Pickleball courts are coming to Habersham, despite outcry from tennis players

Pickleball courts are coming to Habersham, despite outcry from tennis players

Despite a petition and series of public comments to the Habersham County Board of Commissioners, Habersham County tennis players will lose some of their space on the grounds of the Aquatics Center complex.

The county commission voted in August 2021 to bring six pickleball courts to the Aquatic Center complex by resurfacing two of the complex’s current tennis courts. There was no objection from the public until just a few weeks ago, when a petition has been circulated asking the commissioners to reconsider the resurfacing of the courts.

“These tennis courts are very crowded as is, and removing half of them would make the problem even worse,” wrote petition organizer Forrest Hudgins. “Rather than create another problem, the county simply needs to build [pickleball] courts that do not interfere with busy tennis courts.

The petition received nearly 400 signatures, and at the county commission meeting in January, tennis players showed up to voice their opinions on the resurfacing project.

“Very few of us in the tennis community, or even county citizens as a whole, were aware of this proposed change,” said Christopher Watson, teacher at North Habersham Middle School and community tennis player. “We [tennis players] are quite upset about losing our courts — I’m very upset, actually. The tennis players who frequent these courts 3 to 5 times a week along with several of our tennis friends and other players, who are present here tonight, are extremely disappointed with this decision and we would very much like you to reconsider and discuss this plan.

Watson says many middle and high school students use the courts at night because they are the only tennis courts that are lit after they finish their school day.

RELATED: White County Pickleball Courts Get Resurfacing Funding

Habersham Central High School tennis player Luke Atwood, who expressed concerns at the meeting, said he worked at the Orchard Country Club, which resurfaced some of their tennis courts as pickleball courts. He said people at the club often wait for tennis courts to play, when there are open pickleball courts.

Members of the pickleball and tennis communities came to the meeting to share their thoughts with the commission. (Hadley Cottingham/Now Habersham)

Watson says the number of tennis players in the county “far exceeds” the number of pickleball players, and Atwood says pickleball is a senior sport, in which no youngsters participate.

“Pickleball is a sport for older people, ie retirees, which means they have pretty much all day to play,” Atwood said. “As a high school student, I go to school from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and work until 5:30 p.m.… by the time I get off work, if I go to play tennis, it’s dark. I need good lighting. The only well-lit courts are at the Ruby C. Fulbright Aquatic Center.

But pickleball ambassador Peggy Fortson, who presented pickleball’s case to commissioners in June and has been heavily involved in bringing county governing bodies to the fore, had an answer.

“I know there are many, many times when activity on the tennis courts doesn’t equal activity on the pickleball courts,” Fortson said. She says their numbers continue to grow, not just locally, but nationally, as tennis remains stagnant. She said the last time she spoke to a contractor who surfaced courts, the contactor told her they had surfaced several pickleball courts this year, but no tennis courts.

Commission Chairman Bruce Palmer expressed frustration with the community that no one had come forward sooner to share their concerns or provide data to back up their claims, unlike Fortson when she began campaigning for pickleball courts.

“Months ago the pickleball players came in and presented information, and I saw the post on Facebook about having to wait in the courts and all because of people playing pickleball , why didn’t you say something before now?” President Bruce Palmer said after a public comment.

Habersham County Parks and Recreation Director Kurt Cooper says both groups are active, but pickleball appears to be active year-round.

“We watch the tennis courts all day,” Cooper told Now Habersham. “Pickleball is very active. As spring approaches with warmer evenings, I expect to see tennis players on the courts again.

Cooper says producing additional courts instead of repaving the tennis courts would cost the county millions of dollars, rather than the currently budgeted $87,075 that the pickleball club has offered to partially cover.

Cooper says plans to resurface the courts have not changed, and the county will begin reviewing proposals for the project on Monday.

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