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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 61  |  July 30, 2021


Permanent pickleball courts recommended for Alta Laguna Park

By SARA HALL

Pickleball players may soon see some permanent courts at Alta Laguna Park for the increasingly popular sport following a Recreation Committee decision last week. Officials hope the dedicated program will help some of the conflict that’s happened between pickleball and tennis players.

On July 12, the committee unanimously approved to recommend converting the temporary pickleball courts at Alta Laguna to permanent pickleball courts in a way that maximizes court usage for pickleball play. In addition, they are recommending converting one tennis court into two temporary pickleball courts for shared use. The remaining four courts will remain 100 percent tennis.

The motion also included modifying the hours to be consistent with the dedicated open play for pickleball at Lang Park. Lang Park dedicated hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday 8 a.m.-noon and Sundays/holidays 9 a.m.-noon.

For the proposed permanent court, the nets would be permanent and then on the multi-use court, the nets would be temporary ones, confirmed Senior Recreation Supervisor Alexis Braun in an email with Stu News Laguna last week.

Nothing has yet been determined about the specifics on the new Alta Laguna pickleball program, including whether or not the rules and signage at Alta Laguna will be the same as Lang (specifically about the open play/round robin rules) or what the orientation of the proposed permanent courts at Alta Laguna will be (depending on orientation, it could be two or three).

At Lang, during the dedicated open play, or round robin, hours, teams rotate in and out with winners playing a maximum of two games in a row (play to a score of 11) before they have to exit so new players can come on the court. Outside of those dedicated hours, the courts are first-come, first-served, with an hour time limit if people are waiting (people can play/win as many games as they can fit into that one hour). 

Permanent pickleball court and players

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pickleball players on the temporary courts at Alta Laguna Park

The specifics will be mentioned in the recommendation to council, but staff needs to evaluate the courts, meet with a contractor, and speak with the Planning Department before going to council, Braun confirmed. Council will ultimately decide those specifics, but a meeting date has not yet been set.

The Recreation Committee and Laguna Beach City Council approved a Pilot Pickleball program which was implemented at Alta Laguna Park in 2018 that currently includes two multi-use pickleball courts on one tennis court (court #4) that are available to pickleball players Sundays-Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The court is used for tennis play at all other times.

“Since then, obviously, pickleball has grown even more (popular) than it already was at that time,” Braun said on Monday. “The demand for pickleball courts at Alta Laguna has increased.”

In April 2017, the one tennis court at Lang Park was converted into a multi-use court with additional lines for two pickleball courts which can have up to eight players playing at one time. 

“Due to the growing popularity of the sport, and having to wait to play, additional courts and timers were requested by the pickleball players,” the staff report explains.

The court at Lang was modified to accommodate three pickleball courts on a multi-use court that includes movable pickleball nets as well as a movable tennis net in January 2021.

Monday’s meeting included several local pickleball players who spoke during public comment. Many noted the growing popularity of the sport and urged the committee to make the program permanent.

Claudia Redfern has been a consistent pickleball player for two years, playing about five times a week, and has counted attendance at Lang for the past six weeks. According to her tracking calendar, usually 10 to 24 people play each day when the courts are dedicated for pickleball, with as many as 32 showing up last Sunday (July 11).

Redfern also mentioned the popularity of the pickleball classes offered by the city.

Permanent pickleball Claudia Redfearn

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Courtesy of Claudia Redfearn

Claudia Redfern plays pickleball at Lang Park last week

“It’s a two-handed thing, if we’re going to continue to offer pickleball classes to teach people how to play it, we need to have the courts in order for people to play going forward,” she said.

Sometimes when Lang Park is crowded with pickleball players early in the morning, people will head up to Alta Laguna to play, but the current difference in the start times can cause an issue.

“Yes, there have been tennis players playing on the pickleball courts and they don’t want to give that up, even though there might be empty tennis courts,” Redfern said. 

Redfern was happy with the committee’s vote and hoped it would alleviate some of the pressure at Lang, she said in a phone interview with Stu News Laguna last week.

“Based on the recommendation, I’m doing cartwheels,” Redfern said. “I’m thrilled.”

She’s confident it will be approved when forwarded to City Council.

A few other speakers also mentioned the conflict that sometimes happens between tennis and pickleball players. 

