different sporting opportunity?
Members of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Advisory Board think so, recommending the city pursue the addition of eight pickleball courts to the municipal facility.
Although city staff has made no final decision about whether to proceed with such a project, the PREP board voted in October to endorse converting three tennis courts at Bobby Jones into pickleball courts.
The board said the project could be done at a cost not to exceed $30,000.
Board member Keith Fitzgerald said the reasoning for the proposal was straightforward: Pickleball is an increasingly popular sport, and Bobby Jones is in need of potential revenue-generating opportunities.
The rest of the board agreed a conversion to pickleball made sense, given the demand in the community.
“I was hearing about pickleball 10 years ago, and it’s just gotten bigger, not smaller,” PREP board member Mary Fuerst said.
In an email, city spokesman Jason Bartolone said staff was waiting for the City Commission to take action on two master plans — one for Bobby Jones and one for parks citywide — before deciding whether to proceed with the tennis court conversion. The commission is set to discuss both master plans in December.
The County Commission also wants to work with its parks advisory board to explore options for expanding pickeball offerings.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Mike Moran brought up the topic of pickleball. Although he’s never played the sport, he’s been in contact with residents who suggested the county was missing out on an opportunity to capitalize on pickleball’s popularity.
“They’ve given example after example of communities surrounding us and nationwide that are taking this on as an economic stimulus,” Moran said.
Moran said that, north of Siesta Key, Sarasota County offers six pickleball courts across four facilities. He said the county should consider the creation of a facility with a minimum of 12 courts that could host tournaments. That would allow it to be used not just as a local amenity, but potentially as a destination for those interested in the sport.
Although the rest of the commission was interested in giving the topic further consideration, different board members shared different priorities. If the county wanted to use pickleball as an economic driver, Commissioner Charles Hines said he needed to see metrics that would allow officials to evaluate the merits of such a project compared to other tourism-focused investments.
Commissioner Nancy Detert, meanwhile, said she wanted to expand the pickleball offerings for residents, but she didn’t want to invest large sums of money to lure people from outside the county.
“People just want to play pickleball and live where there’s pickleball,” Detert said.
The commission directed its Parks Advisory and Recreation Council to further explore options for adding pickleball options in the county.