The wooden structure will provide some solace from the hot summer sun. Or, at least, that’s the plan.
As the volunteers finished construction on the covered benches overlooking the Frank Pate Park pickleball court, they hoped the shade would keep more pickleball players on the court year-round.
The shade is just the newest addition to Gulf County’s expanding pickleball infrastructure, which just a decade ago was almost nonexistent. Many of these additions and improvements, the pickleball players have implemented and paid for themselves.
Pat Van West, one of the players at the court on Friday, said that she remembered when the group used to redraw the lines required for the game in chalk every time it rained.
“We still have the box of chalk,” she laughed.
The shade structure was the culmination of efforts throughout the Gulf County community. It had to go through permitting processes with the city, then materials had to be sourced, but along the way, she said the group found many people and organizations that were willing to step in to help – a sign of the community’s growing interest in the sport.
Pickleball is one of the fastest growing athletic activities in the country, according to USA Pickleball, who cited that participation in the sport grew by 21.3 percent between 2019 and 2020.
In a survey of locals ahead of the redesign of Salinas Park on Cape San Blas, additional Pickleball courts were among the most requested additions.
For Bessie Graham, it’s easy to see why.
“It’s not hard. It’s easy on your joints, and it’s just a great time,” she said.
The group has been playing together for more than 10 years, and Graham estimated that there were several hundred pickleball players distributed throughout the region between Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas.
Someone is out practicing every day at Gulf County’s various pickleball courts, she continued.“We’ve played at the Cape, at the country club – a variety of places.”
In March, the crew will be hosting a tournament benefiting the Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Center. All of the spots in the tournament have already been claimed, but they invited the community to come out and watch and learn about how pickleball is played.
For more information about the tournament or practice times, you can find the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/374699717124024/. They welcome players of all levels and say anyone is welcome to join them at the court any day.