Kennewick is betting big on the sport of pickleball.
The city council agreed last week to spend $1.3 million to add new courts to the sport that is relatively new but rapidly growing in popularity.
The project will also include a large meeting shelter and larger restrooms to cater for all visitors arriving at Lawrence Scott Park.
The park on West Canal Drive already has five pickleball courts, but two are undersized.
The three full-sized courts will be saved and 12 more will be added to create the 15-court pickleball center.
Pickleball enthusiasts say it will be big enough to attract high-profile players to open-air tournaments.
The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, according to the US Pickleball Association. It is estimated that more than 4 million people in the country practice the sport.
To make way for the new pickleball courts, the existing volleyball and tennis courts, some of which are in poor playable condition, will be removed.
There are many other tennis courts available in the city, including near Lawrence Scott Park, said Emily Estes-Cross, the city’s director of parks and recreation.
But “you have people waiting in line to play pickleball on a pickleball court,” she said.
People who become addicted to the sport, especially when they are close to retirement, look for communities with courts and clubs when they are visiting or planning to move, she said.
It’s fun, it’s not hard to learn and people can play from beginner to advanced level, said Estes-Cross and Tri-Cities Club 509 Pickleball members.
For many people, it also becomes not just their hobby, but also their social connection, she said.
“We all get together in the park and people switch partners and take turns,” said Paul Jones, 55, chairman of the Club 509 Pickleball board.
He started playing pickleball about five years ago, when he and co-workers who spent 40 or more hours at a desk were looking for a way to get more active.
But he and his wife also found it to be the solution they needed to expand their social network after moving to the Tri-Cities.
Part of Pickleball’s appeal is the simplicity of the game.
Players use a racket and a plastic ball with holes to hit balls into a net on a court smaller than a tennis court.
“If you play tennis, you’re going to have to work a lot of time to play in a fun way,” Jones said. “In pickleball you can go out with very little experience and in a few hours you can be playing and having fun.”
Because of the smaller size of the court, more people are physically able to play the sport, even as they get older.
But for people playing at the higher levels, “the intensity is incredible and it’s a really good workout,” Jones said.
Washington State Roots
Earlier this year, the Washington State Legislature named pickleball as the state’s official sport, recognizing its invention in the state.
It was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by Joel McFee Pritchard – later to be elected Lieutenant Governor and Member of Congress for Washington State – and two of his friends.
They were at Pritchard’s summer cabin and wanted their high-energy kids to go out and play badminton, but there was no badminton equipment to be found.
His parents improvised, creating a new game using ping pong rackets, a net and a neighbor’s plastic ball.
They called it pickleball, and the rules they created are still used today by the US Pickleball Association.
Paying for pickleball courts
Club 509 Pickleball was formed four or five years ago to organize players to have a voice in the city of Kennewick. They wanted more courts, said Rita Magnaghi, a member of the club’s board.
“There were so many negative things about COVID, but during the pandemic with people locked up and unable to go to work, our numbers just exploded with people wanting to go out and try pickleball because it was a relatively safe sport from a COVID perspective,” Jones said.
The club’s membership has increased to over 200.
Club members are contributing $70,000 towards the costs of the new courthouse.
The city is also working on corporate sponsorships for $210,000 of the cost.
The city will use $800,000 from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act fund, aid linked to the pandemic, and the remaining $250,000 will come from impact fees at city parks. Housing developers pay the park fund to expand and improve the city’s parks.
Lawrence Scott Enhancements
A new prefab toilet will be near the pickleball courts and the park’s recreation structure, which is popular for its outdoor musical instruments.
The new toilet will be about 50% larger than the 36-year-old toilet it will replace.
A large picnic shelter will also be built next to the pickleball courts and is intended to service the entire park, which is one of three sports complexes owned by the City of Kennewick.
Lawrence Scott Park has four lighted baseball and softball fields, a concession tent, a football field, picnic shelters, and a half-mile walking trail on 26 acres.
The Tri-Cities also has three pickleball courts at Claybell Park in Richland and there are some private courts, including at athletic centers.
People who want to try pickleball can come to Lawrence Scott Park at 4:30 pm on Tuesday evenings for Club 509 Pickleball beginner classes, weather permitting.
Some paddles and balls will be available. Check the group’s Facebook page for cancellations or schedule updates.
This story was originally published May 22, 2022 11:15 am