THERE ARE ABOUT 38,000 pickleball courts in the United States and 90 more venues being built every month, according to the USA Pickleball Association. But anyone who has had to wait for a court—and who hasn’t?—knows that it’s just not enough. With everyone from George Clooney to The Today Show team to kids, teens, and adults of every age getting into one of the country’s fastest-growing sports, we still need more places to play so everyone can have a turn. The good news is that die-hard pickleball fans have spent the last few years finding ways to get courts built in their cities and towns—and you can follow their lead. Read on to learn how to foster new courts in your community.
Work with Your Local Government
The most common way to build more pickleball courts where you live is by appealing to your city council or whatever governing body works within your community. There are several steps you can take to make your request more likely to get approved.
Develop Relationships with Local Government Officials
“Before asking for money, reach out to local decision makers to educate them about pickleball, as well as the growth of the sport,” says Mike Nielsen, executive director of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Pickleball, who offers his services gratis to pickleball communities working to get courts built. He recommends that the person heading up the outreach be a local pickleball player who is “dedicated, hard-working, and personable and who has deep roots in the community.”
After helping government officials learn about the sport, pique their interest by getting them on the courts, suggests Nielsen, who used this approach in his hometown of Bountiful City, Utah, and throughout the state.
“Mike offered each of us a pickleball lesson and showed us courts that could be repurposed or areas where we could build new pickleball courts,” says Kendalyn Harris, city council member and Mayor-elect of Bountiful City. “And he stayed in touch with us through emails and phone calls.”
Identify Roadblocks and Organize to Overcome Them
Once you’ve cultivated government connections, ask those officials if they are willing to support pickleball projects. “Sometimes they’ll tell you no right away or they won’t seem enthusiastic,” says Nielsen. If that’s the case, find out what their issues are.
“One of the obstacles to repurposing some of our tennis courts as pickleball courts, according to our community council, was that we didn’t have an organized entity,” recalls Mark Daly, USA Pickleball Ambassador for Anchorage, Alaska. In response, another pickleball player, Robin Walthour, pushed to create a club, launching the Anchorage Pickleball Club in 2020 and leading to the development of new courts.
Research Potential Funding Sources
Ask your network to let you know where there are potential dollars for pickleball courts or when there might be funds earmarked for parks and recreation. “A great way to get funding is from a recently passed or upcoming municipal bond,” says Nielsen. He helped get an $8.5 million recreation bond passed in Bountiful City and is currently working to get some of this bond money allocated for pickleball courts.
But a municipal bond isn’t your only option. Nielsen has also found local government funds, as well as private funding, for parks and recreation facilities that will include pickleball. There are many potential sources to discover; it just takes some research and networking.
Make a Professional Pitch
Once you have interest from local government, they’ll direct you to the right venue to make your case, often a city council or county commission meeting. “Your leaders will let you know how to get on the agenda and when the time is right,” says Councilmember Harris.
Many communities have public meetings, and they are not usually well attended, she explains. “Showing up with 50 enthusiastic pickleball players holding paddles makesa big impact on decision makers,” says Harris, who suggests putting together a PowerPoint presentation that includes costs, designs, and the potential financial boon that pickleball may bring to the community.
Highlighting that information worked for certified pickleball pro and USA Pickleball District Ambassador for southern South Carolina Jeff Conradi. In 2018, when he and his wife moved from Minnesota to Hilton Head, South Carolina, the town had no dedicated public pickleball courts. A group of local players approached Conradi asking for his help, and he appealed to Hilton Head’s mayor and the tourism and convention boards, pointing out that the pickleball courts wouldn’t just please local residents—they could attract an influx of cash into the area.
“When we explained that we could bring in money through tournaments that would draw hundreds or thousands of people,” Conradi recalls, “they got excited.” So excited that the council approved funding for 24 dedicated public pickleball courts and a common area to be built in Hilton Head in 2022.
If you’re eager to replicate the magic in your town, Conradi says that he and other USA Pickleball Ambassadors are happy to share their presentations with communities looking to build courts.
