RSF Tennis Club lobs new pickleball membership category

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 Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club is looking to add 10 sponsored pickleball memberships, allowing for non-Covenant residents to come dink and volley, bringing not only a financial boost but also an assortment of possible pickleball partners to the club.

Tennis Club General Manager John Chanfreau made the request to the RSF Association board at its April 7 meeting. The board asked the club to return at a future meeting with a detailed membership description for consideration and approval.

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, growing to 4.8 million players in 2021 according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, the fun and social sport is played on a shorter court with lower nets with a perforated plastic ball and solid paddles.

Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club’s new pickleball membership was added in summer 2019, with a $500 enrollment fee and annual fee of $600. At that time, the RSF Tennis Club board also proposed 10 sponsored pickleball memberships but the then-Association board said they wanted to wait and see if the pickleball program was viable before opening it up to outside members. Sponsored memberships were proposed to pay $800 a year.

The RSF Tennis Club has four courts dedicated solely for pickleball and eight pickleball courts total. With the club participating in pickleball leagues, Chanfreau said they are in need of players at a variety of levels, especially high-level players.

“We have room for expansion in our membership to improve the level of play,” Chanfreau said. “Sponsored members enhance our membership experience.”

Muffy Walker, fresh off the pickleball court, made time in between games to rush over to the golf club to speak on behalf of non-Covenant residents becoming pickleball members during public comment. Walker lived in the Ranch for 23 years before moving outside of the Covenant—she became a paying guest, playing pickleball at the club seven times a week. Now back living in Rancho Santa Fe and a member again, she supports the new membership category.

“I think it will add to our league, I think it will add to our diversity of players and improve the level of play on the courts,” said Walker before dashing from the dais back to the court: “Gotta go play!”

During board comments, Director Laurel Lemarié said she had heard concerns about court time availability and some complaints that pickleball players don’t pay the same as tennis members.

Chanfreau said at comparable clubs, it is standard that pickleball memberships are half the cost of tennis memberships. He said while there are peak times when the club is busy, players typically don’t need to wait more than 15 minutes for a court.

RSF Association Board Vice President Dan Comstock said he was initially opposed to the idea of non-resident members but as the board’s tennis club liaison he has learned that tennis and pickleball are different from golf. He said while you could play golf with anyone, with tennis you need to play with someone at your level if you’re trying to get better and there are playing level gaps at the club.

“You’ve got to fill those gaps and that’s a big value-add for our current club members,” said Comstock in support of the sponsored pickleball memberships.

At the April 7 meeting, the board did approve five additional sponsored tennis memberships, bringing the total number of sponsored spots to 40.

Sponsored memberships at the tennis club, first approved in 2015, have been a somewhat controversial topic at the RSF Association over the years. In 2018, the Association board approved expanding the category from 25 to 35 members.

With the sponsored membership category, non-residents pay a premium for the privilege of playing at the club. A member in good standing at the club can sponsor someone from outside the Covenant and the player must be vetted and approved by the RSF Tennis Club board. Sponsored members cannot vote or hold offices but they are allowed to bring guests.