NEWPORT Pickleballers have made hunting park at Third Street a popular spot, so much so that the city recently announced game time limits.
There aren’t enough pickleball courts on the island, said Portsmouth’s Jim Burton, who played with a group on a Saturday afternoon in early September. If you come here in the morning, all the courts are stuck. I was just in Saratoga Springs (New York) and they have 10 courts.
The city recently limited playtime to an hour when others wait to play, and also set opening and closing times for the courts.
There are only three specialty pickleball courts in Newport, all three in Hunter Park, although there are fourteen tennis courts in Vernon Park are striped for both pickleball and tennis. Hunter Park even has the only dedicated pickleball courts in Newport County, although some towns do to plan, or at least talk about, to build.
The common plea among pickleball players is that more dedicated courts are needed for the sport.
In Florida, we have a lot more pickleball jobs, said Cindy Gordon, who lives in the Esplanade area of Sarasota, Florida.
For the 650 families who live there, we have eight courts and we don’t think it’s enough, she said. In Venice, 10 minutes away, there are eight more public courts available to us.
Gordon and her husband Andy came to Newport for five weeks to escape the Florida heat, she said.
We really like pickleball and come here every other day, Cindysaid. It’s the start of our day. There is a great pickleball community here that is very generous and helps me improve. They welcome everyone.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the US
Pickleball is a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong and is the fastest growing sport in America, according to online sources. The pickleball court is the same size as a double badminton court and measures 20 by 44 feet, or about half the size of a tennis court.
The perforated plastic ball is larger than a tennis ball and wooden rackets are used. The net is lower than in tennis. If a tennis court is striped for pickleball, the players will use it, but it’s just not the same, according to the players.
That can be confusing, said one player. Playing on a tennis court after playing on pickleball courts is like playing on an aircraft carrier.
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Pickleball is so popular that players usually play doubles and alternate and rotate because the courts are in so much demand.
You don’t have to come with a group, said Burton of Portsmouth. You just show up and teams are formed. It’s very social. Games are only 10 to 15 minutes each.
Play is played to 11 points. Players can only score when they serve. In doubles, both members of the team serve until there is a miss for each server, then the serve goes to the other team.
It’s easy to play and you have good games, said Burton, who was a tennis player before switching to pickleball. This is easier on the knees, he said.
‘You just show up and play’
It’s a family community where you just show up and play, said one of the other players. Older people can play it. Unlike tennis, people can play with knee and hip prostheses.”
One player said he has had multiple knee surgeries and can no longer play tennis and basketball, which he loved to do. But he can play pickleball.
Players said that not only do they lose some weight by playing pickleball, a sport they said can be addictive, but they also enjoy doing it, so it’s good for mental health too.
David and Ceire Nevins of Newton, Massachusetts, were among the younger players this Saturday, as players of all ages were on the court. They were visiting Ceires’ mother on Third Street and decided to grab an open track for a quick match.
I like the game; it’s like table tennis outside, David said as they set out. Tennis has a lot more ground to cover, so this is gentler on my bad knee.
I like that you only serve until you miss, Ceire said. I like that you can steal the service.
There are few courts around
Among the players at Hunter Park was Eric Swanson of Lakeville, Massachusetts. He and some other players said they went to eight indoor pickleball courts on Route 6 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, until it closed recently.
When you search for pickleball courses near you on the Global Pickleball Network website, you don’t get much near Aquidneck Island communities except Hunter Park.
There is North Farm Pickleball in Bristol, Burrs Hill Park in Warren and the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex in Warwick. After those locations, the next closest pickleball courts are at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.
The Hunter Park courses are near houses along Third Street and players can understand why people in the houses may not want to hear the sound of the plastic pickles constantly beating the rackets.
Pickleball courts should be built away from homes because of the noise, said Paul Murphy of Newport, one of the players on Saturday.
Newport neighbors complain about pickleball noise
The city regularly receives complaints from neighbors close to recreational facilities, said Tom Shevlin, the city’s communications officer.
As for pickleball, most of the complaints come from the neighborhood around the Hunter Park facility, he said. With the acoustics of that area, the sound really carries.
Most of Hunter Park is a softball field south of the courts, which extends to the Van Zandt Bridge, but the field is never used, the players said. Building pickleball fields near the bridge would be far from the houses, so a better place for the courts, they said.
There doesn’t seem to be much focus on building new pickleball courts by city officials, not yet anyway.
Because there are so few pickleball jobs in the state and so many active pickleball groups, people have been traveling, Shevlin said. The popularity of the sport is so high and so many people are picking it up, I don’t know if building more pickleball courts would have a big effect on reducing demand. They can only attract more players.
Stripping more tennis courts may not be the answer either, he said.
At Vernon, tennis players felt like they couldn’t get a job because the popularity of pickleball can overwhelm a small facility, Shevlin said.
Tennis players feel left out
Amy Machado of Newport regularly plays tennis at Vernon Park with friends from Middletown and Portsmouth, but it feels like the pickleballers have taken over at times. She said they lower the nets for their games and don’t bring them back up for tennis.
When the city redesigned those courts a few years ago, a grant from the US Tennis Association helped fund the project, she said. She also hates the new pickleball restrictions that apply to tennis players at Vernon.
“I feel like those courts should be reserved for tennis players,” Machadosaid said.
The tennis courts at Rogers High School and Murphy Field tennis courts on the south side of town are underused, Shevlin noted.
One of the things I’m going to do in the coming weeks is to make people aware of the facilities we have specifically for tennis, he said. We want to promote underutilized courts more and hopefully get demand more evenly distributed across the city.
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Machado said it is not convenient for her and the people she plays with to travel to the Rogers and Murphy courts. They also play on the Pop Flack tennis courts on King Street, but those surfaces are in poor condition, she said.
The new restrictions at Hunter Park and Vernon Park
The pickleball courts are open on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. No amplified sound such as music from sound systems is allowed. No food, glass or alcoholic drinks are allowed on the courts
The city doesn’t discourage people from playing pickleball, Shevlin said, adding that he likes playing the game.
It’s a really great game to play, he said. What we’re trying to do is strike a balance. We don’t want any further inconvenience to the neighbourhood. That’s what it’s all about.
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