- June 18, 2018
Longboat Key has long been a destination for tennis players. But a new racket sport is taking hold, one that has begun to transform tennis courts across the island.
That sport is pickleball, and its growing popularity has spurred town staff to begin considering long-term options to accommodate players on the island’s only public pickleball court at Bayfront Park.
The solution: more courts, according to the Public Works Department. That logic began with adding pickleball lines to one of the public tennis courts at Bayfront Park, creating a shared space for either two concurrent games of pickleball or one tennis match.
The department proposed adding four pickleball courts to the Longboat Public Tennis Center. It already has the infrastructure for reservations that residents have asked for, yet have not gotten, at Bayfront Park, said Public Works Director Isaac Brownman.
The Town Commission agreed, asking the department to seek locations and funding sources.
Commissioners also suggested spaces the department should consider, like the southern end of Bayfront Park and a wooded area between Spanish Main Yacht Club and Emerald Harbour.
Pickleball courts measure 20 feet wide by 44 feet long: 880 square feet. That’s compared to a tennis court, which is 27 feet wide and 78 feet long, or 2,106 square feet. And the cost: about $50,000 per pickleball court, according to the Public Works Department.
More than a dozen residents and pickleball players shuffled out of Town Hall March 28 after a town presentation about possible long-term solutions to the growing interest in pickleball. About half of those individuals spoke about the game’s impact on their lives and the lives of others.
Stanley Minken lauded the psychological and medical benefits of a game like pickleball for older people. And pickleball is perfect for Longboat residents, Minken said, because the game is age, gender and body-type neutral.
“These people, because they had a game, had a much better outlook on aging,” Minken said of pickleball players.
Jim Wolohan, who said he plays pickleball at least a few times a week, said Longboat Key “is in the demographic sweet spot” for pickleball.
More than half of the island’s residents are over 65 years old, according to U.S. Census statistics. Almost half of the sport’s “core” players are over 65, according to the United States of America Pickleball Association.
“Certainly there would be a number of people who would pay for pickleball courts,” Wolohan said.
And that’s not totally out of the question. The Public Works Department has had conversations with a local pickleball promoter about potential fundraising for more courts, Brownman said.
Sara Cullen, United States of America Pickleball Association ambassador for Longboat Key, told commissioners she’s already begun fundraising — she’s collected $5,000 as of March 30, according to an email she sent to commissioners.
“I don’t think that four courts will be any where near enough,” Cullen wrote. “If this space could fit 6 I would strongly urge you to go for it.”
The Public Works Department wants to monitor use of the Bayfront courts further before making any decisions to build more courts.
“Pickleball is fun and contagious,” said District 4 Commissioner Jack Daly, who said he tried the sport this year. “The enthusiasm we see here is encouraging.”