Pickleball scores membership category at RSF Tennis Club

Blake Boswell serves in pickleball at the RSF Tennis Club.
(Jon Clark)

The Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club successfully rallied for a new pickleball membership as the category was approved by the RSF Association board at its Aug. 8 meeting.

The sport is like a mix of tennis, badminton and ping pong, played on a smaller court with solid wood paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball. For the last four years, the sport has been growing in popularity at the club, with people paying to play at Rancho Santa Fe.

“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” said Courtney Le Beau, president of the RSF Tennis Club board. “It has had a 650 percent increase in numbers over the last six years.”

At the club, pickleball clinics are held throughout the week and in the early spring the club underwent a renovation project that created seven courts for pickleball on two of its courts. Club members even celebrated Cinco de Mayo this year with a “Pickleball Fiesta.”

“The time has come for a pickleball membership,” Le Beau said of the new membership that has been months in the making.

At the meeting, Le Beau was backed by a posse of pickleball players fresh from the court.

“We’re sorely behind the times on this,” said one player who noted there are similar memberships at the Bridges, Lomas Santa Fe Country Club and a popular membership at the Bobby Riggs Tennis Center in Encinitas.

For the new membership, the RSF Tennis Club will charge a $500 enrollment fee for members of the Association. Members of the golf club will pay only $250. The annual fee for Covenant residents will be $600.

Any Association member that wants to play pickleball on a per time basis, can come in and play as a guest up to 12 times a year.

The RSF Tennis Club board also proposed 10 sponsored pickleball memberships for non-Covenant residents to help round out the level of play and to help make the club “a more dynamic place,” Le Beau said. Sponsored pickleball members would pay $800 a year.

Sponsored memberships at the tennis club, first approved in 2015, have been a somewhat controversial topic at the RSF Association. Last year, the tennis club requested to expand its sponsored membership category from 25 to 50 members and the board had concerns over a category waiting list where those on the list were allowed to play, the potential for court congestion and whether the change was approved by the membership (a tennis club survey showed over 60 percent were in support).

Jim Stuart, Candace Stuart, Jim Simpson and Rich Mejia play pickleball at the RSF Tennis Club.
Jim Stuart, Candace Stuart, Jim Simpson and Rich Mejia play pickleball at the RSF Tennis Club.
(Jon Clark)

The Association board eventually voted to expand the category to 35 sponsored members, rather than the requested 50. According to Le Beau, that category is now full at 35.

RSF Association Director Sharon Ruhnau opposed adding sponsored pickleball memberships, as she believes it dilutes the value of a being a member of the Covenant.

“My concern is the continual creep of non-Covenant members in the tennis club,” said Ruhnau.

By her count, Ruhnau said there would be 57 non-Covenant members of the tennis club between the two sponsored memberships and the former resident category.

“That’s a large number of people who do not live here yet who are experiencing the benefit of the tennis program,” Ruhnau said. “If our membership does not support the program enough to continue the program, maybe we need to change our programs. The answer is not to continually go out of the community to bring people in.”

RSF Association Vice President Mike Gallagher said not everyone agrees with Ruhnau’s position and as the board’s liaison to the tennis club, he said he actually proposed the sponsored membership as it can bring “vitality and financial stimulus that is helpful to the tennis club.”

Ruhnau suggested that they first examine whether the pickleball program is viable among Covenant residents before opening it up to outside members. RSF Association Director Laurel Lemarie agreed with the idea of a “wait and see” approach and proposed a one year wait.

Le Beau and tennis club members objected to the year-long wait as well as a proposed six-month wait as she said the club has interest and enthusiasm from potential members right now who may seek other options. The board eventually agreed to open up the 10 sponsored pickleball memberships after a three-month period.

“To be fair we have to provide opportunities first to the members of the Covenant,” RSF Association President Rick Sapp said. “We’re not here to run a Bobby Riggs-type competitive tennis club for everybody who comes to town.”