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Young people playing pickleball
The Rockies.Life Staff

Pickleball’s Popularity Is Rising & Okotoks Is Cashing In

Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in North America, but in Okotoks, it's causing a rift between players and residents disturbed by the noise

In May last year, Okotoks resident Rob Burns claimed the noise from a nearby pickleball court ruined his quality of life.

Burns took his concerns to an Okotoks town council meeting and even threatened legal action if the town did not take action about the noise.

As a bandaid fix, Okotoks reduced the hours that pickleball could be played at two of the town’s outdoor courts, including the Bob Anderson Courts.

“It hasn’t made that much difference until it’s gone. You can have 20 out there, and it’s bad. You get two or three out there and it’s still irritating because of the pitch of it,” Burns told Global News.

Burns, along with many other Okotoks residents, are fed up with the noise from pickleball, and rightfully so. 

Unlike tennis, which is played with a mesh racket and softball, pickleball is played with a stiff paddle and hardball, creating a louder smack every time a paddle hits the ball.

The sound of a paddle hitting a pickleball is 70 decibels at about 30 metres from the strike, which is as loud as a washing machine or alarm clock.

Imagine waking up to that at 7 AM every day like Burns was. At least you wouldn’t need an alarm clock! 

Pickleball has split the Okotoks community straight down the middle. Some hate the noise of pickleball, while others are eager to play. Pickleball’s popularity isn’t limited to Okotoks. 

A survey of over 2,000 Canadian households found that more than 1.37 million Canadians played pickleball at least once per month as of January 2023. 

Pickleball is even more popular in America than in Canada. Over 36 million people had played the sport at least once in 2023, making it the country’s fastest-growing sport. 

Okotoks resident Rob Burns
Okotoks resident Rob Burns | CTV News Calgary

Quite The Pickle! 

Okotoks Mayor Tanya Thorn has the town’s best interest in mind. She understands residents’ complaints about the sport but also sees the potential and value pickleball can bring to the community.

“I could probably build 50 courts right now, and they would be full,” said Thorn.

She wasn’t kidding

Last year, Okotoks added four indoor courts at the Foothills Centennial Centre, four indoor courts in the Okotoks Curling Rink, and two outdoor courts at Ecole Beausoleil

The Lynwood Ranch in Okotoks, which was completely revamped to accommodate picklebal
The Lynwood Ranch in Okotoks, which was completely revamped to accommodate pickleball | Gus LeDuc | Okotoks Online

Even with the added pickleball courts, some facilities, including the Okotoks Pickleball and Tennis Centre (OPTC), were forced to convert tennis courts into pickleball courts to meet demand.

“We started playing in gyms with taped-off lines…and we’re only allowed 13 two-hour slots a week,” said Greg Auld, the OPTC director.

Even with 24 indoor/outdoor pickleball courts and 3 indoor/outdoor tennis courts, the OPTC can’t keep up with Okotoks’ passionate picklers. 

In October last year, the OPTC partnered with the town of Okotoks to brainstorm an idea for a massive pickleball facility that would address pickleball noise complaints and demand in one fell swoop.

The 44,000-square-foot pickleball and tennis facility, which will be located on 5.45 acres at 10 Chinook Arch Way, was approved at a town council meeting. 

The upcoming facility is located smack dab in the middle of two schools in the town’s north and will feature 12 indoor pickleball courts, space for outdoor courts, and a restaurant and bar. 

Google Maps says the closest residential building to the site is about 350 metres away. Pickleball sounds are reduced by 6 decibels every time you double the distance from the source.

A conservative estimate would mean noise from an outdoor pickleball court would be reduced to 60 decibels, which is as loud as the hum of a fridge. 

Pickleball matches inside the facility would be inaudible. I think we can all agree that schoolchildren are louder anyway!

Infographic comparing decibel levels to sounds
Infographic comparing decibel levels to sounds | MDHearing

Pickleball Hotspot

The upcoming facility will benefit more than just Okotoks. The $10,000,000 facility will be the largest pickleball facility in Canada.

It will be large enough to host both provincial and international tournaments, which could lead to serious economic perks for the town. 

Okotoks has committed $2,000,000 to the project, and the remainder will be paid through partnerships, grants, and donations. 

Tanya Fir (third from the left) holding a cheque for the Cochrane Pickleball Club
Tanya Fir (third from the left) holding a cheque for the Cochrane Pickleball Club | Howard May | Cochrane Eagle

The town hopes to break ground in spring next year to complete the facility by early 2026. 

However, Okotoks isn’t the only town with its eye on pickleball’s potential. 

This week, Alberta Arts, Culture, and Status of Women Minister Tanya Fir presented the Cochrane Pickleball Club with an almost $1 million cheque. 

The cheque will be used to construct a new facility at the SLS Centre, which was funded by a grant from the Community Facilities Enhancement Program Large

The program provides financial support of up to $1 million to upgrade, expand, purchase, or build public-use community facilities. 

The $2.2 million facility in Cochrane’s Greystone community will feature 20 pickleball courts, including two regulation-sized courts for people with physical disabilities. 

Greystone matched the cheque and will finance the sound-reduction fencing planned to surround the complex. Over 133 local businesses and over 300 residents have supported the facility.

Cochrane also hopes to host provincial and international tournaments at its new facility. 

Okotoks and Cochrane’s upcoming pickleball facilities are expensive, but the peace and quiet will be priceless for residents like Rob Burns.

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