A Relish For Senior Programming

A year ago in Peoria, Ariz., Mike Pagliarulo and a few senior citizens obtained permission from their homeowners’ association to add chalk lines and portable nets to a full-sized basketball court to make three pickleball courts. After six weeks, the group included more than 20 regular players; they asked further permission to replace the fading chalk lines with semi-permanent paint. After nine months and another upgrade, 97 enthusiastic players were using the courts

If you have underutilized tennis courts--or basketball courts--consider turning to an up-and-coming sport that is uniquely suited to add new life to old courts.

An Introduction

Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with a perforated plastic ball similar to a Wiffle ball, and wood or composite paddles about twice the size of Ping-Pong paddles. It can be played indoors or outdoors, with singles or doubles. Special apparel is not needed--merely something comfortable and appropriate for a court sport.

Although pickleball can be played by all ages, its popularity is really driven by seniors. The reasons they enjoy it so much are:

• With plenty of free time, they can use the courts in peak as well as off-peak hours.

• As many of them are former tennis players, they find pickleball a good “step-down” sport when tennis becomes too demanding.

• The game is easy to learn, so new players can be introduced to it and playing in minutes.

• More people are able to play at once compared to the number in a traditional tennis match.


There are two paths to convert existing courts to pickleball courts--shared use and dedicated use.

For shared use, simply add pickleball lines to an existing court so players of both sports can use the facility. This may cause some initial confusion, but players quickly become accustomed to the lines.

The simplest way to add one pickleball court is to lower the tennis net to 34 inches in the center. Hold-down arrangements can be used at the ends of the net to bring it down to the correct height at the sidelines (36 inches).

Alternatively, a center strap may be used to bring the net down to the proper height. If the tension on the net cord is very tight, the tension might have to be loosened slightly by adjusting the ratchet on the net post. Lines can be chalked, taped, or painted on the court for pickleball.

Map It Out

Figure 1 shows two pickleball courts laid out on a tennis court. Since a standard tennis court pad is 60 feet by 120 feet, and the minimum recommended size for a pickleball court is 30 feet by 60 feet, it is exactly one-fourth the size of a standard tennis court pad. Therefore, it is possible to put four pickleball courts in the same space as one tennis court; an exception to this is if the corners of the court are angled, which is done on some tennis courts.

If the corners are angled, then two courts will fit very nicely as shown. If the conversion is temporary or the court continues to be used for tennis, portable net stands can be used for the pickleball courts, and the tennis net can be left in place to serve as a backstop.

Figure 2 shows four pickleball courts on a tennis court. Note the position of the pickleball courts has shifted 2 feet to allow for the angled corners. That leaves only 6 feet between the pickleball baseline and the tennis net--a little tight--but it will work in a pinch.

If the tennis court does not have angled corners, adjust the courts 2 feet so there is an 8-foot distance between the pickleball baseline and the backstops. Note how the lines are made to coincide as much as possible with the tennis court lines in order to minimize line confusion. Also, be aware that this layout does not allow room for fences between the side-by-side courts.

Figure 3 shows two tennis courts that have been permanently converted to eight pickleball courts. (For a single tennis court conversion, refer to half of the diagram.) Square off angled corners if necessary. If the tennis court is the standard size, it only allows 5 feet between the pickleball sidelines and the fences. This should be considered the minimum dimension. If space and budget allow, add some overall width to give active players more room, as well as a space for seating by the courts.

Successful Playtime

Just that easily, conversions are happening across the United States with great success:

• Stanley Volkens, USA Pickleball Association Local Ambassador for Southwest Ohio, surveyed 16 tennis courts in Middletown and found them greatly underutilized. He proposed converting two tennis courts into six pickleball courts. The dimensions worked out perfectly. The courts have 14 feet between them with 8 feet at the ends. The tennis nets are the backdrops between the ends of the courts. The pickleball players did all the work, and paid all the costs ($3,956). They presented the new courts to the city with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by park board and city council members.

• Paul Barksdale and Rex Lawler, Local Ambassadors for Greater Terre Haute, Ind., played on the Middletown courts in the Southwest Ohio Senior Games, and were so impressed that they brought a similar plan back home. They found underutilized tennis courts and proposed a shared-cost plan to their park and recreation department. The players raised $1,500 to cover nets, posts and other supplies; the park and recreation department agreed to provide the labor following the same step-by-step process and court format used in Ohio.

• In Port Angeles, Wash., two deteriorating tennis courts were converted into six pickleball courts. Originally donated to the city by the Elks in 1951, the $30,000 conversion cost was shared by the Elks and the city. The courts are often maxed out with 24 players at a time having fun and getting exercise.

But don’t take my word for it--just witness a heated inter-generational game, and you will see why this sport with a funny name is becoming so popular.

David Johnson is the Media Relations Chair for the USA Pickleball Association. He can be reached at media@usapa.org