Columbus is getting its first public pickleball facility

Funded by a public-private partnership, an outdoor pickleball facility with 25-30 courts, including 13 covered, is being planned for construction in the park at the Columbus Waters Works Uptown Water Resources Facility, 1820 Third Ave. (Photo Courtesy of Lance Tankersley/Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association)

Credit: Lance Tankersley/Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association

Credit: Lance Tankersley/Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association

Funded by a public-private partnership, an outdoor pickleball facility with 25-30 courts, including 13 covered, is being planned for construction in the park at the Columbus Waters Works Uptown Water Resources Facility, 1820 Third Ave. (Photo Courtesy of Lance Tankersley/Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association)

It’s considered the fastest-growing sport in the United States, and Columbus has lagged behind the trend when it comes to pickleball courts — but that’s about to change.

Funded by a public-private partnership, the city’s first public pickleball facility with permanent courts (25-30 of them outdoors, including 13 covered) is planned for construction in the park at the Columbus Waters Works Uptown Water Resources Facility, 1820 Third Ave.

The preliminary plan shows a group of courts in the park’s northwest corner, bordered by Talbotton Road and Second Avenue, and another group of courts in the park’s southeast corner, bordered by 18th Street and Veterans Parkway. A parking lot with 75 spaces also is planned, along with lighting, fencing, gated entrance and security cameras. Other amenities in the plan include:

  • Clubhouse
  • Restrooms
  • Showers
  • Concessions
  • Lockers
  • Ancillary games, such as bocce ball and cornhole
  • Greenspace with picnic tables

The Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association (CPA), a nonprofit organization, will own, operate and maintain the facility. CPA has secured $3 million out of the estimated $6-8 million cost for the project, association president Lance Tankersley told the Ledger-Enquirer. That $3 million includes $1.7 million from the city’s reserve fund, approved by Columbus Council in June.

CWW has agreed to lease the property to CPA for $1 per year. CWW spokesman Vic Burchfield explained why, noting the pickleball facility could attract tournaments in addition to providing an outlet for public recreation.

“This added amenity is within CWW’s original vision of providing dual use of the Uptown Property for public enjoyment,” he wrote in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “The lease at $1 per year provides the incentive for the Pickleball Association to continue to raise the funds needed to make this a positive reality for Columbus.”

Burchfield emphasized, “This project will not affect the water and sewer rates paid by CWW rate payers. All costs associated with the installation, maintenance and management of the courts are to be paid by the Pickleball Association.”

No opening date has been scheduled because that depends on how fast CPA raises the rest of the money for the project, but Tankersley said he hopes construction would start next spring so the facility could open by the end of 2024.

Why does Columbus need a pickleball facility?

Pickleball has 8.9 million players in the United States over the age of 6, according to USA Pickleball. Participation in pickleball nearly doubled in 2022, increasing by 85.7% year-over-year and by an 158.6% over three years, according to a February report by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

CPA has more than 500 pickleball players who subscribe to its social media accounts, Tankersley said. The nearest public facility with permanent pickleball courts is 30 miles away in Opelika. To play pickleball in Columbus, options have been:

  • Join the Columbus Country Club or Green Island Country Club.
  • Reserve time at Cooper Creek Park where the tennis courts are converted into temporary pickleball courts.
  • Visit Columbus Parks and Recreation or YMCA of Metropolitan Columbus gyms, where basketball courts are converted into temporary pickleball courts several hours per week.

“They are getting pretty much overrun,” Tankersley said of the demand for pickleball time at those locations, especially Cooper Creek. “People are playing on every court, and people are waiting.”

Last year at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, CPA conducted a pickleball tournament on temporary courts. More than 200 players from seven states participated, but the majority were from Columbus, he said.

“That was a proof of concept,” Tankersley said about evidence for support of a pickleball facility in Columbus. “We actually had to cut off the signups. People were still trying to come in.”

CPA considered vacant warehouses in Columbus as possible sites for an indoor pickleball facility, such as the one planned in Macon, but the cost was prohibitive, Tankersley said.

Tankersley’s paid job is director of the Omnisphere Theater at Columbus State University’s Coca-Cola Space Science Center. While driving to work in December, he passed CWW’s uptown park and thought, “Gosh, this could become a huge hub for the community. … It just ties into the synergy of what’s happening in uptown.”

Plus, that site doesn’t have residential development nearby, Tankersley said, so it reduces the risk of complaints about annoying noise coming from the high-pitched “pop” of paddles hitting plastic pickleballs.

And more pickleball courts are scheduled to be built in Columbus.

In 2021, Columbus voters approved a 1% Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to raise $400 million for city projects. Part of the SPLOST revenue, $1.5 million, is planned for constructing 12 pickleball courts at Cooper Creek Park.

“It’s a sport that is in great demand in communities for all age groups,” city manager Isaiah Hugley told the Ledger-Enquirer. “If you’re going to be in the game, you’ve got to be in the game, and Columbus certainly wants to be in the game when it comes to recruiting events and qualify of life for citizens.”

The pickleball courts planned for Cooper Creek don’t have a construction timeline yet, Hugley said.

“We will begin further design and construction in 2024 when funds become available for the project,” he said.

How will the Columbus pickleball facility operate?

The Columbus pickleball facility will offer memberships or hourly fees, with prices similar to the Cooper Creek Tennis Center, Tankersley said. Tournaments, lessons, corporate events and partnerships with local school districts also could generate revenue, he said.

CPA’s business plan envisions needing approximately $300,000 in annual revenue to staff the facility while it’s open seven days per week, as early as 8 a.m. until as late as 9:30 p.m. Tankersley figures five part-time employees and a group of volunteers could cover those hours.

Until then, he hopes this project motivates more folks to try the sport that hooked him.

Combining elements from tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball is played on a court approximately one-third the size of a tennis court.

Tankersley was a racquetball player who transitioned to tennis until an elbow injury prompted him to seek another sport. After seeing pickleball played at a local YMCA branch, he was compelled to try.

“It was so much fun and did not hurt my arm,” he said. “I started playing more and more and just became addicted.”

Tankersley likes the skill challenge and social outlet of pickleball — and that games last only about 20 minutes. With a smaller court than tennis, he also likes that players with wide ranges of age can compete with and against each other.

“But while it’s very easy to pick up and play,” he said. “It’s very hard to master, so there is an aspect of always wanting to improve.”

When he traveled out of town and saw the impact pickleball facilities have on other cities, Tankersley was motivated to help create one in Columbus.

“This is what I want for my city,” he said.

How to help

Tax-deductible donations to this project can be made at CPA’s GoFundMe account or by mailing a check to Columbus, GA, Pickleball Association Inc., P.O. Box 484, Columbus, GA, 31902.

CPA also offers sponsorships, including the naming right for the facility.

For more information about this project, Tankersley encourages folks to email him at or call him at 706-315-6049.

Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

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Credit: Ledger-Enquirer


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