PICKLEBALL ENVY: Why Kelowna isn't hosting tournaments any time soon | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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PICKLEBALL ENVY: Why Kelowna isn't hosting tournaments any time soon

When Vernon was chosen earlier this month to host the 2024 Pickleball Western Regional Championships, it made for plenty of pickleball envy.

The North Okanagan city was well ahead of most other communities in recognizing the explosion in interest in the sport and quickly supplied the courts players need, while other cities like Kelowna are still discovering the fact.

Kelowna was once a hot spot, hosting four national championships before COVID, but can no longer even be considered for such events. It doesn’t have the facilities and won’t for some time yet.

“We would like to take our turn,” Kelowna Pickleball Club president Jamie Menzies said. “They have done a fantastic job in Vernon but they also would like to share the load because it’s all volunteer based and over time they are going to want some other clubs to step up and help out."

The Vernon Pickleball Association's complex in Vernon. It will host to the 2024 Pickleball Canada Western Regional Championship.
The Vernon Pickleball Association's complex in Vernon. It will host to the 2024 Pickleball Canada Western Regional Championship.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Vernon Pickleball Association

Unfortunately for the Kelowna club, they have no idea when that might happen. The group has been pushing the City of Kelowna to step up with not just more courts, which the City has already agreed to — but the right courts.

“The source of contention for some people is we have advised the city on numerous occasions that it’s a hub sport,” Menzies said. “It has to be in one location but they continue to want to build satellite courts - four in this neighbourhood, nine over here…. For public use that might work but for us as a club, we can’t manage that structure with organized play all over the city.”

Their wants and needs are more in line with regional, provincial and national championships where hundreds of players will travel and stay to play. That’s Vernon’s advantage. It has 12 dedicated indoor courts in one location that can expand to 36 if tennis courts are used.

Pickleball popularity has been growing exponentially, especially through COVID and since. Pickleball Canada figures one million people played the sport in 2022, up three times from 2020 when 350,000 people played. In the US, more than 36.5 million people played in 2022, up from five million in 2021. That places it among the most popular participation sports in North America.

Why? Well, if you haven't take a turn yet, it’s cheap to play, easy to learn, a social activity and it’s fun.

“Most people already own runners, then they just need to buy a paddle,” Menzies said. “The learning curve is fairly small. If you just want to go out and have fun and meet some new people, you can do that playing for just a few hours.”

Kelowna only has 12 courts currently but if City plans hold true, that could expand to 36 within a few years. Unfortunately for the club, many of those are going to be neighbourhood courts. All eyes are on plans for the new Parkinson Recreation Centre, which the club hopes will have 24 indoor courts to use year round — and once again qualify to host regional events.

The expansion in courts will mean wonders to the club as well. It currently has 600 members with 200 more on a waitlist. Menzies said the club can’t expand because it just doesn’t have enough courts. The club gets just 42% of playing time on courts across the city and can’t accommodate any more players but anticipates it could "easily" grow to 1,000 members with more courts.

But there are still many unanswered questions. The City expects the club to kick in some funds for the courts, but they don’t know how much. They don’t have finalized plans for the indoor courts, either and aren’t entirely sure what the future holds.

Parks planner Stefan Johansson acknowledges all the issues the club and recreational players face and the City is trying to accommodate growth in both pickleball and tennis, but was short on timelines and details of what it calls “feature destination courts.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Marshall Jones or call 250-718-2724 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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