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Longboat takes a swing at relieving pickleball congestion

Alternate lines on Bayfront tennis court would open up two new sites to play.

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  • | 8:00 a.m. February 7, 2018
John Staley (left), Frank Mastelli, Dolores Diener, Karen Hahn and Tom Diener
John Staley (left), Frank Mastelli, Dolores Diener, Karen Hahn and Tom Diener
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Longboat Key’s well-used public pickleball court could soon get some relief.

Public Works officials, after hearing from residents about long wait times at the Bayfront Park court, have amended what some players have said is an unclear sign-in sheet and proposed adding pickleball court lines to one of the two public tennis courts at the park.

Text at the top of a bulletin meant to organize play, which caused frustration in players about whether the paper posted on a cork board nearby was for reserving the court, has been changed from “Court Sign-In” to read “WAITING LIST TO PLAY NEXT.”

Confusion about the purpose of the former sign-in sheet prompted one individual to write “WHY BOTHER!” across multiple columns and rows.

The new sign-in sheet at the Bayfront public pickleball court was designed to curb confusion about reserving court time.
The new sign-in sheet at the Bayfront public pickleball court was designed to curb confusion about reserving court time.

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the department is also looking at what it would cost to add lines for two pickleball courts to one of the tennis courts — one on each side of the net. The department would also purchase two “roll-up” pickleball nets that could be placed on either side of the existing tennis net.

Parks and Recreation Manager Mark Richardson said the pickleball lines will be painted blue. 

Pickleball is played on a 20-by-44-foot court as opposed to the 36-by-78-foot dimensions for a tennis court. The net is also 2 inches lower than a tennis net, 34 inches at the center rather than 36.

It could be three or four weeks before the tennis court at Bayfront Park is painted with pickleball lines, Brownman said.

“I think it would help congestion and make people happier,” said Karen Hahn, who started playing the sport at Bayfront a few months ago.

Sarasota County has more than 40 pickleball courts, most of which are outdoor and painted on existing tennis courts. The fast-paced paddle sport has been growing nationwide, touted by NBC News as the fastest-growing sport in the country.

Dolores Diener, who’s been playing pickleball at Bayfront Park since it reopened in November, said it took some time for her to orient herself when she’d played pickleball on tennis courts elsewhere. But after a few volleys, Diener said she found her groove.

“We could easily play [pickleball] on those two [tennis] courts,” Diener said of Bayfront Park.

Tom Diener, Dolores Diener’s husband and a self-proclaimed representative of the informal Longboat Key pickleball group, stood before the Town Commission at its regular meeting Feb. 5, and thanked the board and town staff for considering additional pickleball courts.

“So many people are playing and talking, we’ve almost generated our own little system,” Tom Diener said in an interview days before the meeting.

And the word pickleball has come up much more in the past few years at another organized racket-sport complex around town: the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center. Kay Thayer, Tennis Center director, said she would have balked four years ago at the mention of adding pickleball courts.

Tom Diener said  he thinks “it would be most helpful” if the town installed more pickleball courts at the Tennis Center. Thayer said the idea warrants discussion.

“I think pickleball is really taking off. I think it’s something that we can look to in the future to become bigger and bigger,” Thayer said. “I wouldn’t be opposed, if the town would add pickleball courts to the tennis center.”


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