Pickleball popularity is peaking — and leading to some creative court ideas

Ottawa pickleball players say more courts are needed to keep up with the sport's growing popularity.

Coun. Steve Desroches looked at using empty park-and-rides

Woman with short hair and tennis attire stands in front of net with paddle across her chest, smiling.
Diana Dowthwaite, the pickleball co-ordinator for the Manotick Tennis Club board and the president of the Ottawa Pickleball Association, says they're experiencing the highest registration numbers they've ever had. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

Pickleball popularity is hitting a peak in Ottawa, with not enough courts in the city to keep up with demand, one local association says.

The low-impact, highly social sport — a cross between badminton, tennis and ping-pong  — started primarily with retirees, but it's been attracting players of all ages right across Ottawa, and registration is through the roof.

"We're at the highest membership numbers that we've ever had," said Diana Dowthwaite, the pickleball co-ordinator for the Manotick Tennis Club board and the president of the Ottawa Pickleball Association (OPA).

The club has a maximum of 700 spots for indoor registration, and a wait list that spills into the hundreds. And that's just one club. 

Dowthwaite says it points to not only a growing interest in the game, but also a need for more spaces both indoors and outdoors.

More recreational spaces needed 

Riverside South-Findlay Creek Coun. Steve Desroches says the city is facing recreational pressures, noting specifically that pickleball could use some more courts. 

At a committee meeting in March, Desroches floated the idea of temporarily converting the empty OC Transpo park-and-ride in Rideauview so that it could be used in the summer for pickleball and other popular sports.

Empty OC Transpo Park & Ride, close up of pavement.
Coun. Steve Desroches considered whether empty OC Transpo park-and-rides would make for decent pickleball courts. But cracks and uneven pavement could make the game go a little less smoothly. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

While the idea wasn't entirely rejected, pickleball was off the table. 

"They didn't think that pickleball would likely be feasible, given that you would need some netting around the court," Desroches said. 

OC Transpo adivsed that they are willing to consider programming proposals for the lots on a case-by-case basis, but only for activities that don't require the installation of on-site equipment.

Competing for court time

While unloved pavement isn't an ideal surface for the game, the OPA says with the outdoor season fast approaching, they'll take almost any space.

"It would have to be maintained somewhat, but [there are] a lot of huge, big parking lots that aren't being used," OPA skills co-ordinator Paul Leck said. 

The number of outdoor spaces for club players does seem to be shrinking.

After last summer's games at Centennial Park, the Manotick Tennis Club received too many noise complaints from neighbours and the city said outdoor pickleball at the park couldn't continue.

To help make up the shortfall, the city has offered to paint lines in some arenas, including one right by the park.

Man in navy shirt standing in front of pickleball court in indoor gym with paddle and orange wiffle ball in his hand, smiling.
Initially, the sport was geared towards folks of older ages. But Paul Leck says he's seen it grow rapidly across all age groups. (Celeste Decaire/CBC)

In the parks and recreation master plan, the city has development plans for 39 new pickleball courts to be built over the next decade.

There are currently 233 pickleball courts: 172 outdoors and 61 indoors. Public courts with pickleball lines and tennis- height nets are included in these numbers, although they do not meet the standard for competitive play.  

While Ottawa already far surpasses other Canadian cities when it comes to pickleball amenities, the number of local players is still expected to double in the coming years. 

"It's fun," Leck said. "It was very easy to pick up and you meet a lot of great people."


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.