Hearing about some of the conflict, Committee Chair Michele Hall said making a permanent program with consistent times for pickleball may help resolve some of the issues. 

“I think part of the reason why that (conflict) is happening is because there’s this gray area,” with the temporary use and differing start times, Hall said. Coming up with a dedicated program “takes away the conflict because there’s nothing to argue about,” she continued, because there’s a “set time [and designated court]…so there’s no gray area, it’s black and white.”

Permanent pickleball player and paddle

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

A pickleball player holds up the paddle used in the popular sport

It’s kind of a trial-and-error situation, Hall added later in the discussion. Specific regulations will depend on the impact on tennis players, or if the courts are being used by programs, classes, or tournaments, she added, which will need to be made clear so people will cooperate. 

“If we have guidelines and it’s black and white then people can point to the guidelines instead of pointing at each other,” Hall said. 

Resident David Murray has been playing pickleball since day one of the pilot program. Conflicts do occur, he said. 

“We find the tennis players to be very combative, they look down on the pickleball players and it gets a little disconcerting at times when we’re playing up there,” he said.

Although the group that typically plays right next to them when they’re out on the court is “fantastic,” Murray added. They watch each other play and it’s a nice and enjoyable mixing of the two types of players. 

“But there are other problems up at Alta Laguna when it comes to tennis and pickleball,” Murray said.

The lone speaker opposed to the permanent pickleball plan was resident Jennifer Zeiter, a longtime tennis player who has also played pickleball. She plays up at Alta Laguna at least three days a week, usually at 8 a.m.

“My problem with the pickleball players is that they do not and have not observed the 10 a.m. start time,” Zeiter said. “They tend to be a little bit rude and entitled to use that court even though it clearly says 10 a.m. and they walk on with abandon.”

It boils down to being respectful and polite to other players, she said.

“The problem I have with pickleball, and again, I play pickleball as well, is that it’s inconsistent with tennis playing, as far as decorum is concerned,” Zeiter said. 

They tend to be “exceedingly chatty” with often large groups of players on the court all at once, she said. 

“It’s simply incompatible, in my opinion, to play at the same time as tennis players,” she concluded.

Although most of the comments revolved around the increasing popularity of the sport, not just in Laguna Beach, but across the country. 

“It’s time for our community to jump forward and get a couple of permanent pickleball courts,” Murray said. “We are really falling behind, not only in Orange County, but across the nation. Pickleball is just exploding.”

Permanent pickleball courts overall

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The temporary pickleball courts at Alta Laguna Park

In their 2020 Pickleball Participant Report (which includes data through 2019), the Sports & Fitness Industry Association reported pickleball currently had 3.46 million players in the U.S. About 1.3 million of those players are “core” players who play eight or more times a year.

According to the USA Pickleball Association, the national governing body for the sport, the Average Annual Growth Rate for all players from 2016 to 2019 was 7.2 percent, for a total growth rate of 23 percent over three years.

Committee member Karl Dumas shared a number of statistics on the growth of pickleball. He noted that, according to Tennis Industry Association and the USA Pickleball Association, the number of tennis players grew about 0.9 percent in 2020, while the number of pickleball players grew by about 21.3 percent. 

“These numbers do…underscore the popularity of the sport,” Dumas said. “It’s there and I think our city needs to reflect that growth. I think it’s time.”

Many of those pickleball players are reported as former tennis players, including himself, said Dumas, who made the switch about two years ago. 

The city needs to make bigger changes, said committee member Joe MacKay. He urged his fellow committee members to do more.

“Our measures are not meeting the demands of the players,” he said. “We think we’re taking measures that are big steps, but it doesn’t seem like we’re coming close.”

He suggested looking into creating another permanent court and an additional temporary court.

The committee also approved a special meeting for September that will be preceded by a few games of pickleball and other recreational activities. 

“I really think it would be a wonderful thing for the Rec Committee to come out of COVID and showcase one of our facilities,” Roger Kempler said. “Invite the community on September 13 to come out and join us…See if we can get some people to come together and have some fun.”

After some discussion, the committee unanimously agreed to meet at 4:30 p.m. at Alta Laguna Park for a gathering and invite residents and city staff to come and enjoy the park together. Regular business will still be conducted when the meeting officially starts at 6 p.m.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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