7-0 vote converts two tennis courts to pickleball courts, controversy arises

For the past several years, the Sun City Tennis and Pickleball clubs have shared playing courts at the Tall Oaks Tennis Center. Schedules and court availability have been negotiated by leaders of both clubs.

All of that is about to change, however.

In a 7-0 vote on June 28, on its own initiative, the board decided to convert two of the tennis center’s courts to pickleball courts permanently, in effect stopping all of the “sharing.” They did so with the following rationale, as stated by Board President Dennis O’Leary: “No one club owns or controls any amenity here in Sun City. All the residents of the community own them.”

At Sun City’s Tall Oaks Tennis Center, there are currently eight tennis courts, two of which are shared by the Tennis Club and the Pickleball Club. The Tennis Club was formed in the early days of Sun City, and the Pickleball Club began activities in 2006. Tennis Club now claims 259 members, and the Pickleball Club has 158. Pickleball is a fast-growing sport nationally, and the Sun City club’s growth reflects that. The Tennis Club’s growth has leveled off around 250-260 in recent years.

For several years, the two clubs have negotiated the sharing of two courts, with limited success and constant tension and controversy. At first, the board encouraged the two charter clubs to work out a cooperative court-sharing system. Now, the focus will shift to the development of permanent pickleball courts.

Word of the board’s action spread quickly among members and officers of the two clubs, and the decision drew about 75 people to the July 12 board workshop meeting, about four times the usual turnout. The board did not discuss the issue on July 12; they listened to 20 minutes of resident commentary on the matter.

Tennis Club members and officers denounced the decision, saying they weren’t informed of it beforehand and they were blind-sided. Pickleball Club members were in attendance and stayed silent. They have been pressing for permanent access to tennis courts for at least three years.

No decision has been made on which courts will be converted, or when, or how much it will cost. In a separate conversation with the Sun Day, O’Leary said these matters will be worked out in coming months at meetings among representatives of the clubs and board members. He also indicated that the court-expansion program completed by the association and Tennis Club in 2006-07, with the $200,000 cost split evenly between the club and association, will be discussed as a possible example of what could be done now with the Pickleball Club.

In the meantime, the current 2017 court-sharing arrangement between the two clubs will be maintained.

“We did this for two reasons, O’Leary said. “We needed to make a decision that will work for the future, and we gathered data over the last two years about actual court usage, and we found that the courts are under-utilized. Also, for five years, the Pickleball Club seems to have been under the thumb of the Tennis Club, and that just didn’t seem right.”

“I’ve been a primary tennis advocate for a cooperative court-sharing arrangement, and I thought we had a workable plan for 2017 which is now in effect,” said Ken Kalscheur, immediate past tennis club president. “We are strongly opposed to this kind of unilateral action by the board.”

O’Leary stressed that the board took its June 28 action on its own initiative. In an apparent accidental coincidence, the Pickleball Club submitted a 13-page proposal that same day that included three options for permanent pickleball courts. The first suggests converting courts 1 and 2 at the tennis center into eight permanent pickleball courts with permanent nets, striping and fencing. The second suggests converting the current stadium tennis court into four permanent pickleball courts and construction of four additional courts adjacent to the stadium court. The third suggests construction of eight new courts at a new location in Sun City.

“We intended to make a presentation to the board for their information about this issue,” said Lou Farinella, Pickleball Club president. “We were not able to do so because we hadn’t consulted with the board before the meeting. We just left copies of our presentation documents with them. We found out about the board’s decision later and were pleasantly surprised.”

The Pickleball Club distributed this document to board members, but not to the tennis club.

“For over a year and a half, I myself and others have made several attempts to try to meet with the Tennis Club to discuss these very issues” said Farinella. “Through all of that time, we have gotten rejected over and over as we were told that we were not an officer so we could not be a part of any talks or negotiations.”

Most of the discussions, he added, in the last two years have been between current Tennis President Reg Kennedy and past Pickleball President Russ Howard. Farinella became Pickleball President in April, 2017.

Kennedy has been on vacation and was not available to talk with the Sun Day.

There has been some discussion about the possibility of building separate pickleball courts near Eakin Field by the horseshoe pits. Farinella said he doesn’t support that option because he says it isn’t necessary.

“It is unneeded as many people have stated that they go by the courts and see no one on them,” he said. “There are many unused hours even with both of our clubs playing on them. We do not see any reason to build new courts.”

He added this option would cost each pickleball member about $100 for a period of five years.

“Many members told us when they heard this that they would drop out of our club and just play on the courts on their own time and not be in the leagues,” Farinella said.

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting article. Board members have difficult choices to make.
    “No one club owns or controls any amenity here in Sun City. All the residents of the community own them.” A very important concept that is difficult to keep in the proper perspective.