Pickleball players confined to four public courts will find more soon at Patch Reef Park’s tennis center.
Persistence paid off for the sport’s official ambassador. Raul Travieso spent four years asking city council and the beach and park district for more dedicated outdoor lighted courts. Especially after the pandemic shut down the well-used indoor courts in the district’s Sugar Sand Park. Sixty to 100 players were using that field house five days a week, Travieso said.
But a quick conversion at Patch Reef turned into a more permanent solution for up to $25,000. “Let’s do it right and get it all done. It’s already lit,” Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park commissioner Craig Ehrnst said to add a line item to their budget.
“Unless it will create a major problem scheduling tennis, I would say just go ahead and do the four courts. Just do it,” agreed commissioner Bob Rollins before the unanimous approval.
“They rent it the same way they book a tennis facility,” executive director Briann Harms added about reserving court space in advance.
“I’m elated,” said Travieso, Florida Southeast District USA Pickleball ambassador and president of Boca Raton Pickleball Club.
He’s hoping the district will turn to local pickleball players who will volunteer their expertise on the build, as the courts are configured differently. He also wants to make sure tennis players are on board with sharing the facility. “We want to be welcome guests at Patch Reef. Pickleball is not loud, it’s just a different sound. It’s a hard paddle hitting a plastic ball. We’d like to get the support of tennis folks before this is built. That can be done through communications.”
Ehrnst said he realized the popularity of the sports was getting more widespread when his son learned how to play. The average age now is 41, Travieso said. “It’s an easy and fast game to learn to play. We call it a game for all ages and abilities. That’s the beauty of pickleball,” he said, pointing out that local gated communities have installed pickleball courts.
“When the gym opens again at Sugar Sand, we have a clinic at 8 a.m. Wednesdays and have had a hundred or so people go through that clinic; it’s free,” he said. “We are grateful for those courts, but working adults and students can’t play when the sun starts setting earlier with the time changes.” That’s why lighted courts are their priority, he added.
The four outdoor courts now are at the city’s new Hillsboro El Rio Park South. “Our next move is to support phase II of Spanish River Athletic complex,” he said about the next request. “That’s why we are so appreciative of Craig’s acknowledgement to meet the demands of players, and get some additional courts right now. We’re so grateful we have this startup money, and I know the district will do a great job building nice courts.”
By Marci Shatzman