Elite Tennis Group, which operates a tennis school at Chestnut Hill College, is bringing pickleball to nearby Magarity Tennis Club in Flourtown.
For months, beginning in the pandemic, Chestnut Hill’s Water Tower Recreation Center was the place to be for pickleball players from all over the Northwest Philadelphia region.
“Water Tower was a place that was hopping, seven days a week all day long,” said Larry Cramer, of Lafayette Hill. “I couldn’t wait to get out of work to go play. But it’s just not the same anymore.”
That’s because the City of Philadelphia instituted a more than 30% reduction in playing hours in March due to numerous noise complaints from nearby residents. The reduced hours forced many pickleballers to find other places in the area to play, and one group of tennis pros has figured out a way to capitalize on that fact.
“If you lived on Ardleigh Street and eight to nine hours a day, seven days a week all you hear is pong pong pong – look, I love the game, but I think I'd kill somebody,” said Chris Lally, director of pickleball for Elite Tennis Group, which operates a tennis school at Chestnut Hill College. “We understand that these neighbors bought into something that they didn’t bargain for.”
And that’s why Lally teamed up with Elite Tennis’ owner Will Choy to bring pickleball to nearby Magarity Tennis Club in Flourtown.
“Chris shared with me his passion for pickleball and the circumstances around the Chestnut Hill community at Water Tower and how people just want to find a place to play,” Choy said in a phone interview with the Local.
And as of Oct. 14, pickleball at Magarity was born. Currently, the club is setting up eight tennis courts for temporary pickleball use on Friday nights from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, but they’re anticipating adding more hours as demand grows. They may also boost the number of converted courts up to 12.
Unlike the Water Tower courts, which are public, these hours are not free. The cost is $10 a session.
City Councilmember Cindy Bass said she is working to replace those free courts. “We are committed to having more pickleball courts in the district, and we're working to make this a reality,” she said.
But for now, Choy is filling in the gaps.
“Obviously the enthusiasm is not going to wane,” he said.
And the players seem to love it. Cramer, who started devoting less of his pickleball-playing time to Water Tower and more to Magarity, called the new venue “a wonderful indoor facility.
“It’s a godsend for people who are addicted to pickleball, and I am one of them,” he continued. “The rage of pickleball is huge now. Especially when it gets cold out, we’re very excited to have an indoor venue. I’m 15 minutes from Magarity, which is fantastic.”
Alex Ripken, a pickleballer who lives in Mt. Airy, also said she understood the Ardleigh Street neighbors' concerns about the noise. As a result, she’s been searching for alternative places to play. In many cases, she’s been forced to set up courts in people’s backyards, oftentimes with Lally.
“I’ve been playing pickleball with him for a number of years and I think he has a great sense of community, and is making an effort to grow pickleball in the area,” she said. “I’ve gone about twice to Magarity, and I really like the way they organized everything.”
Steve Young, general manager of Magarity, said the response has been “overwhelming” so far.
“With the popularity of pickleball we realized we needed to do something here,” he said. “We were looking to venture out and that’s how the opportunity came about.”
Like Choy, he expects to add more pickleball playing hours to keep up with demand.
“We’re at the beginning right now,” Young said. “We will continue to open up more hours and courts for pickleball.”
Magarity sees itself as primarily a tennis center, but Lally believes the two sports can “peacefully coexist,” despite the increasing number of tennis courts being converted into pickleball courts around the country.
“I don’t feel they should be at odds with each other,” he said. “It’s about finding the balance between tennis courts and pickleball courts.”
It’s also, Lally bragged, a great place for pickleballers to play once the weather gets too cold for Water Tower.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “There’s no losers in this arrangement.”
For information about pickleball at Magarity Tennis Club visit meetup.com/water-tower-pickleball/