Pickleball is a Smash Hit. But in the Gables, There Are Too Few Places to Play

Pickleball, anyone? Oh, yes. Everyone, it seems, wants to play the hottest racket sport in the U.S., and that includes growing numbers of Gables residents. “An explosion,” is how veteran Parks and Recreation Department supervisor Mitchell Zuriarrain describes the surge in interest. “I have never seen demand like this. And what’s cool is that it’s a game that can be played by about everybody.”

If, that is, you can find an available court. Currently, there are only two dedicated pickleball courts in the Gables, both at Salvadore Park Tennis Center. Getting a reservation is not easy. At a recent City Commission meeting, Gables resident Silvia Piñera-Vazquez spoke of her frustration in having to log into the reservation portal promptly at 7 am only to find that both courts were already booked. “This is not a matter we should wait a year to resolve,” she said. “This is good for our community and should be dealt with fast. We need more than just two courts.”

Recognizing that the Gables is late to the pickleball party, city officials are scrambling to create makeshift courts at the Youth Center and even indoors at the Adult Activity Center. Other possibilities include relining tennis courts at the Biltmore Tennis Center and the Coral Gables Country Club. Longer term, the city’s planned $8 million makeover of Phillips Park will include two pickleball courts. Other potential sites include Jaycee Park, Kerdyk Park, and Family Park.

Nancy Lowry and Her Daughter Jessie Wolfson

Despite pleas from picklers to quickly create more courts, Zuriarrain says there are no plans to refit any of the 13 tennis courts at Salvadore Park for pickleball. In many cities around the U.S., tensions have flared when tennis courts are converted to pickleball, a game that some tennis players disdain. “We’re taking this very seriously,” Mayor Vince Lago said at an October commission meeting. “This is a priority for the entire commission.” But, he cautioned, “this is going to take time.”

Invented by three friends on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in the mid-1960s, pickleball has recently soared in popularity. The court is smaller than a tennis court, the short-handled paddles are solid wood or composite, and the perforated plastic balls make a satisfying “thwock” sound when struck.

The game is also easier to pick up than tennis, requires less running, and is easier on the joints. And picklers come in all ages. “I’ve had people in their 80s and kids as young as three on the court,” says Brad Mixson, a tennis pro who now spends half his court time tutoring pickle ballers. “It’s a lot of fun, and a lot more exercise than people think.”

Pickleball players
Brad Mixson, Tennis Pro, with visitor from Tallahassee Jessie Wolfson

Allison Freeland, who works at the University of Miami, was introduced to pickleball during a trip to California seven years ago. Back home, she drew lines on a lightly used tennis court on her property near Matheson Hammock Park, invited friends over, and from there “we all kind of got hooked on it,” she says. Now, the two re- surfaced courts at her home are busy most every day. “Good tennis players at first want to hit the ball hard,” says Freeland, “But pickleball is all about finesse, the dinking. You need patience. It’s a game I can see playing for a long time.”