Now, plans are in motion to make the growing sport a more permanent fixture in the community.
“We’ve been at this for probably eight months,” said SSPA President Gary Boyer. “The city, as well as the Tennis Center management, has recognized the growth and the popularity of pickleball as a new avenue to increase the utilization of the Tennis Center.”
The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs, which is owned by the city, is looking to turn two of its outdoor tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts, which would be a first for Steamboat.
Currently, the SSPA rents out courts inside the tennis bubble and uses green masking tape to mark the smaller pickleball courts, which it removes after play. A few years ago the city repaved the tennis courts at Howelsen Hill, marking one for pickleball (four pickleball courts can fit on one tennis court), the only free, public option for players in Steamboat.
However, getting dedicated courts with permanent nets would be a big step for the blossoming pickleball community.
“We have really outgrown the use of those four courts,” Boyer said about the courts at Howelsen. “We started our association about two and a half years ago with about 20 members. We now have about 235 members in the group. We are just very, very pleased with this opportunity to partner with the city of Steamboat as well as the Tennis Center management to be able to build eight pickleball courts.”
Pickleball, invented in 1965, has its roots in tennis, ping pong and badminton, and is typically more popular in the 40-plus age group because of its easy-to-play pace. Even so, the sport is slowly developing a younger audience and with more dedicated pickleball facilities, is growing from a leisure activity into a competitive game.
With the possibility of dedicated courts in Steamboat, the SSPA hopes this can bring that sort of competition to the Yampa Valley.
“This is what other communities do, and we are just trying to be competitive with other communities like Denver and Glenwood Springs,” Boyer said. “When we get these courts, one of our primary goals is then we qualify for being able to bring in tournaments. These tournaments will bring in hundreds of players over the weekend to stimulate the economy.”
The two courts the city plans to turn into pickleball courts are currently clay. There were already plans to replace the clay courts with a hard surface, which is easier to maintain, when the idea of making them pickleball courts came into the picture.
According to Loretta Conway, the business development director for the Tennis Center, there are some people in town who don’t want to lose any available tennis courts. That being said, the idea of building dedicated pickleball courts on a different part of the Tennis Center property is an option, though the addition of the pickleball courts is still a high priority for the center.
“Maybe we can explore options, and if there are any other places on the facility’s footprint that we can put pickleball courts, maybe we can keep those tennis courts and still put pickleball courts in,” Conway said. “We are definitely going to get pickleball, because there are 200, 300 strong, and they play three, four days a week. So we want pickleball. I’m just not sold on exactly where it has to be.”
The cost of the project is expected to be about $250,000, according to a news release by The Tennis Center and SSPA. The tentative plan is for the SSPA to raise approximately 25 percent of that cost, while the city will take care of the remainder. A fundraising effort began last month by the SSPA, and it hopes to have raised its portion of the price tag by the end of February.
If this comes to fruition, the city could break ground on the new courts in April and have them ready for play by the end of June.
“Our mission is to grow pickleball in the community and the region, not just Steamboat,” Boyer said. “The city has been terrific to cooperate with us and I can’t emphasize enough how the management at the Tennis Center has supported us and we are just very, very grateful and pleased that this opportunity is coming around.”
For more information on the SSPA or to donate, contact the group atsteamboatpickleball.com. For more information on the Tennis Center, visit 10s.com.
To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.comor follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert