Pickleball is helping Sheila Garry get back to a sense of normalcy. She says that’s what almost everyone who’s coming back to the sport is talking about.
On June 1, Gov. Charlie Baker authorized certain sports activities, including outdoor pickleball and tennis, to commence as part of phase two of the state’s reopening plan.
“I think a lot of people are willing to put their feet in the water and start wading in, if you will,” Garry said.
She is a resident of Eastham and an avid pickleball player. The sport is basically a miniature and slower version of tennis and has grown in popularity across the Cape in recent years, with Outer Cape aficionados hitting the courts in Wellfleet, Eastham, and Orleans, and some driving further up Cape to play. Eastham’s court, new in 2018, was part of the rehabilitation of the town’s Field of Dreams, funded with Community Preservation Act funds voted on in 2016.
While Wellfleet and Provincetown have closed their outdoor recreation areas, the Eastham Recreation Dept. opted to keep its basketball and pickleball courts open throughout the pandemic. The town placed signs on the fences of the courts urging those who participated to follow the state’s guidelines on social distancing.
At the recreation commission’s May 13 meeting, recreation director Christine Mickle said the town opted to keep the courts open because people were following the guidelines and playing in small groups.
“It’s been awesome that they left the pickleball courts open,” Garry said.
The state has posted special rules for using athletic fields, tracks, tennis courts, and full-size basketball courts. First, players sharing such spaces must separate into groups of no more than 10. Larger playing areas and surfaces may be used by more than one group of 10 at a time, provided that adequate social distance and group separation can be maintained. To ensure group separation, groups must be spaced at least 20 feet apart.
It’s not all about pickleball. Local tennis courts have begun reopening, too.
Steve Oliver of Oliver’s Red Clay Tennis in Wellfleet said that he’s reopened one of his courts, but the number of players participating is still very limited.
“I usually don’t get busy until the end of June,” Oliver said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Oliver’s concern goes beyond the coronavirus; it’s about the fact that tennis has been a declining sport for years.
“Its heyday was in the ’70s and ’80s,” he said. “Tennis membership is not what it used to be, and younger people don’t seem to be playing tennis.”
At the same time, Oliver has watched the popularity of pickleball grow, and knows that’s what some of his older players are graduating to. Traditional tennis is played on a 78-foot-long court, he explained, while pickleball is played on a 44-foot-long court. Tennis uses woven rackets with a tennis ball that can travel at a much higher speed than the paddle and plastic ball with holes, basically a whiffleball, used in pickleball. “The reason people have taken to that game is because you don’t need to run as much,” Oliver said.
The Chequessett Yacht and Country Club in Wellfleet, Pamet Tennis Club in Truro, and Provincetown Tennis Club have all opened for the summer season under state and individual court guidelines. For a full list of guidelines visit each club’s website.
Wellfleet’s public outdoor tennis courts remain closed. That’s not because of the coronavirus, but because they’re undergoing repairs, according to Suzanne Grout Thomas, director of community services in Wellfleet.
“The tennis courts will be closed until necessary repairs have been completed,” Thomas said by email last week. As for when they’ll be ready for play, “We are waiting for a schedule of repairs from the contractor,” she wrote.
Charlie Costa, who runs the Pamet Club, said the hard court and one of the clay courts at the club are open and available for members and court rentals at this time. “We will have reduced staff hours, so we will not be open and available as much for rentals,” Costa said via email.
Mask-wearing norms during play vary from court to court, it seems. Garry said that although her pickleball playing friends are keeping their distance from one another, most are not wearing masks. Oliver said he is not requiring players to wear masks, either. He is leaving that to players’ discretion.