In a strategic move to increase pickleball court availability in Montgomery County, Maryland, Montgomery Parks will soon be converting two tennis courts at East Norbeck Park into six pickleball courts. Currently, Montgomery County only has eight dedicated pickleball courts while they have 75 shared tennis/pickleball courts. This conversion project aims to address the “increase in demand for pickleball courts in [their] parks” that they have witnessed over the last several years, says Susan Stafford, the Communications Director at Montgomery Parks.
In selecting which of their many parks to use to convert tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts, Montgomery Parks focused on several factors to help them decide which park was the best fit. East Norbeck Park was ultimately chosen “because it met all [their] site criteria for dedicated pickleball courts.”
– More than 300 ft. from existing homes and buffered by highways and busy roads to prevent noise issues
– Accessible by public transportation and has ample parking
– Good access from major roads and highways
– Good lighting
– A nearby picnic pavilion that can be rented for large social gatherings
– ADA accessible
Additionally, East Norbeck Park is only a five minute drive from Olney Manor Recreational Park, which has 18 tennis courts, thus lessening the potential impact on tennis players who frequent East Norbeck Park. Finally, Stafford stressed that it was important to select a park large enough to feature “enough courts to establish this as a dedicated pickleball courts hub where small tournaments can take place.”
In order to prepare for this conversion project, Montgomery Parks did extensive research within the community and engaged heavily with a variety of community organizations and members to discuss the project. Montgomery Parks held several public presentations and conducted an online survey about the conversion project. Further, they posted signs throughout the recreational parks in the county to “let park visitors know about the future plans to convert the courts and [offer] the opportunity to provide feedback via the online survey.” Montgomery Parks desired for this to be a back-and-forth process with the community in order to know how to best serve not only its pickleball players, but all community members who frequent Montgomery County Parks.
According to the 286 responses received by Montgomery Parks for the survey, 62% of respondents are in favor of the conversion project. Those respondents indicated the “need for more pickleball courts to alleviate demand and use at other dedicated pickleball court locations.” One driving factor for the project is to even out pickleball play amongst the parks in Montgomery County so no park is unnecessarily overcrowded, thus limiting pickleball play and negatively affecting the experience of park-goers.
Naturally, some community members expressed concern about getting rid of tennis courts altogether and recommended only converting one tennis court into pickleball courts and leaving one tennis court solely for tennis. However, based on their research, Montgomery County determined that most tennis players at East Norbeck Park drive to the park and therefore decided it is not an “unreasonable inconvenience to drive a little further to parks nearby to play tennis,” such as at Olney Park, which features tennis courts and is only a five minute drive from East Norbeck Park.
In regards to vendors needed to complete the court conversion project, Montgomery Parks will primarily work with asphalt specialists to convert the tennis courts into pickleball courts. The new pickleball courts will feature lighting, which will allow play until 11pm. The project is estimated to take approximately two weeks from start to finish and is expected to be ready in spring 2024. Stafford expects “contractor availability [to be the] biggest issue” that could elongate the project’s expected timeline.
Montgomery Parks believes “dedicated pickleball courts are important because they offer guaranteed play opportunities for pickleball players who will often drive 30+ minutes for a high-quality experience.” It makes sense that when players drive that far for pickleball and make that amount of effort, they would want to be able to play right away or at least not have to wait too long for a court to become available. When courts are shared by tennis and pickleball players, it decreases the likelihood of availability for both tennis and pickleball players alike and creates supply issues within county parks for these sports. With the rising demand for pickleball courts throughout the country, Montgomery County Parks is actively striving to accommodate for the local demand for pickleball play within their community with a creative solution in turning existing tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts. As part of their Virtual Speaker Series, Montgomery Parks will be hosting a panel discussion on September 8th on the “competition for court space between tennis players and players of pickleball” as experts will discuss the challenges of keeping up with the growing demand for pickleball.