The Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club is looking for an additional 10 sponsored pickleball memberships, for non-Covenant residents to come and dink and volley, not just a financial boost but also an assortment of possible pickleball partners.
Tennis Club General Manager John Chanfreau made the request to the RSF Association board at its April 7 meeting. The board asked for a detailed membership description with a future meeting at the club.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, growing to 4.8 million players according to 2021 according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Combining elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, the fun and social sport is a perforated plastic ball and solid paddles with a shorter court on top.
Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club’s new pickleball membership was added in summer 2019, with a $ 500 enrollment fee and an 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 open 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 have a wide range of players, 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 public comment during pickleball members becoming non-Covenant residents when they spoke to a golf club over the rush to make games. Walker lived in the Ranch for 23 years before moving out of The Covenant — she became a guest, playing pickleball at the club seven times a week. Now back 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 the courts,” said Walker before dashing back to the court: “Gotta go play!”
During board comments, Director Laurel Lemarié said she had concerns about court time availability and some complaints that pickleball players do not pay the same as tennis members.
Chanfreau said at comparable clubs, it is standard that pickleball memberships are half the cost of tennis memberships. While he said there are times when the club is busy, players need to wait more than 15 minutes for a court.
RSF Association Board Vice President Dan Comstock said he initially thought the non-resident members of the board but the board’s tennis club liaison has learned that tennis and pickleball are different from golf. He said while you could play golf with anyone, you could play tennis if you wanted to play at the level of the club.
“You’ve got to fill those gaps and that’s a great 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 controversial topic at the RSF Association for years. In 2018, the Association Board approved expanding the category from 25 to 35 members.
With the Sponsored Membership category, the club at non-residents pays for a premium. Covenant and the player must be vetted and approved by the RSF Tennis Club Board from a member of the club. Sponsored members cannot vote or hold offices but they are allowed to bring guests.