Dozens showed up to Washougal’s Hathaway Park on Monday morning to break in the city’s newest attraction: six pickleball courts that officials hope will draw visitors from throughout the region.
If you’re unfamiliar with pickleball, you can be forgiven for assuming it has something to do with pickles. The net-based sport is similar to tennis, but it’s played with a paddle and a whiffle ball on a smaller court, and pickleball enthusiasts are quick to tell you it’s actually one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation.
Last year, the Washougal City Council decided to use leftover funding in the city’s budget to redevelop the park’s dilapidated tennis courts into pickleball courts. The idea came to the city from Mike Wolfe, 68, the president of the Columbia River Pickleball Club.
“We just wanted to do something with the park that would be useful for the whole community,” said Wolfe, who’s been an avid pickleball player for the past five years. “When I started playing, there were limited places to play.”
When Wolfe brought the proposal to the city, some officials needed to search “pickleball” on the Internet to find out what it was. Nonetheless, his pitch soon found support as the councilors saw it as an opportunity to welcome more visitors to the city.
In all, the project cost more than $40,000, City Administrator David Scott said. The cost was partially offset by a $10,000 grant from the Clark County Parks Foundation, and the pickleball club has committed to donate at least $5,000 to help with the expenses.
More than 60 people came out to celebrate the new courts Saturday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. And about three dozen lined up outside the courts Monday morning waiting to square off against each other.
Wolfe formed the club about two years ago to drum up support for the new courts. At the time, he hoped to find just 35 people interested in joining, but today, membership has swollen to about 170.
“It’s exploding,” Wolfe said. “(Pickleball) has become really popular in retirement communities but it’s also conducive for kids.”
The sport originated on Bainbridge Island in 1965, when then-Congressman Joel Pritchard and his friend Bill Bell, a businessman, decided to play a little badminton, according to the USA Pickleball Association. When they couldn’t find the right equipment, the two decided to use pingpong paddles and a whiffle ball instead, according to the organization.
The origin of the name is a bit of a mystery, but the sport caught on with their friends and spread from there.
Today, new courts are popping up around the Northwest in parks, recreation centers and backyards. Along with Port Angeles, Washougal now boasts the state’s largest collection of pickleball courts in one location, according to the USA Pickleball Association.
With that in mind, officials hope Hathaway Park will become a popular spot for pickleball tournaments, Scott said.
“I think next year’s when we really would begin to see more of the attraction,” he said. “We’re very excited, along with the pickleball club, that they’ll be able to host at least an annual tournament.”
The park will hold its first tournament this weekend with 96 players hitting the courts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The club hasn’t made any plans for more tournaments yet, but Wolfe said early September might be a good time to schedule another one or two.
Wolfe sees the park eventually hosting as many as four or five tournaments a year. He also expects to see more courts in the area.