CityPickle, New York City’s first pickleball club, is bringing pickleball courts to Central Park’s Wollman Rink.
Starting April 7 through October, when the ice rink returns, pickleball-enthusiast and pickleball-curious New Yorkers can reserve one of the 14 dedicated courts for open play and lessons.
Cofounders and longtime friends Erica Desai and Mary Cannon started CityPickle in 2021 to fill a gap in New York City. After discovering pickleball on separate vacation trips during the pandemic, they returned to New York City and quickly found out there were only two dedicated pickleball courts in Manhattan.
“When we came back to New York, keen to play, we realized that there aren’t any courts,” Cannon said. “There are way too many New Yorkers and way too few pickleball courts.”
Both Desai and Cannon have played tennis for many years, but fell in love with pickleball instantaneously, drawn by the sport’s accessibility and adaptability for people of different athletic abilities. The sport is a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping pong, and is played on a badminton-sized court. Pickleball is typically played with four people, much like doubles tennis. The players use paddles, which are smaller than tennis racquets.
“The thing about pickleball is that it’s very easy to learn,” Desai said. “Everyone can pick up a paddle and maybe in 20 minutes or so, understand the rules and have a basic sense of the game to be able to play.”
People can reserve pickleball courts for the week of April 7 through April 14 starting on March 31 at noon. After Friday, CityPickle will release reservations on a daily rolling basis. Players can then book up to a week in advance. CityPickle will offer court rentals, lessons, clinics, open play, and leagues for beginners to elite pickleball players at Wollman Rink.
Programs include open play, community play, 101 clinic, beginner clinic, intermediate clinic, and DUPR play for advanced beginners and intermediate players to track progression and growth— as well as participate in future ranked sessions. People can drop into open play classes and play with others at their level, all under the watch of a pickleball coach. There will be teacher-led clinics providing rules and instruction for people who have never played pickleball before.
“You might not have a group of friends that already knows how to play pickleball,” Desai said. “There will be opportunities for open play to join a group of people that also would like to come and play.”
Players can reserve courts for their own groups of two to eight people, starting at $10 per person. For solo play, players can participate in group play for $30 an hour, per person. Clinics and private lessons cost $40 per hour, per person. CityPickle will also reserve three courts for up to 60 players everyday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. for community play, which for $5 per person, includes a free paddle rental.
“Pickleball wasn’t big on their radars,” Hedden said. “I’ve been attending community board meetings pushing for pickleball. My job was to say, ‘No, pickleball is here.””
Hedden said her advocacy has led to plans to designate even more pickleball courts around the city, including Riverside Park, Carl Schurz Park, Hell’s Kitchen Park, and Central Park’s North Meadow Recreation Center.
CityPickle has now partnered with different nonprofits and foundations to bring pickleball to more New Yorkers, including athletes with physical challenges and people with severe mental illnesses.
“We really want to give people every possible opportunity to play pickleball at Wollman,” Desai said. “There’s gonna be a lot of different ways for people to enjoy pickleball.”
- The Challenged Athletes Foundation: weekly, two-hour sessions this spring, including a CityPickle coach to help facilitate play among athletes playing in wheelchairs or with other physical challenges.
- The Boys’ Club of New York: bringing campers to CityPickle at Wollman Rink each week as part of a continuous partnership throughout the summer. CityPickle is also training Boys’ Club staff so that they can continue to facilitate play offsite.
- YMCA, Solutions Now, and Fountain House: free court time and instruction for its members.