The Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club is looking to add 10 sponsored pickleball memberships, allowing non-Covenant residents to come dink and volleyball, bringing not only a financial boost but also an assortment of possible pickleball partners to the club.
The general manager of the tennis club, John Chanfreau, made the request to the board of directors of the RSF association during its meeting on 7 April. The board asked the club to come back at a future meeting with a detailed membership description for review and approval.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, reaching 4.8 million players in 2021 according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Combining elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis, this fun and social sport is played on a shorter court with lower nets with a perforated plastic ball and strong paddles.
The new Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club pickleball membership was added in the summer of 2019, with a $500 registration fee and a $600 annual fee. At that time, the RSF tennis club board also offered 10 sponsored pickleball memberships, but the association’s board at the time said they wanted to wait and see if the pickleball program was viable before opening it up to outside members. Sponsored memberships were offered to pay $800 per year.
The RSF tennis club has four courts dedicated solely to pickleball and eight pickleball courts in total. With the club participating in pickleball leagues, Chanfreau said he needed players at various levels, especially high-level players.
“We have room for expansion in our membership to improve the level of play,” Chanfreau said. “Referred members enhance our membership experience.”
Muffy Walker, fresh off the pickleball court, took time between games to rush to the golf club to speak on behalf of non-Covenant residents becoming pickleball members during public comments. Walker lived at the Ranch for 23 years before leaving the Covenant – she became a paying guest, playing pickleball at the club seven times a week. Now back in Rancho Santa Fe and a new member, she supports the new membership category.
“I think it will add to our league, I think it will add to our diversity of players and improve the level of play on the courts,” Walker said before rushing from the dais to the field: “I have to go player!”
During board comments, manager Laurel Lemarié said she’s heard concerns about the availability of time on the court and some complaints that pickleball players don’t pay the same as tennis members.
Chanfreau said that at comparable clubs, it’s common for pickleball memberships to cost half the cost of tennis memberships. He said that although there are peak times when the club is busy, players generally do not need to wait more than 15 minutes for a pitch.
RSF association board vice-chairman Dan Comstock said he was initially opposed to the idea of non-resident members, but as the club’s board liaison tennis, he learned that tennis and pickleball are different from golf. He said that while you could play golf with anyone, with tennis you have to play with someone of your level if you are trying to improve and there are skill gaps at the club.
“You need to fill those gaps and that’s a great added value for current members of our club,” Comstock said in support of sponsored pickleball memberships.
At the April 7 meeting, the board approved five additional sponsored tennis memberships, bringing the total number of sponsored places to 40.
Sponsored tennis club memberships, first approved in 2015, have been a somewhat controversial topic at the RSF Association over the years. In 2018, the Association’s Board of Directors approved expanding the category from 25 to 35 members.
With the sponsored category of membership, non-residents pay a premium for the privilege of playing at the club. A club member in good standing can sponsor someone from outside the Covenant and the player must be vetted and approved by the RSF Tennis Club Board of Directors. Sponsored members cannot vote or hold office, but they are allowed to bring guests.