Pickleball For All

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PUBLIC SPACES SOUGHT AS SPORT’S POPULARITY RISES

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The Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club’s charge was twopronged: to show the need for a public pickleball center on the island, and to bring that dream to fruition. The first part is complete, but much work lies ahead to complete the second, says club president Alex Cruden.

“In the eyes of town officials, pickleball has gone from an oddsounding splinter group to a full-fledged recreational priority,” Cruden said. “We’ve done our best to help the town leaders learn more about it and see how it would be possible, and even easy, to fit a good-sized pickleball center into town property — and why that would be a good attraction.”

The need for more public pickleball facilities was well represented in a draft of the town of Hilton Head Island’s new Parks & Recreation Master Plan being prepared by LŌSE Design consultants, which used data compiled through two online surveys as well as two open houses and three pop-up events.

The surveys identified pickleball courts as “by far the most desired facility,” and pickleball league play was the most desired programming. As a result, the planning team recommended 24 pickleball courts as part of the concept plan for Chaplin Community Park.

“This facility should provide a clubhouse/pro shop and adequate parking (150 spaces) in addition to the 24 courts and shelter proposed by the pickleball club’s concept,” the report’s recommendation reads. “The clubhouse facility will allow for socializing between games, which is often an important component of league play.”

A draft of the master plan calls for a pickleball facility with 24 courts, lighting, site furnishings, a clubhouse, and associated parking at an estimated cost of $2.9 million. “Due to strong public support for a pickleball facility, this improvement should be addressed as soon as possible,” the report says.

Pickleball is rising in popularity nationwide, with a 650% increase in participation the last few years, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

In the eyes of town officials, pickleball has gone from an odd-sounding splinter group to a full-fledged recreational priority.

– ALEX CRUDEN, HILTON HEAD ISLAND PICKLEBALL CLUB PRESIDENT

sport2Many private clubs have converted some of their tennis facilities to accommodate the fast-growing sport of pickleball, including Sea Pines Country Club, which opened four lighted pickleball courts in February. The facility recently reopened after closing during the COVID-19 shutdown, club pro Shane Sharp said. The state-of-the-art pickleball center includes USA Pickleball Association regulation surfaces and a welcome center with outdoor furniture, umbrellas, restrooms and an information board.

But public facilities are scarce. Round robins and clinics at Palmetto Dunes fill up quickly, and the public program through the Island Recreation Center relies on makeshift courts. The addition of a dedicated public facility would allow more players access to the sport and open up the possibility of hosting regional or national tournaments.

“The Town of Hilton Head Island, like many communities, has a thriving pickleball club despite the lack of a state-of-the-art pickleball facility to accommodate the recreation and social aspects of this growing sport,” the consultants’ report reads.

Cruden and his team were hopeful that price tag would be part of the $30 million for parks and recreation included with a $65 million town referendum that had been scheduled for May 5 but was postponed until November 2021.

That news came from Mayor John McCann’s office on the same afternoon the consultants’ draft report was released, naming pickleball as a top priority. “As club president, my first reaction is appreciation of the recognition HHI pickleball receives in this report,” Cruden said, “and awareness that it will take more work by many to make the public center a reality.”

PHOTOS BY ESTON PARKER III