Seattle Outdoor Pickleball — State of Affairs — Fall 2019
The answers below are educated guesses from someone who does not work for the Seattle Parks Department. If you would rather get your answers directly from the Parks Department, feel free to email them at email@example.com.
Who is in charge of pickleball at the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department?
Nobody is in charge of pickleball. There might be someone monitoring the firstname.lastname@example.org email inbox at the moment but no single person or division is in charge of pickleball.
The Seattle Parks Department recently issued a “Pickleball Pilot Study Report”, and that is the only official Seattle Parks position on the topic that I know. Anything else you hear from someone at the Parks Department needs to be taken with a grain of salt: it is more likely to be that person’s personal opinion than departmental policy.
Who is in charge of outdoor pickleball at the Seattle Parks Department?
Nobody is in charge of outdoor pickleball.
There are at least two divisions of the Seattle Parks Department that have their wooden spoon in the outdoor pickleball soup:
The Amy Yee Tennis Center is in charge of Seattle's
137+ public outdoor tennis courts,
including those that have lines for pickleball. They seem to have two main goals
regarding these outdoor courts:
- Protecting the tennis courts from being taken over by a lot of other activities. You might think that tennis courts are a good place to play pickleball. Other people think they make for a great off-leash dog area, a great dodgeball enclosure, a great place to set off fireworks, a great place for bike-polo, a great place to play soccer-tennis, etc…
- Earn money by renting the outdoor tennis courts. They get a lot of court rental money from private high schools and they are really wanting to protect that income stream. As a result, the Parks Department wants to "prioritize [for dual tennis/pickleball striping] courts that are not scheduled for practices or other matches". This is somewhat ambiguous but it might mean avoiding adding pickleball lines to all tennis courts scheduled for official tennis practices or other matches.
The Seattle Parks’ planning department is involved in the resurfacing of existing tennis courts.
When tennis courts get resurfaced and pickleball lines are added,
one of their landscape architects draws the plans specifying
where the pickleball lines will go and what paint colors will be used.
They do so under the direction of the Amy Yee Tennis Center.
If the Seattle Parks Department were ever to design dedicated pickleball courts, the planning department would also be in charge of their design.
To give you a complete picture, you need to know that it is the Recreation division of the Seattle Parks Department that is in charge of indoor pickleball. It has nothing to do with outdoor pickleball just as the two departments above have nothing to do with indoor pickleball. Because outdoor and indoor pickleball are governed by separate Seattle Parks Departments divisions, each with their own goals, when summer comes some community centers suspend free indoor pickleball play but are unable to offer free outdoor pickleball play on adjacent pickleball courts. Not that we should accept this sad state of affairs.
Why is Seattle promoting pickleball on shared tennis courts instead of on dedicated pickleball courts?
It appears that different factions inside the Seattle Parks Department support different approaches.
Before 2017, the policy was that tennis courts were for tennis players only. I’m told that even when a neighborhood council asked that pickleball lines be added on their two neighborhood tennis courts that were about to be resurfaced (and offered to pay for the extra lines), their request for pickleball lines was denied.
Nonetheless, somehow pickleball lines were painted on the Kinnear tennis court and the two Observatory courts, all in Queen Anne. Maybe the occupants of the fire station located next to the Observatory courts had something to do with this.
In early 2017, the Seattle Parks Department initiated a pilot project that would paint lines for one outdoor pickleball court on one barely ever used tennis court in South Park and another one on a disaffected tennis court in Georgetown. After feedback from the pickleball community who claimed this to be totally inadequate, the pilot project got expanded bit by bit to include 24 “courts” in seven different locations. In October 2017, pickleball lines were finally painted to create those 24 “courts”.
As the pickleball pilot project progressed, some people at the Seattle Parks Department thought that pickleball players should get their own outdoor dedicated courts and leave the tennis courts to tennis players. At multiple occasions, the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association was told that it should find locations (inside Seattle parks) other than existing outdoor tennis courts to create dedicated pickleball courts. The Seattle Metro Pickleball Association researched about 50 potential such locations and around February 2019 submitted a list of 8 candidates to the Parks department. As of September 2019, it still had not received any feedback on that list.
More recently, a high-ranking member of the Seattle Parks department proposed that pickleball players should create their own private facilities, independently from the Parks department.
Meanwhile, the Parks department’s Pickleball Pilot Study Report released at the end of August 2019 recommends a two prong approach consisting of:
Adding pickleball lines to the following outdoor tennis courts:
- Bitter Lake
- Walt Hundley (this has been done)
- Considering creating dedicated pickleball sites on the dilapidated Magnuson Park outdoor tennis courts OR the Ravenna Park basketball courts.
