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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

More Cooperation Between the USTA and the USAPA

The evolution continues...

We have talked a lot about how tennis clubs are viewing pickleball as a potential source of help for their prospects. Another step in the process is a recently announced test program for blended lines. It was discussed in Tennis Industry Magazine.

A Blended-Court Solution?

A cooperative pilot program using 60-foot courts for pickleball may offer opportunities for both
players and tennis facilities.

By Peter Francesconi

For tennis facilities, one of the more challenging aspects of accommodating the needs of pickleball players is how to handle the lines on the court. A pickleball court is 44 feet long and 20 feet wide, dimensions that don’t fit neatly into the lines of a standard 78-foot tennis 30 court, and aren’t quite  the same as lines for a 36- or 60-foot court. 

But a potential solution, suggested by the USTA with the support of the USA Pickleball Association, may be at hand, and may offer advantages and opportunities for players and facilities. In a free pilot program, the USTA has offered to add the pickleball “non-volley” line (also called the “kitchen” line) to existing 60-foot courts (or to new blended-line applicants). The non-volley line is 7 feet from the net on each side. 

On 78- and 60-foot courts, the distance from service line to service line is 42 feet, and the width of the singles sidelines on a 60-foot court is 21 feet - both just slightly off from pickleball’s 44- by 20-foot court. But the USAPA has agreed that recreational pickleball, which accounts for the vast majority of play, can take place on a 60-foot tennis court. (The pickleball net height is different, too - 34 inches at the center and 36 inches at the posts, as opposed to a tennis net height of 36 and 42 inches. Temporary net adjusters are available to pull it down to pickleball height.)

For pickleball players, they’ll be on a court that is a foot shorter on each end, and 6 inches wider on each side. But since much of pickleball takes place in the forecourt, the shorter court for recreational play should not be a concern, says Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive for the USTA National Campus, who has been looking at solutions for accommodating pickleball. Kamperman met with USAPA Executive Director Justin Maloof in April to present this pilot concept.

“Our interest is in helping tennis facilities and parks that have a demand for pickleball, so they have an option that doesn’t involve having excessive lines on a tennis court, or worse, potentially losing tennis courts,” Kamperman says.

The USTA has been promoting 36- and 60-foot blended-line courts for almost a decade. Today, there are an estimated 25,000 of these courts across the U.S. A 60-foot court can be used for several racquet sports: youth and adult tennis, pickleball and POP Tennis.

“We can look at pickleball as a competitor or as a racquet sport cousin,” Kamperman notes. “Many older tennis players are considering moving or have moved to activities that might require less court coverage, such as pickleball. This blended-line solution allows longtime tennis players to continue playing racquet sports at their tennis facilities.”

For facilities, adding 60-foot blended lines for pickleball can help fill off-peak court time. Pickleball’s 3.11 million players (according to PAC data) include a strong contingent of retirees who can play during middle-of-the-day hours. Plus, facilities and shops can increase retail, lesson and clinic revenue.

In the pilot program, which ends July 31, the USTA will provide free lines for up to 50 tennis facilities. “If you have existing 60-foot courts, we’ll add the lines for the pickleball kitchen,” Kamperman says. “If your facility doesn’t yet have 60-foot blended lines, we’ll add them for you and include the kitchen line.”

In early May, Kamperman presented the concept to USTA Section executive directors, who have been recommending parks and tennis facilities for the pilot program. Facilities apply for the grants
online through the USTA Facilities Assistance Program ( Kamperman says the USTA, including the sections, will evaluate the pilots and then, along with USAPA, decide if the program should continue.

David LaSota, a top facility designer who works with the USTA, says this is a solution that could work for everyone. “It’s very easy to add a blended line in the service box as a kitchen line,” he says. “So we can accommodate pickleball play without having lines all over the place.”

“This solution makes sense because it gives businesses fl exibility,” says Chuck Gill, the director of sports at The Club at Ibis in West Palm Beach, Fla. Ibis has 16 tennis courts and four pickleball courts. “I was worried pickleball could take players away from our tennis program, but the reality is you get a whole different person playing pickleball. We get golfers who may be a bit intimidated by a fullsize tennis court, and people who maybe can’t move as well as they used to. We find pickleball complements tennis well.” 

John Kerr, director of tennis and pickleball at Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island, S.C., echoes this. “Pickleball has turned out to be a totally new revenue stream for us. Adding something with such wide appeal is a breath of fresh air.” 

“We put in four pickleball courts last fall and immediately started making money,” adds Nancy Ehrola, business operations director at The Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J. “From Nov. 1 to April
30, we did $28,000 in pickleball income - and that’s in off-peak times.”

Kamperman realizes accommodating pickleball play can be a sensitive issue for diehard tennis players. “From infrastructure and business points of view,” he says, “it makes sense to try and find a solution where everyone benefits - the USTA, USAPA, existing tennis facilities looking to keep their players and add a revenue stream, and especially players looking to get out on the courts and be active.”

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