‘We now have to go away the town to play indoor pickleball’: Guelph pickleballers ask metropolis for extra room to play

Cheryl Diefenbacher hits the ball back to her opponents in a friendly game of pickleball at Margaret Greene Park on Aug. 29, 2022.

Guelph’s recreation facility offerings have not kept pace with the growing popularity of the sport of pickleball.

That is the complaint from a group that formed this past spring to represent the interests of the people who play the sport locally.

“We estimate there are about 500 pickleballers right now in Guelph,” said Susan McDaid, who is part of the membership and programming committee of the Pickleball Guelph Association (PGA). “We have to leave the city to play indoor pickleball.”

The association evolved from a working group that had come together in the fall of 2021 to talk about how they could advocate for better amenities, McDaid explained.

While there are seemingly lots of places to play in Guelph, the majority of them are outdoors, and shared with tennis players.

McDaid describes herself as an ex-tennis player, who gave up the racket sport because of a shoulder injury. Pickleball is played on a smaller court with a paddle in place of a racket, and a lightweight perforated ball. It was less strenuous than tennis, but allowed her to continue to stay active.

“It actually is quite a physical game,” said McDaid, describing it as a hybrid of tennis, table tennis and badminton.

In Guelph, the city has responded to increasing demand for facilities by turning outdoor tennis courts into hybrid courts with lines for both sports.

An example is the newly-constructed St. George’s Park courts, all four of which were lined for pickleball. There are also courts at Margaret Greene Park, Exhibition Park, and several other parks across the city.

But PGA members would like to see exclusive facilities, said McDaid.

“We get into conflict with the tennis players, and we don’t want conflict with the tennis players,” she said.

Indoor city facilities include three courts at the West End Community Centre and another three courts at the Evergreen Seniors Community Centre, but like the outdoor courts, these, too, are multi-use facilities.

At the seniors centre, much of the available playtime is dedicated to the Guelph Wellington Seniors Association’s pickleball club, a group that, according to organizer Rudy Simon, has approximately 180 members.

“We have 140 people on the wait list,” Simon said.

The club has had to limit membership, based on available playtime in the shared facilities, he said.

“Everybody can only play twice a week, because of our numbers,” Simon said.

The city is “behind the times” when it comes to pickleball facilities and programming, he said.

There are a couple of other indoor facilities, including the gym at Community Living and the ball hockey arena at the Guelph Country Club, where a modified version of the game can be played for a fee.

But in winter, players sometimes resort to going out of town to places like Breslau or RIM Park in Waterloo, said McDaid.

She also emphasized that, while the game is popular with seniors, it is enjoyed by people of all ages.

“It is not a seniors’ game,” she said. “The professionals are all young people in their 20s and 30s.”

She called it a lifelong sport, and suggested the city would do well to plan for continued growth in its popularity as it updates its Parks and Recreation Master Plan.

That process is currently underway, and the city encouraging feedback from residents to help shape recommendations regarding parks and facilities, deputy chief administrative officer Colleen Clack-Bush said in an email.

In general, she said, the city is trying to provide as many multi-purpose facilities, both indoors and outdoors, as possible.

“This means that, while we may not be offering dedicated pickleball spaces, we are looking at options for how to ensure our facilities are usable for a wide variety of sports, including pickleball,” Clack-Bush said. “This would include how the indoor gymnasium space at the South End Community Centre will be designed and built, to ensure it is a multi-use facility.”

To learn more about the Parks and Recreation Master Plan update, visit guelph.ca/plans-and-strategies/parks-and-recreation-master-plan.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Knowing the city was in the process of updating its Parks and Recreation Master Plan, when members of the Pickleball Guelph Association reached out to talk about the need for more facilities, the Mercury Tribune wanted to learn more about the sport and how its increasing popularity might be accommodated. 

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