By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Scoring front-row tickets to a Lady Gaga or Rolling Stones concert might be easier than getting a pickleball court in Sea Isle City these days.
Yes, obviously that’s an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that pickleball is becoming a full-fledged craze in the beach resort, city officials say.
“It is fabulously popular,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Now, Sea Isle recreation officials are discussing ways to create more access to the pickleball courts so that even more players can enjoy them, especially during the bustling summer tourism season.
Seven new asphalt courts that opened on 42nd Place over the Memorial Day weekend are Sea Isle’s new epicenter for the pickleball community.
“They’re overused already. They’re a hit,” said Arthur Iannone, chairman of the city’s Recreation Committee.
At a meeting Tuesday night, Iannone and other members of the Recreation Committee discussed the pickleball dilemma and what might be done to meet the heavy demand for court time.
Custer said pickleball is so popular that even if the city had built 17 new courts on 42nd Place this summer, instead of seven, they still would be full.
The nearly $180,000 pickleball project also included new fencing, benches and trash cans. A tall, chain-link fence with a black covering surrounds the site.
The seven pickleball courts on 42nd Place and two more courts on West Jersey Avenue are free for the public to use and available on a first come, first served basis.
Iannone briefly mentioned the possibility of implementing a small fee to play pickleball, but indicated that he would prefer to see the courts remain free.
One idea is to install new signs to urge pickleball players to share the courts.
“Try the signs and see how they work,” Iannone said.
No decisions were made, but the committee suggested that perhaps a time limit of one hour could be set for two or three of the courts on 42nd Place. Another possibility is to allow the other courts on 42nd Place to be used on a rotating basis to give everyone a change to use them during the busy summer season.
Mark Rose, a Recreation Committee member, said pickleball players are usually pretty good at self-regulating their time on the courts, giving everyone else a chance to play, too.
He believes that some things simply must be “tweaked” – not a dramatic overhaul – to give everyone a better opportunity to play during the summer.
Rose said the city should consider separating the novices from the advanced pickleball players so that everyone will be able to play at their own skill level at the courts.
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, ping-pong and badminton. Less demanding than tennis, pickleball is a relatively low impact sport, which makes it appealing to senior citizens and baby boomers. Sea Isle’s courts also attract young pickleball players.
The city built seven new pickleball courts to meet heavier demand for a fast-growing sport that is particularly popular with baby boomers and senior citizens. U.S. Census figures show that the average age in Sea Isle is 63 years old, which is right in the sweet spot for pickleball players.
“I hear nothing but positive feedback from people,” Custer said of the public response to the new courts.
Rose believes that the heavily used pickleball courts are a sign that Sea Isle has a vibrant recreation program. The courts on 42nd Place are located at the base of the bridge entering town off Sea Isle Boulevard.
“It looks good for people to drive over the bridge and see the courts full,” Rose said.