Notwithstanding the Pickleball Pilot Study Report, the Seattle Parks Department seems to be planning the creation of sets of one or two dedicated pickleball courts in some of the smaller parks they are creating or renovating. This is very much like the sets of one or two tennis courts that were created all over Seattle in the 1970s with the support of the US Tennis association (USTA). The USTA no longer supports the creation of isolated or double tennis courts. Similarly, the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association does not support the creation of isolated or double pickleball courts because they do not cater to the social aspect of the sport.
Why not create new dedicated pickleball courts next to existing tennis courts?
Other cities across the country are creating new dedicated pickleball courts next to existing tennis courts. However, I'm told that creating new impervious surfaces in Seattle parks is frowned upon and requires costly and lengthy environmental impact studies and possibly mitigation.
Is this a valid reason to avoid creating new dedicated public pickleball courts?
Why aren’t tennis courts truly multi-purpose, like the community center gyms and the city’s athletic fields?
Put yourself in the shoes of tennis players and tennis institutions who have been protecting their tennis courts from being used as off-leash dog areas, dodgeball courts, fireworks launchpads, soccer-tennis courts, etc. It is only normal that their first reaction would be to refuse to allow pickleball, and their second reaction would be to accept pickleball only under the condition that it sits quietly in the corner and wears nearly invisible court lines.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of pickleball players.
Why are so many Seattle outdoor tennis courts poorly maintained?
Seattle has at least 137 public outdoor tennis courts. In 2019, the Parks department had an annual budget of $100,000 for outdoor tennis and basketball court resurfacing. That is enough money to resurface about 6 courts per year, or every tennis court once every 22 years.
To compound the problem, many courts were built in the 1970s and are reaching their life expectancy of 50 years.
To put this in a broader context, the Seattle Parks department has about a $400,000,000 deferred maintenance backlog.
Why isn’t Seattle converting some outdoor tennis courts into dedicated pickleball courts like other cities do?
Cities all over the country are converting unfrequently used tennis courts into pickleball courts.
But how can you show for sure that a set of Seattle tennis courts is “unfrequently used” enough to justify converting them to become dedicated pickleball courts?
The city of Seattle doesn’t have much data regarding outdoor tennis court usage. It does have a good record of how many times high school tennis teams reserve tennis courts and it does keep track of the number of times tennis courts are rented by the general public. Until 2019, it didn’t consistently keep track of whether a rental was for tennis or for pickleball. It doesn’t have any data about the number of times a court is being used without being reserved. Without any better data, since most tennis courts end up seeing some rental activity, they are pretty much all deemed to be used reasonably frequently by tennis players. Except for the dilapidated ones of course.
Why are the pickleball lines so subtle?
Tennis organizations are pretty particular about the lines that can be drawn on tennis courts used for sanctioned tennis matches. At first, they didn’t want any extra lines. Then they started promoting “junior tennis” which could take place on regular tennis courts but used different lines, so they allowed subtle lines under some conditions. Seattle outdoor pickleball lines are being drawn on tennis courts using similar guidelines.
On a related note, the recently issued Pickleball Pilot Study Report now recommends avoiding adding pickleball lines to tennis courts scheduled for tennis practices or tennis matches. Since these practices and matches tend to take place in locations that have 3 or more courts, does it mean that none of these locations will be striped for pickleball? The Pickleball Pilot Study Report seems somewhat ambiguous on the topic.
Keep in mind that other cities have managed to use more visible pickleball lines on their tennis courts.
See also "Why aren’t tennis courts truly multi-purpose" above.
How about using some cushioning surface on the outdoor pickleball courts to help senior players' aging knee joints?
The Seattle Metro Pickleball Association asked that the Seattle Parks Department consider using one of the available rubberized cushioning systems when resurfacing the Walt Hundley tennis courts in late summer 2019.
The Seattle Metro Pickleball Association's never received an answer to this request.
Why isn’t the Parks Department striping outdoor tennis courts for pickleball where pickleball players are currently playing?
Well, one might think that if you were going to create outdoor pickleball courts you would want to start by looking where there is an obvious demand for such courts and by trying to fulfill that demand first. However, this strategy might in the long term favor the already most affluent neighborhoods. Hence the initial decision in early 2017 of locating the pilot program's initial pickleball courts in Georgetown and South Park, without regard for existing demand.
The current set of courts recommended for striping by the city’s recently released Pickleball Pilot Study Report is carefully crafted to span various geographic locations covering the whole city, and favoring underserved populations. See below for more information about the exact locations.
Where will we get more pickleball courts lines on outdoor tennis courts?
The Pickleball Pilot Study Report recommends the following outdoor tennis courts for dual striping:
- Bitter Lake
- Walt Hundley (Completed in August 2019)
When will we get more pickleball court lines on outdoor tennis courts?
