Tennis and pickleball players in San Francisco continue to clash in search of more venues

The San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation held a community meeting last week to discuss a proposal to convert some tennis courts in Stern Grove into blended ball courts.

With hundreds thronging to the stand-only meeting and pickle ball fans out in droves, it’s become the latest chapter in the ongoing debate about the need for more space to play pickle ball in town. While blackball fans claim they don’t have enough space in the city, tennis players attest that the courts in Stern Grove are in demand for tennis, which is also growing in popularity.

Martha Ehrenfeld, co-chair of the SF Tennis Alliance, said she attended the meeting and defended the alliance’s opposition to converting the stadiums into dedicated blended ball courts. She said she’s a pickleball player herself — even a certified coach — but San Francisco is a dense city and the two sports have to coexist and share the city’s limited resources. The alliance supports double-line courts, good for both tennis and pickle ball, which Stern Grove had before the facility was hit by a massive flood in 2021.

“A tennis court is not the only option for a pickleball field. We love that the pickle ball community thinks outside the box,” Ehrenfeld said. “We think the pickle ball could find some other flat spots to build tennis venues without taking away tennis.”

Ward Naughton, a San Francisco pickleball community member, said his group is concerned about the need to frame stadiums as “a pickle ball versus tennis.”

“The main thing is that we don’t want conflict…it’s how to figure out how to make use of the space for the greatest number of San Francisco residents,” Naughton said.

He said he hopes the city can turn underused tennis courts into pickle ball courts as waiting time for pickle ball courts increases, especially on weekends. He said that additional courts in Stern Grove would be beneficial and that the city urgently needed more courts on the north side of the city as well.

Both sports can be booked within a minute. Nearly 97 percent of the city’s tennis courts are booked within five minutes of the online reservation system opening, said Tamara Apparton, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks. Even with the high demand for reservations, most pickle ball courts have “group hours” rather than reservations.

“It’s safe to say that demand is outstripping supply for both tennis and pickle ball, both of which have spread significantly since the start of the pandemic,” Apparton said in an email. “We are constantly looking for more ways to increase play.”

Seth Sokolow, CEO of San Franciscans for Sports and Recreation, said that while hybrid courts seem like an easy answer, this solution could be a problem for players of both sports. A typical tennis court needs to resurface every four to eight years, depending on the weather and the rate of play, but with four pickleball courts in one tennis court, that means more players trampling on the surface, and the courts may soon break down, Sokolow argues . He cited the current lack of maintenance for the recreation and park department and concerns about the quality of the city’s tennis courts as more are being converted to mixed courts.

“There is no long-term strategic plan,” Sokolow said. “Everyone has to come together. From my point of view, there is a lot of short-term thinking… If it is not thought through carefully, there will be problems in the future.”

Apparton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks, said she was not aware of the need for frequent appearances due to the double lining.

San Franciscan Sports and Recreation does not support the conversion of Stern Grove fields into pickleball fields. Sokolow said he worries that tennis players’ voices are drowning out in this ongoing debate because pickle ball players have been more outspoken. Such was the case at Thursday’s meeting, when more pickle ball players showed up than tennis players. “Tennis players will have to be organized or they will see more courts disappear,” he said.

Apparton said San Francisco currently has more than 60 pickle ball fields, 11 of which are designated for exclusive pickle ball play. The rest are double line courts with tennis and pickle ball lines on the court.

Apparton said the number of pickle ball playing spots has increased by 500 percent in the past four years and “every routine tennis court that repaints now includes double-paint lines so it can also be used for pickle ball.”

San Francisco’s first baseball stadium was officially built in 2018 at Lewis Sutter in McLaren Park, although people have been playing unofficially at many venues since 2015.

“The main challenge is that creating pickle ball courts outside of tennis courts means there are fewer places to play tennis – and tennis is more popular than ever!” Apparton said in an email.

Tennis players lost out on one of the few places they had to play tennis indoors, the San Francisco Tennis Club (also known as the Bay Club) in SoMa when it closed in August 2020, with plans to develop after the land was purchased by a real person. A property developer in 2015. It is still unclear if new tennis courts will be built on the site.

Rec and Park will make the decision on the fate of the Stern Grove courts, although it is unclear when.

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