“Showing up to a city council meeting with 50 pickleball players makes a big impact.”
You can look up Conradi or the Pickleball Ambassador in your area on usapickleball.org. Nielsen is also willing to provide architectural renderings and other presentation materials and can be reached through playaaupickleball.org.
Be Flexible with Venues
While you’re waiting for a funding opportunity to build new courts, you can entice the local government to help put up pickleball courts more quickly by finding tennis courts in disrepair. Any courts that are not used often can be repurposed as pickleball courts. You might ask local recreation centers, including those run by your city or county, to share indoor basketball courts with pickleball players on designated days and times, or to tape pickleball lines on outdoor hockey rinks come summer.
OR GO IT ALONE AND RAISE YOUR OWN MONEY
When you can’t get help from your local government or they’re not moving fast enough, consider taking matters into your own hands. Tammy Wursten started playing pickleball in 2008 after happening upon a game while visiting St. George, Utah. With no courts near her home in Kaysville, Utah, she and her husband drew chalk lines on an open surface in her housing community and began teaching friends and family how to play.
In 2014 she persuaded a local recreation center to let her tape, and ultimately paint, pickleball lines on two indoor multiuse courts that weren’t being used during the day. Then Wursten became a USA Pickleball Ambassador for Davis County, Utah, and formed a committee with the help of pickleball player Larry Moon in order to ask the city council for money to build dedicated pickleball courts.
“When the city turned us down, I asked if they would be willing to match whatever funds we could raise privately,” says Wursten. “They agreed and then got nervous when we raised $75,000, so they set a cap of $150,000.”
At a cost of $25,000 to build each court (or $45,000 per court with lighting) and with a goal of 12 courts, Wursten hoped to raise a total of $300,000; she had to provide half of that in order to receive matching funds from the city. In 18 months she and her band of volunteers had raised the $150,000, and as of spring 2021 there were 11 lighted outdoor pickleball courts in Kaysville. The enthusiasm was contagious and the city eventually provided extra funding so that every court had lighting.
“AFTER HELPING GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS LEARN ABOUT THE SPORT, TRY TO PIQUE THEIR INTEREST BY GETTING THEM ON THE COURTS.”
Here are three fundraising techniques that helped Wursten secure the funds to build her community’s pickleball courts—and may help others looking to do the same thing.
Offer naming opportunities
The pickleball players saw each brick that went into building the court as an opportunity to sell a lasting tribute. They announced that for a donation of $100, individuals or businesses could have their name on a brick; $200 donations garnered names on double bricks; and the names of $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000 donors were inscribed on a monument as bronze-, silver-, or gold-level benefactors, respectively. For $12,500, you could have your name engraved or business advertised on both the monument and a plaque at an individual court. To spread the word, Wursten says, “We posted in our local Facebook pickleball group and pounded the pavement to reach businesses.”
Conduct many small fundraisers—it can add up to big money
Wursten took a creative and personal approach to fundraising. She designed pickleball pins using donations from a local company, PinProsPlus, and enlisted her husband to find tennis skirts in thrift shops, which she repurposed and sold at a profit to pickleball players. Her team also collected gift-basket donations to auction off. Bowman’s Market allowed the group to set up a table in the grocery store and sell pickleball paddles they had received at half price from Robert Elliott of EngagePickleball. The owner of the market then offered to contribute a percentage of the day’s sales to the effort and ended up donating $12,500 for naming a half-court. Together, all of these efforts netted more than $25,000.
Request in-kind donations
Money talks, but it’s not the only thing you need to build a court. Wursten secured donations for materials—cement was provided at cost—and even some of the labor: A player who is an electrical contractor donated his time to install some of the lights. “Of the $150,000 we raised, $25,000 was in-kind,” says Wursten. These supporters were recognized with their names on the monument, just like the cash donors.
Whether you go the public route of appealing to local government or raise the funds for a private facility, where there’s a will to play pickleball, there’s a way to create a place to do it. We’ll see you on the court!