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ICYMI: Guelph's pickleballers desperate for places to play

Popularity of pickleball continues to grow, but groups are struggling to ensure everyone has an opportunity to play
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Members of the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association play pickleball at the West End Community Centre. Tony Saxon/GuelphToday file photo

This story was previously published on GuelphToday.

It continues to be quite the pickle to find play time in Guelph for Ontario’s fastest growing sport.

Despite the push for more pickleball courts – a call that’s been ongoing for several years – the demand continues to outpace the supply of available court space by a wide margin.

Pickleball’s popularity locally is no secret.

The Pickleball Guelph Association (PGA) launched in the summer of 2022. As of Feb. 2023, it was up to 132 members.

As of the end of last year, membership had reached 275 and had to be capped.

“It’s probably unprecedented in any sport, the dynamic growth of pickleball,” said Rick Thompson, president of the PGA.

Over at the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association (GWSA), its pickleball player wait list sits at around 200 people.

According to its website, the GWSA’s pickleball group – which accommodates those ages 55 and older – is unable to accept additional people on the waitlist at the moment.

Both entities are trying to balance the space it has with the people wanting to hit the court.

“We have two locations which are part of our Community Benefit Agreement with the City of Guelph (Evergreen Seniors Community Centre and the West End Community Centre),” GWSA president Pat Gage said in an emailed response. “We book these spaces for five different established groups who use the auditorium space daily.”

The PGA started finding space for people last year, and was able to leverage relationships with the local school boards to use gymnasiums.

“They’ve been awesome to work with, both school boards,” Thompson said.

“We are now able to put through 120 players a week, playing pickleball that we can book.”

He said online registration opens at 7 p.m. Mondays, and all spots are filled within 10 to 15 minutes.

During the summer, outdoor courts provide a bit more space for pickleball enthusiasts.

The PGA also provides training and clinics for those looking to play, and has become quite popular.

Thompson said the majority of members are older, but there are younger members in their late teens and early 20’s as well, emphasizing it’s a sport for all ages.

“I play in a driveway with my grandkids,” added Tom Campagnolo, a PGA volunteer.

“You’re constantly talking to people, people want to know about pickleball, where they can play, where they can learn to play.”

He said with the lack of space, he and countless others have had to go to other places, like Fergus and Milton, to get in play time as it is.

“We’re talking to whoever we can,” Thompson said. “The city just simply (does) not have space available. And it’s not that the city is an unwilling participant, they just physically do not today have indoor spaces available, other than what we’ve been able to book.”

The city said in an emailed statement it has added pickleball lines to 17 existing tennis courts outside to try and catch up to the growing demand in the short term.

"Staff are exploring opportunities to convert a shared court or two to specific pickleball use to help meet demand and specific playability needs," said Danna Evans, the city's general manager of culture and recreation.

Long term, Evans said pending council approved budgets, adding 11 new outdoor tennis and pickleball courts is one of the recommendations in the city's Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

“We are also in the midst of renegotiating our Community Benefit Agreement with the City of Guelph and we have made it clear that due to changing demographics we would like to have more time and space at both the Evergreen and West End Centers to serve older adults,” Gage added.

Gage said there is hope the double gymnasium being built at the South End Community Centre will be able to accommodate more pickleball players. 

Pickleball players will have to wait for that to become a reality, with completion on the centre set for the fall of 2026.

But even then, Thompson said that’s not what you want long-term.

“You want dedicated courts,” he said. “And that’s the same when you get outdoors.”

He said the city has multi-use courts, but there is even a slight difference in the net. A pickleball net is 34 inches high. A tennis net is 36 inches.

Players who happen to have wrenches will make adjustments if the net is off, depending on if they’re playing pickleball or tennis.

“That, in itself, is a reason to have dedicated courts,” Thompson said. “Plus the multi-line situation can be confusing.”

He isn't putting the blame on anyone for what has been an ongoing issue.

“It’s the nature of a game that’s grown beyond probably anybody’s wildest expectations," he said.