You know it’s spring when the talk at Wollman Rink in Central Park is not about skating. It’s about pickleball.
The rink will be home to 14 pickleball courts from April 7 to Oct. 9, enough for 196 hours of play every day. CityPickle, the company that will run the pickleball installation, will start taking court reservations on March 31.
Pickleballers say their sport is more accessible than others — as our Victor Mather noted several months ago, “your colleagues, great-uncle and dental hygienist may be talking your ear off about their pickleball exploits.” Pickleball is like tennis (and badminton and Ping-Pong) — there’s a net. But pickleball players say that it’s easier to learn and play than tennis: Pickleball courts are smaller than tennis courts, which means that players do not have to run as far or whack the ball as far.
That may explain why it became America’s fastest-growing sport, surging nearly 40 percent between 2019 and 2021. Now there are nearly 10,000 pickleball locations nationwide, according to USA Pickleball, the sport’s national governing body.
But its Places2Play website lists only one place in Manhattan, at a recreation center on West 60th Street where pickleball players have it out on a converted basketball court. A Google search indicates that there are other courts, but Mary Cannon and Erica Desai, who started CityPickle in August 2021, said the supply-and-demand equation remains woefully out of balance.
“Right now the way many people play is they bring their own nets to scraps of pavement around the city,” said Desai, a former acting chief of staff with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “They can’t schedule ahead. They’re playing on surfaces that are cracked. In Wollman, not only will be able to accommodate a lot of people, they’ll be playing on a professional surface.” Players at Wollman will stand on an acrylic surface that rolls out like a carpet — it does not have to be poured like concrete, she said. It is coming from the company that supplies the courts for two pickleball leagues in this country and two in India.
The two women met about 15 years ago and became doubles tennis partners. “We both have room for improvement,” Cannon said with a laugh. “Unlike tennis, where you have to be pretty equally matched, with pickleball, you can have a diversity of athletic abilities.”
“Mary moves to the front, and I stay in the back,” Desai said about their playing style. “I get the deeper shots, and she goes for the winners.”
Desai said they spent the pandemic lockdowns with their families in separate places outside the city, but “as tennis players, we noticed pickleball.” Once pandemic restrictions began to ease, they realized there weren’t many places to play — and there have been tensions in some places where pickleball courts had been marked off. Parents in the West Village complained that the courts made children feel unwelcome in a Horatio Street playground; in December, a sign went up announcing that pickleball was no longer permitted in that park.
Last year Cannon and Desai arranged to operate a pop-up pickleball court at Hudson Yards, with one-hour slots every day in October. Cannon, who worked for Goldman Sachs in real estate investment banking and was later was the board chairwoman of the nonprofit Room to Grow, said every time slot sold out within two hours of when online registration went live. They also ran another seasonal court last year at the TWA Hotel at Kennedy International Airport.
Now they are preparing to open a permanent location in Long Island City with climate-controlled indoor courts, along with a bar and a restaurant.
As the warm-weather replacement for ice skating at Wollman Rink, CityPickle will charge $80 an hour for off-peak times and $120 for peak times and will rent paddles for $6 each, but players can bring their own. CityPickle will also provide lessons and clinics, among other activities, and will rent out the courts for birthday parties and corporate events.
Wollman Rink comes with a history: Donald Trump’s company won the contract to operate it in the 1980s after refurbishing the rink for $800,000 less than budgeted in less time than he had said would be needed. His contract was renewed when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, but Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, moved to end the contract in 2021, along with another for Lasker Rink at the north end of the park.
Wollman Rink is now operated as a joint venture by Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team; the Equinox Group; and the Related Companies, which developed Hudson Yards. In the summer and fall last year, a roller disco took over the rink, but Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the partnership, said there was a need for pickleball facilities.
“The feeling is it is undercourted, if that’s the word,” he said. “There’s not infrastructure in the city for the popularity of the sport, so there was a real opening there to do something spectacular at the moment when pickleball is catching on.”
But he said CityPickle had only a one-year commitment for the rink. “Our sense is that pickleball has real staying power and there is a deficit of opportunities in the city and this could become a longer-term thing, but we’re flexible,” he said. Still, he added, “right now we’re just looking forward to a great summer of pickleball.”
Source : NewYorkToday