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2:32 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

‘Have paddle, will travel’: Pickleball has become a tourist draw in Prescott, say advocates

Local pickleball player Sue Brogaard strikes the ball during women’s doubles play at the Pioneer Park pickleball courts Friday morning, Sept. 14. Brogaard was among the 200 or so competitors to take part in the Prescott Mile High Matchup tournament — one of the growing number of events scheduled at the courts. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Local pickleball player Sue Brogaard strikes the ball during women’s doubles play at the Pioneer Park pickleball courts Friday morning, Sept. 14. Brogaard was among the 200 or so competitors to take part in the Prescott Mile High Matchup tournament — one of the growing number of events scheduled at the courts. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

When it comes to Prescott’s tourist draws, a number of traditional attractions come to mind.

Scenic lakes, ponderosa-pine forests, a quaint downtown, and the “World’s Oldest Rodeo” regularly top the list.

But pickleball?

Enthusiasts of the growing activity say it is not far-fetched to mention the paddle sport among the list of the community’s attractions.

For proof, they point to Pioneer Park’s eight new courts, which serve as a meeting place for locals, as well as a growing number of out-of-town players.

This weekend, about 200 players were on hand at the Commerce Drive courts, vying for a win in a United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA)-sanctioned competition.

A quick look at the Prescott Mile High Matchup tournament’s player list shows dozens of participants from Arizona communities such as Anthem, Fountain Hills, and Wickenburg, along with a good number of local players.

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Players take part in the women’s doubles pickleball competition Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2018, at Prescott’s Pioneer Park courts. The three-day Prescott Mile High Matchup tournament attracted male and female players from around the state. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

And even when tournaments aren’t involved, local players say the courts are getting regular use by locals and visitors.

“Every weekend this year, we’ve had people come in to play,” said Peg Travers, president of the Prescott Pickleball Association. “It’s a destination now; pickleball is a destination.”

Buckeye resident Dee Davison, who was in charge of the software and registration for the tournament, agrees. “There’s a saying in pickleball, ‘Have paddle will travel,’” she said, noting that Phoenix-area players, especially, like to make the trip to Prescott to play.

“So many people in the Valley are looking for a place to escape the heat,” Davison said. Compared with Prescott’s September highs in the mid-80s, she said, “It’s still 105 in the Valley.”

Former Prescott Police Chief Randy Oaks, a pickleball player and certified referee who served as the announcer for this weekend’s tournament, attests to the traveling nature of pickleball players.

Oaks said he and his wife regularly travel far and near to tournament locales. Recently, their pickleball-related destinations have included St. George, Utah, and the island of Jamaica. They also are planning a trip to Indian Wells, California, for the USAPA nationals, where Oaks has been asked to serve as an announcer.

“This sport is growing so fast,” Oaks said.

MORE COURTS

With a fundraiser for four new courts currently underway, pickleball advocates say Prescott is poised to bring in even more tournament play in the next year or so.

“The main reason we built the courts was to provide public play for our community,” says Travers. “But the long-term plan was to create a complex to bring people in.”

With the four new courts, Travers says the complex could attract “tier-two” tournaments that will qualify winners for nationals. She expects the tournaments to bring in 275 to 300 players.

Travers and Prescott Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes point out that development of the courts has been a public/private partnership between the local pickleball group, the City of Prescott, and Yavapai County.

While much of the cost is being covered through private donations, the city contributed $25,000 to the original eight courts, and has pledged $30,000 for the next four courts. Meanwhile, the county pitched in the parking-lot paving, at a value of about $20,000. The courts also are located on public land.

In addition, Baynes noted that work just wrapped up on new on-site restrooms, which will be shared by users of the nearby Brownlow Trail system. Baynes said the restrooms, which were open in time for this weekend’s tournament, cost about $70,000.

Travers says the Prescott Pickleball Association has raised about $10,000 toward the four new courts so far without any advertising, and the fundraising effort will intensify after this weekend’s tournament.

To reach its target amount, Travers said, “We probably need another $70,000.”

Noting that the fundraising effort for the first eight courts raised $150,000, Travers is confident that the group will reach its goal and have the four new courts in play by summer 2019.

For local players, camaraderie and exercise appear to be the main draws.

Diane Cassidy serves on the local PPA board and is also a member of the informal Sunrise Girls group, which plays in the cool, early-morning temperatures.

Cassidy stressed that the Sunrise Girls aren’t the only ones out in the mornings. “These courts are full, starting at 7:30 every day of the week,” she said.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.