The current Seattle Parks plan is to consider adding pickleball lines to the courts mentioned above, as they are being resurfaced. The Walt Hundley courts were resurfaced in summer 2019. Reading the Pickleball Pilot Study Report’s appendix B, it seems that the Bitter Lake tennis courts would be next. Keep in mind that the Seattle Parks department seems to have enough money to resurface only about 6 tennis courts per year.
How many pickleball courts can we get on a tennis court?
On a single full-size tennis court, you can draw lines for 4 pickleball courts. On a double tennis court, it is often possible to draw lines for 6 and possibly 8 pickleball courts.
Unfortunately, the Seattle Parks Department currently refuses to draw more than two pickleball courts on each tennis court. They are afraid that more pickleball lines would confuse tennis players. This is a shame because it makes suboptimal use of the space available. Moreover, pickleball players have been stressing the community building aspect of the sport which requires having many pickleball courts in the same location.
In more practical terms, on the Walt Hundley tennis courts the Seattle Parks Department painted lines for 4 pickleball courts where it could have painted lines for 6 and possibly 8.
Pickleball players are currently using masking tape to create 8 pickleball courts on the 3 East Green Lake tennis courts and it should be possible to create 10 pickleball courts there. However, the Seattle Parks Department is already saying that when the time comes, they will only put 6 pickleball courts there.
When will we get more pickleball courts on the East Green Lake tennis courts
Not any time soon according to the Pickleball Pilot Study Report.
A large number of pickleball players are gathering at the East Green Lake tennis courts several times a week. The city has lined only one of those tennis courts with lines for two pickleball courts. Pickleball players have been using masking tape to create 6 additional pickleball courts for over a year and are impatiently waiting for the Parks department to add permanent pickleball court lines.
Unfortunately, adding such lines is nowhere to be found in the recently issued Pickleball Pilot Study Report. The reason might be that these courts are used for high-school tennis matches. The Pickleball Pilot Study Report recommends avoiding adding pickleball lines to tennis courts scheduled for tennis practices or tennis matches.
The Seattle Parks Department is already saying that if they were to add pickleball lines to more of these courts, they would only put 6 pickleball courts there even though the space could accommodate 10 pickleball courts.
How is the Seattle Parks Department going to accommodate growth in demand for outdoor pickleball?
Growth? What growth?
When will we get dedicated outdoor pickleball courts in Seattle?
Not anytime soon. The Pickleball Pilot Study Report recommends that the old Magnuson outdoor tennis courts OR the disaffected old Ravenna Park basketball and tennis courts be considered for conversion to dedicated outdoor pickleball courts. However, it does not provide any money to do so.
The Magnuson outdoor tennis courts are in really bad shape, built in a wetland, and possibly slated for demolition as part of a wetland restoration project. They are also being used as a beer garden a few times a year.
The Ravenna Park basketball courts are somewhat small, lack parking nearby, and might be too noisy for neighboring residents.
At the Seattle Parks Department’s suggestion, the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association researched about 50 potential locations to create new dedicated outdoor pickleball courts and submitted in early 2019 a list of 8 candidates to the Parks department. As of September 2019, it still had not received any feedback on that list. It is worth noting, however, that the Magnuson site listed in the Pickleball Pilot Study Report was one of the 8 sites proposed by the SMPA.
When are the dilapidated Magnuson Park outdoor tennis courts going to be converted to dedicated pickleball courts?
As soon as you make it happen. The Pickleball Pilot Study Report recommends that these old tennis courts be considered for dedicated pickleball courts. However, it does not allocate any funds for such a conversion.
You also have to know that the 520 bridge construction project impacted some wetlands where the bridge lands in Seattle. The initial plan was for the Magnuson Park tennis courts to be removed and the wetland they sit on to be restored as mitigation for the wetlands lost due to the new 520 bridge. The mitigation happened some other way and the Magnuson old tennis courts are now stuck in administrative limbo: they are still slated for removal, but the initial motivation for their removal vanished and there are no funds allocated for their removal.
These courts are extremely old, have developed huge cracks but offer enough room for about 16 dedicated pickleball courts. According to the Seattle Parks Department’s own Oliver Bazinet there are three possible approaches to rehabilitate them.
- Cheap: Fill in the cracks. Put a coat of paint and install pickleball nets. The cracks are very likely to reappear quickly.
- More expensive: Imagine adding steel plates on top of the existing tennis courts to span the cracks and create a new playable surface. There is a new unproven technology that would do something similar except that they are not using steel.
- Expensive: Remove the existing courts and build new ones where the old ones once stood.
You know everything you need to know. Go ahead. Make it happen.
