Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Battle of the Racquets

The battle for availability of court time and parking bubbled to the surface at last week’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting. The issue between tennis and pickleball players at the Marco Racquet Center became a front and center discussion item.

Marco Island is not alone dealing with this issue. The demand for court time and space is a problem around the country, due to the surging popularity of pickleball. The sport’s popularity has grown for a number of reasons.

Aging tennis players of the “baby boom generation” are making the switch to pickleball and its slower paced action, maintaining their love for participation in a similar activity that they enjoyed in their younger days. The games progress at a quicker pace, yet there is not as much strain on knees and other joints, which allows players to still enjoy their workout. Many participants also enjoy the “social” aspect of pickleball.

For Marco Island tennis and pickleball enthusiasts the issue isn’t whether one sport is better than the other. Instead it comes down to availability of space both for playing and parking at the facility at 1275 San Marco Road. As pickleball continues to grow in popularity and both sets of players compete for limited court time and parking, the debate continues to heat up.

Racquet Center members showed up in force at the last meeting to voice their concerns over the possible repurposing of one of the existing clay courts for use as a pickleball court. Their fear lies in expanding the wait time for play by tennis players and the added pressure on parking, which they say is already at a crisis level.

Tom Chrobak came forward to suggest that the city staff and the advisory board might be better served if they spoke with the users of the facility, rather than repeat the mistakes made when staff several years ago put down an artificial turf on two of the courts. According to Chrobak and several others, the experiment resulted in a number of injuries. It was the members who raised the money to remove the material and refinish the courts because the city lacked the funding.

The City of Marco Island inherited the aging Racquet Center from Collier County 20 years ago after incorporation. They have upgraded many of the old solid surface courts to the softer clay courts, which takes more maintenance and upkeep, but is a surface of choice. At present there are six clay courts and two hard surface courts, all of which are lighted. There is one additional court dedicated to pickleball play.

The two hard surface courts may be utilized for both tennis and pickleball. The surfaces are lined to accommodate either sport.

The city is considering repurposing one of those six clay courts for joint use of both pickleball and tennis, which those in attendance are opposed to.

In addition, there are two indoor racquetball courts that have minimum use. Some have suggested that due to their limited use and high cost of maintenance that the land it occupies on might be better utilized for expanded parking.

The advisory board will be looking to staff for further information.

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