The debate between pickleball and tennis in Menlo Park is heating up as residents fight for court space.
The Parks and Recreation Commission changed one tennis court to a pickleball court at Nealon Park in summer of 2021. Now, the commission is attempting to convert two other courts for pickleball, while reverting the current one back to tennis.
"We just started with Nealon," commission member Peter Diepenbrock said. "It's been very popular, for sure."
Pickleball is growing in popularity and with it, the demand for courts. Pickleball courts are popping up all over the Bay Area, but possibly to the detriment of tennis players, who say their own courts are being lost in the rush to accommodate the other sport.
"I think the tsunami of pickleball is among us. There's no question of that, it's a national phenomenon. Expansion is something we should strongly consider," said Menlo Park resident Marc Brieman at a City Council meeting Nov. 15. "I'd also like to think that on a permanent longer-term basis that we can think about actually dedicating pickleball courts ... so that we're not taking away from tennis."
While the two racket sports do coexist, with many people playing both, converting existing tennis courts is causing division between the two groups. Many in the tennis community feel like their opinions aren't being sought out at the same level as the pickleball community. However, local pickleball advocate Brian Kissel said the city's Parks and Recreation Department has reached out to all stakeholders.
"I think pickleball, just because we're a relatively new community, has been advocating on their behalf to give both a temporary solution and a longer-term, permanent solution," Kissel said.
Diepenbrock said that there was no extra outreach to the pickleball community on the part of the commission.
"It's been an overwhelming amount of pickleball players (at the meetings)," Diepenbrock said. "It's not like park and rec is specifically targeting pickleball people."
One thing both parties agree on is pickleball needs a permanent home. Kissel said that the commission plans to build permanent courts at Willow Oaks Park in 2024.
However, pickleball players need somewhere to play until the plan comes to fruition, which he says is better aligned with what the communities wants.
Kissel said that demand for pickleball courts in Menlo Park was high, and often you would see 16 people on the court with eight to 12 others waiting for a turn. One tennis-playing resident, however, is concerned by messages in the Menlo Pickleball Club group on Facebook. One message, which was shared with The Almanac, suggested that pickleball players show up in force to give the appearance that the sport is popular enough to warrant additional court space.
Tennis advocates argue that pickleball enthusiasts should build courts in multiple places. Parks such as Kelly and Burgess have been suggested as locations, but pickleball advocates maintain that the courts need to be centralized to keep players together.
"Pickleball is very much a community drop-in type sport," Kissel said. "If you think about like pickup basketball, people just show up, right? And they jump in and they play, so you need a critical mass. Unlike tennis, where, you know, two people agree to go and play."
Kissel said that Burgess Park and Nealon Park are both prime spots, and tennis advocates are saying that out-of-use basketball courts at Burgess Park would be an ideal short-term spot that could be quickly converted for pickleball use without taking away from tennis use. Shani Podell, who plays both sports and coaches Hillview Middle School tennis, spoke at a City Council meeting Nov. 15 to propose some solutions, including the conversion of the basketball court at Burgess Park, even though, according to Diepenbrock, the council doesn't need to approve the project for it to move forward.
Podell also suggested less visually aggressive lines on flex courts that double as both tennis and pickleball courts. She said the current lining makes it hard to play tennis, and pointed to Highlands Park in San Carlos as a location where the painting doesn't stand out as much.
Diepenbrock sees the courts as a resource that can be shared between racket sports if needed, with a much higher demand for pickleball.
"Go by the courts, and there's literally quite often on the four pickleball courts, there's going to be 20 to 24 people packed on those courts, and then you look, you know, 20 feet over and there's a tennis court that's completely empty," Diepenbrock said.
The permanent courts are planned for Willow Oaks Park, however, some residents worry about the noise as the proposed location is directly along some residents' back fences.
Eric Dunn, who lives near the current pickleball courts at Nealon Park, spoke about the effect of the noise at the Nov. 15 City Council meeting.
"I hear pickleball at all hours a day," Dunn said. "It's very loud, I basically can't have my windows open without just constantly being bombarded by it. I work from home, so I can't really just enjoy peace and quiet in my own house."
Nealon Park also faces the problem of being the location where the Hillview Middle School tennis team practices and hosts matches. Four courts are necessary to host a match. Tennis is a no-cut sport, meaning it takes any student who wants to join. Podell says that its also needed for practice.
"This year, we had got like upwards of 70 kids (on the Hillview tennis team)," Podell said. "We had over 20 beginners, some of whom had never touched a racket before we split them up into three groups. ... having more than 20 kids on two tennis courts at once, three days a week, it was tough."
Diepenbrock said that the city plans to accommodate the Hillview tennis team with flex courts and priority for practice and matches during tennis season when the two courts at Nealon are converted.
"I think (dedicated pickleball courts) are what the pickleball community would like to see," Kissel said. "So there isn't contention between tennis and pickleball and we have enough capacity for both communities.