Should I keep driving to other cities that offer better outdoor pickleball facilities?
That is certainly an option. Preferably drive alone in a gas guzzling vehicle, and if you drive to the Eastside take the long way around Lake Washington to avoid bridge tolls.
Why don’t we get one of Seattle’s Major Project Challenge Fund grants to build public dedicated pickleball courts?
You might have heard that the city provides grants of 1 to 2 million dollars through its Major Projects Challenge Fund to finance park improvements. While it is not out of the question to apply for such a grant, you should know that only a very limited number of such projects get funded every year. And if you were to apply for such a grant you would end up competing with such projects as the expansion of the Amy Yee Tennis Center and various community center upgrades.
Moreover, Seattle’s own Board of Park Commissioners has been voicing its concern regarding the fact that the number of grants that the Major Challenge Project Funds is able to allocate is quite limited.
How many public outdoor pickleball courts does Seattle have?
This is a tricky question. The answer depends on how you define a "pickleball court".
If you were counting tennis courts, would you count a tennis court without a fence the same way as you would count a fenced tennis court? Or would you dismiss it entirely because tennis players would avoid it? Depending on your answer, you might or might not want to include pickleball courts that don’t have a fence such as the Maple Leaf Reservoir Park courts or the Hing Hay court.
Would you count a tennis court that is a few feet shorter than normal as an actual tennis court? If not, then you might not count the Kinnear Park pickleball court which, last time I checked, was missing the pickleball baselines?
Would you count a tennis court that has basketball posts anywhere near the baselines? If not, then you might dismiss the South Park pickleball courts.
Would you count tennis courts that have gutters designed to collect water on the edge of the court? If not, you might not want to include the Delridge pickleball courts.
Would you count a tennis court that has cracks big enough to have grass growing in them as a tennis court? If not, you might not count the Discovery Park pickleball courts.
Would you count a tennis court whose lines were not contrasting with the rest of the court such as a dark green tennis court with light green tennis lines? If not, then you might not count any pickleball court with low contrast lines.
Would you count a tennis court with an extra-wide and extra-high net as a tennis court? If not, you might not count a pickleball court drawn on a tennis court in such a way as to use the tennis net as the pickleball net. The tennis net can be made to approximate a pickleball net, but it is unlikely to meet the pickleball net rules and does not allow for “advanced” shots such as an Ernie or an “around the post” shot.
Would you count a tennis court that does not have a tennis net the same way you would count a tennis court that does have a net? People could bring their own tennis net. How about a pickleball court without a pickleball net?
If you were counting tennis courts, would you count a tennis court that also has lines for pickleball courts the same way as you would count a tennis court that is only used for tennis? What if that tennis court was reserved for pickleball lessons 4 or 6 hours a day during the summer? If not, you might not count the East Green Lake pickleball courts.
Am I trying to say that only courts dedicated to pickleball should count as pickleball courts? Not at all. I’m saying that numbers provided without context offer a distorted picture of the current Seattle outdoor pickleball courts situation. Now, if you still want to know how many outdoor pickleball courts are available in Seattle, visit our courts page, and run your own tally. Make sure to read the fine print or even better: go visit each location to look at what it is that you are counting.
What happened to my Big Ideas for outdoor pickleball?
In preparation for its latest 12-year Strategic Plan due later this year, the Seattle Parks Department has engaged in community outreach and repeatedly asked its citizens to share their “Big Ideas” for Seattle's parks. Many of you have expressed specific ideas related to outdoor pickleball. Unfortunately, these big ideas got summarized into “more pickleball”. I guess it is easier to fit “more pickleball” on a slide than “covered (so we can play in the rain), lighted (so we can play in the evening), dedicated (so we can play without annoying the tennis players), outdoor pickleball complexes of 12 or more pickleball courts (so we can satisfy the social aspect of the sport)” but it is quite disheartening. If you don’t like it, let the superintendent (Jesus.Aguirre@seattle.gov) and the Board of Park Commissioners (Rachel.Acosta@seattle.gov) know what your big ideas were.
Why is the Seattle Parks Department so …?
The Seattle Parks Department is neither good nor bad. It is made of people, many of which support pickleball, some of which don’t support pickleball, few of which have any power to change anything pickleball-related, and most of which have nothing to do with pickleball at all and do an amazing number of great things with limited means.
So, what should we do?
If there is any outdoor pickleball at all in Seattle, it is because people working together inside and outside the Seattle Parks Department have labored to make it happen.
If we want more outdoor pickleball, we too are going to have to keep making it happen because it is not going to happen otherwise. If we keep pushing, we’ll get there eventually. Let’s make sure we have fun along the way.
More Pickleball News
For more pickleball news, check out the current Seattle Metro Pickleball Association newsletter.