Eden Prairie’s new dedicated pickleball courts, part of what the city has called its “Staring Lake Park Court Improvements,” are sweet.
“They’re very nice, very, very nice,” said Dennis Gallaher, president of the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club and one of the first pickleball players to play on the new courts. “My wife, Jill, and I were there when the city put the nets and windscreens up. We jumped on for a quick couple games.”
Gallaher’s favorite feature isn’t the courts themselves, but the 11-foot concrete walkway that separates four south courts from four north courts.
“They already installed four big umbrellas,” he adds. “When it’s complete, they’ll add benches and tables.”
After confirming that the tables and benches were installed on Monday, Parks and Recreation Director Jay Lotthammer agreed with Gallaher.
“When we’ve put big umbrellas in our parks before, we’ve created some of the most in-demand real estate in the system,” he said. “People want to get out of the sun, and they want a good place to sit.”
Gallaher said pickleball is a gathering sport, and he predicts that players of all abilities will eventually gather at Staring Park.
“They’ll come,” he said, “but players don’t just change their habits.”
Before Staring opened, Eden Prairie players were playing at Franlo Park or Riley Lake. Some would go into Chanhassen; others would drive to Edina.
“I come to Eden Prairie from St. Louis Park,” said Dale Waltz.
Eden Prairie’s Keith Anderson heard this and called Waltz an outlier.
Waltz took exception to this.
“I’m not an outlier,” he said with a laugh, “but I might be an out-an-out liar.”
On Saturday, Anderson and Waltz were doubles partners.
“While pickleball is a social game, I’m here to get a workout,” said Waltz. “If I come to play, I want to play.”
With eight courts dedicated to pickleball, the Staring Lake complex is one of the biggest in the Metro.
“It’s not busy yet,” said Waltz, “but it will be once the word gets out.”
Last weekend saw a pickleball tournament in Lakeville that attracted some 450 players.
“It impacted play at a lot of places,” said Gallaher.
When asked about Eden Prairie’s eight new courts, Hopkins’ new courts at Central Park, Minnetonka’s courts under construction at Lone Lake Park and Bloomington’s courts being built at Westwood Elementary School and Sunrise Park, Gallaher said all are welcome, and needed.
“Too many?” he questioned. “Not the way the sport is growing.
“I was in Chanhassen on Memorial Day,” he added. “Twenty-four players were playing on six courts, and another 17 players were waiting.”
Note: Some 500 pickleball players are members of the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club.
To help offset the cost of the Staring Lake court construction, the Southwest Metro Pickleball Club has been selling personalized pavers.
“You can have your pickleball legacy etched in stone,” said Gallaher.
While the pavers are already incorporated into the walkway that separates the courts, Gallaher said its still possible to add “sponsored pavers.”
At the center of the paver patio is a stone dedicated to Gerry Maas, aka Mr. Pickleball.
“Gerry did more for the sport and the club than anyone I know,” said Gallaher. “He was one of the originals.”
The paver inlay’s four corners feature the project’s four biggest sponsors — Eden Prairie Lions Club, Dr. Pickleball (anonymous donation), Southwest Metro Pickleball Club, and Ed McGaa, the Chief.
Eden Prairie’s Ben Roy partnered with Dave “Omar” Summers for their first games on the Staring Lake courts on Saturday.
Roy, who plays pickleball at the highest of levels, came away impressed.
“First-class facility,” he said. “The fences between the courts are nice, as is the water fountain.”
What he’s uncertain about is who will show up, and when.
“Players are looking for certain kinds of experiences,” he said. “You have some who just want to get out and play, and you have others who want to advance their games.”
The hope is that Staring can cater to both.
“I do know one thing,” added Roy. “These courts are going to get a lot of use.”