Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading

The best cities for pickleball players

Data: Trust for Public Land; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

There's been a sixfold increase in the number of public pickleball courts in the 100 biggest U.S. cities since 2017 — from 420 to 2,788 — but municipal leaders say they still can't come close to meeting demand from pickleheads.

  • There's now about one pickleball court for every 24,000 residents in these cities, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a pro-parks nonprofit.

Why it matters: Cities are in a love/hate relationship with pickleball.

  • America's fastest-growing sport is a boon for players who are aging out of tennis — and others who dig its vibe — but it's noisy and draws nonstop complaints from tennis players who've been kicked off their turf.
  • Meanwhile, cities can't build courts fast enough — and they're tapping everything from COVID-19 relief funds to municipal bonds to raise the necessary cash.

Driving the news: While pickleball has become a way of life in Florida, California and Arizona, even cold-weather cities are busy building dedicated courts or converting tennis courts to dual use, per TPL's list of U.S. cities ranked by pickleball courts per capita.

Seattle is #1, probably because the sport was invented on nearby Bainbridge Island in 1965.

  • Lincoln, Nebraska is #3 on the list — which surprised even the city's parks & rec facilities manager, who chalked it up to the dedication of some local snowbirds who caught pickleball fever in Phoenix and lobbied their hometown to build courts.
  • #6 on the list — St. Paul, Minnesota — is also #2 on TPL's list of the best U.S. cities for public parks.

Details: The top 10 pickleball cities on TPL's list include hot-weather locations like St. Petersburg, Florida (#2); Honolulu (#4) and Plano, Texas (#7).

  • But they also include Madison, Wisconsin (#5); Omaha, Nebraska (#8); Boise, Idaho (#9) and St. Louis, Missouri (#10).
  • No cities in the Northeast or California made the top 20. The closest were Washington, D.C. at #23 and Riverside, California at #29.

What they're saying: "The cities that have really good park systems tend to be the ones that have a lot of pickleball courts," says Will Klein, associate director of parks research at TPL.

  • "Those are also the same cities that we found are the healthiest places to live," with the best measures of mental health and physical activity.

Case study: Lincoln, Nebraska, was introduced to pickleball in 2016 when a group of retirees came home for the summer and approached the city about refurbishing some underutilized tennis courts for pickleball, says J.J. Yost, planning & facilities manager for Lincoln Parks & Recreation.

  • They formed a nonprofit — Pickleball Lincoln Inc. — and started raising private money to build six courts.
  • "Very quickly they were a huge success," Yost tells Axios. "The usage was amazing, right off the bat."
  • A few years later, they raised more money to build four more courts — and they're still at it.

Yes, but: Tensions between Lincoln-area tennis players and pickleballers prompted a summit meeting and the development of a master plan for outdoor racket sports.

  • "Hardly a week goes by that we don't hear about some kind of concern [or] some conflict between competing uses," Yost says. "They'll say, 'I can't ever get on this tennis court because it's always dominated by pickleball' or vice versa."
  • "We kind of joke around here about, how long into the day will we go without hearing about pickleball?" he added.

By the numbers: Carl Schmits of USA Pickleball, the sport's governing body, tells Axios there's a critical shortage of pickleball courts given the numbers — 23 million tennis players and 9 million pickleball players in the United States.

  • So, "for every 100 tennis courts, there should be 37 pickleball," he says. "If you ever drive by a combo pickleball/tennis facility, you'll see a difference right before your eyes."
  • Instead, there are about 250,000 tennis courts and 44,000 pickleball courts of record in USA Pickleball's 11,000-site database — or about 17.6 pickleball courts per 100 tennis courts.

Follow the money: While some cities are (controversially) using COVID relief funds to build pickleball courts, which qualify as a public health amenity, others are issuing bonds or relying on public-private partnerships to fund construction.

  • Some noteworthy municipal projects include a 30-court facility in Wichita, Kansas; 24 courts in Evansville, Indiana; 49 courts in Daytona, Florida; and 22 courts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Schmits says.

Between the lines: Most pickleball courts are privately owned and developed.

  • They're a hot real estate amenity in upscale residential developments and resorts.
  • Dilapidated shopping malls are being ploughed down and rebuilt into pickleball courts — as are defunct Bed Bath & Beyond stores.
  • Schmits sounded a note of caution against overbuilding, which happened when tennis and racquetball were all the rage: "We do advocate a crawl-walk-run strategy" when it comes to building courts.

What's next: Padel, a racket sport from Mexico with a different court configuration from tennis and pickleball, is now on the rise in the United States.

  • "Though there are only about 200 padel courts in the United States — most of them in private residences — the sport has begun to attract significant investment, and the pace of court construction has accelerated," the New York Times reported last month.
Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.