Why North Bay hotels are investing in pickleball courts

When the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Sonoma Wine Country recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil its new pickleball courts, the event signified more than just introducing a new activity for guests.

The pickleball courts marked the Rohnert Park hotel’s entry into a popular sport that has been gaining momentum as a tourist attraction. The game is much like tennis, except players use paddles to hit a plastic ball over the net.

The DoubleTree’s move even got the attention of the Wall Street Journal.

In a June article about pickleball tourism, it cited as an example the North Bay hotel’s decision to convert its existing tennis courts to pickleball courts.

The Wall Street Journal in that same article also reported a growing number of tour companies are organizing trips to resorts and hotels in the U.S. and abroad for pickleball tournaments.

Growing evidence

Last year, the DoubleTree received a call from a small group asking if they could use the hotel’s tennis courts to play pickleball. If so, they would book the hotel for a couple of days and play, said Shelly Nelson, director of sales and marketing.

Six months later, it happened again, but in a bigger way.

“We had a corporate group doing an incentive trip, and they wanted to convert the (tennis) courts into pickleball courts as part of their activities,” Nelson said. “We started wondering if there's really a drive for that ‘come and taste wine, come and play pickleball, stay at the hotel.’”

So Nelson and General Manager Brian Marchi approached hotel ownership seeking approval to permanently convert the tennis courts to pickleball courts. The work was completed in time for the corporate group’s arrival in May.

The DoubleTree officially unveiled its pickleball courts Sept. 8. As soon as word got out, another group of tourists checked in.

And they didn’t come from very far.

“We just found out about (the DoubleTree) doing this, so we decided to come for fun and stay the night just so we can get a lot of playing time,” said San Francisco resident Linda Juliano, who traveled to Rohnert Park Sept. 8 with her five pickleball partners.

By staying overnight, the women were able to get in about eight hours of dedicated playing time, Juliano said.

“It's always smart for hotels to move with the trends for the latest amenities,” said Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau. “I think it makes hotels competitive for things to do while you're on property, and it also keeps people on property.”

By staying on the property to play pickleball, guests are also more likely to eat on-site, and that’s a boost to the hotel’s food and beverage business, he noted.

Return on investment?

Hotels that add pickleball courts are generally looking at an investment of between $100,000 and $300,000, depending on whether they’re building from scratch or converting an existing court, said DoubleTree’s Marchi.

The price for the DoubleTree to convert its tennis courts was somewhere in the middle range, according to Marchi and Nelson. They declined to state specifics. Ongoing maintenance is also part of the equation.

Marchi said he expects it will be about two years before the DoubleTree can measure return on investment.

“We're starting to see the demand,” Nelson said. “We had some people from Finland here (recently) playing. I think they were going to come to the area anyway, but they picked the hotel that had the pickleball courts because they played for a couple of days.”

The DoubleTree has another pickleball group coming in October, and several more are already booked going into next year, she said.

Ahead of the game

Two pickleball courts were already installed when the Montage Healdsburg debuted in January 2021, said Jennifer Chiesa, director of public relations.

“We didn't realize how much pickleball was going to explode the last two years,” she said. “I have no idea who thought, ‘Hey pickleball!,’ but (they) most definitely were ahead of their time.”

It was through Compass Sports, the Montage Hotels & Resorts branded recreational hub, that pickleball was among the selection of on-site, outdoorsy activities offered to Montage guests. Other recreational activities available include archery, hiking, biking and bocce ball.

In the case of the Montage Healdsburg, the inclusion of the pickleball courts on its 258 acres wasn’t specifically intended to keep guests on-site, Chiesa said.

“I wouldn't say that was a motivating factor, but it does add something else for (people) to do here on property if they just wanted a more leisurely day,” she said. “It also creates really strong and fun activities for groups that we have in-house (and) we can host mini-tournaments.”

Served with Champagne

The 28-acre Carneros Resort and Spa in June announced the addition of two pickleball courts as part of a partnership with France-based Champagne house Veuve Clicquot.

Citing statistics from CNBC that more than 36.5 million people played pickleball last year, the Napa resort stated in a news release its reason for bringing the “trending sport on property” for its visitors.

Carneros put together a “rally, relax and repeat” package for up to four people that ranges in price from $200 to $290 before tax and gratuity, according to the release. The package includes 90 minutes of play time, Veuve Clicquot bottle service and a light-food pairing menu. The pickleball courts are adjacent to the Veuve Clicquot Champagne bar and lounge.

“The experiences we’re debuting alongside the pickleball courts will provide a unique, luxurious way for guests to engage in America’s fastest-growing sport while enjoying our beautiful wine country surroundings,” Edward Costa, managing director at Carneros Resort and Spa, stated in the release. Costa declined to participate in this story.

Carneros is also selling pickleball gear at COOP, its on-site retail store, according to the release.

Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and employment. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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