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Pickleball Comes To Central Park. But Is The Price A Problem?

HENRIETTA MCFARLANE, HOST: If you’re one of the many thousands who have taken up New York’s latest sporting craze, Pickleball, then listen up. A brand new set of professional courts are coming to the heart of Manhattan. But for some pickleballers, the cost could prove to be a problem. Here’s Thomas Copeland with more.

THOMAS COPELAND, BYLINE: Pickleball. America’s fastest growing sport. Think of it a bit like tennis. But on court that is less than half the size. The hard plastic paddle and hollow ball mean that you can always detect when pickleball is being played nearby.

BALCO: So right now it's just forehand. Forehand.

COPELAND: Listra Balco is getting in a little practice here in Central Park.

BALCO: This is not tennis. I'm not bringing my hands all the way up in the air like Serena Williams. It's just a gentle push.

COPELAND: Listra helps organize a community of pickleball who play for free here at the handball courts. Problem is, not enough space and too many people.

BALCO: On an average day is close to 160 to 200 that shows up. On the weekend it gets outrageously crowded.

COPELAND: And that annoys the people who used to use this stretch of concrete.

BALCO: And the handball community, they were not very welcoming to us because there was like a really big animosity with pickleballers as using the courts.

COPELAND: Before the pickleballers and handballers come to blows, there is some good news. The largest set of pickleball courts in the northeast is opening nearby, right here in Central Park.

COPELAND: Starting tomorrow, a private company called CityPickle will open 14 professional courts at the Wollman Skating Rink. Co-founder Erica Desai met me at court number 10 and invited me to sit on one of the comfy sofas nearby. She told me that all this pickleball luxury could be yours.

DESAI: Right now. We are sitting in this beautiful cabana. And if you reserve this cabana along with the adjacent court you can have food here courtside while you're playing.

COPELAND: Sounds like a pickleball paradise. Right? But it does come with a price tag. One court, one hour, off-peak costs 80 bucks. And on-peak is 120.

COPELAND: 120 dollars per hour. That’s a lot of money.

DESAI: When you come to Wollman Rink, you're coming with a group of people, right, so if you come with a group of eight people, that's 10 dollars per person. But we also are offering community play, so that people all throughout the city have the ability to come in and play for 5 dollars. So we have price points that we hope are as accessible as possible for many New Yorkers.

COPELAND: But back up at the handball courts, Listra Balcon won’t be booking.

BALCO: It's exorbitant. And it's unreachable to the typical New Yorker. And yes, it will kill the pickleball community spirit.

COPELAND: Paddle in hand, Listra heads back into the fray. It’s a tiebreaker match and she’s mounting a comeback.

BALCO: Woah! That’s right. Ever so vigilant.

COPELAND: At least for now, these players will pick war with the handballers over posher pickleball. Thomas Copeland, Columbia Radio News.

BALCO: Out, out!


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