For just over a year now members of the Hudson Community Pickleball Association (HCPA) have been converting the two tennis courts at Anderson Park into four pickleball courts to serve as their temporary home. Now, after more than a year of conversations with Hudson city officials, the dream of having dedicated pickleball courts in the city is closer to becoming a reality.

HCPA president Mike Peterson said the group was recently informed that the city has set aside 2.5 acres at St. Croix Meadows for the construction of eight dedicated pickleball courts and that the association plans to kick off a fundraising campaign for the project this fall.

Peterson said HCPA has outgrown its temporary 4-court venue at Anderson Park, located at the corner of Mont Croix Drive and River Ridge Road, just west of Heggen Street, with player sessions numbering over 1,300 as of July 22 this year compared to 1,700 through all of 2018. HCPA held its first membership meeting in April and has since attracted over 110 paid memberships as the popularity of pickleball continues to grow.

Pickleball, a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong, was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island near Seattle by three enterprising dads whose children became bored with their usual summertime activities, according to the USA Pickleball Association. It's popularity has grown worldwide since then, including over 2 million players in the USA in 2017.

The sport was first played in Hudson in 2012 with four to six “beginners” playing at the YMCA. HCPA was established in 2017 and continues to use two indoor courts at the YMCA that provide limited availability but outdoor season play is even more limited with no dedicated pickleball courts in the city. The tennis courts at Anderson Park can be modified to provide four temporary courts, but with the growing popularity of the sport, especially among retirees, Peterson said it’s time for Hudson to have dedicated outdoor courts of its own.

“There are tons of people who have come out of their retirement and found a sport that they can play now,” Peterson said. “It’s inexpensive and it’s healthy and it’s fun.”

Peterson said the city, including Hudson mayor Rich O’Conner, and YMCA director Chris Kost have pledged their support for the project. Hudson does not have a recreational division within its city structure so all funding, if approved, for extracurricular sports outside of the school must come from the city operational budget, park dedication fees and local fundraising efforts. That’s where HCPA comes in.

“We feel we need to really generate more awareness in the community about our program,” Peterson said. “We are very popular with the YMCA and seniors but we want to reach out to the entire community and describe to them that we are here; we’re a unique sport and it’s very popular nationwide and regionally. All over the area there are pickleball courts being built by cities. And we just want to build up on that so we can try to find some fundraising. But it’s important that we let the city know we’re in it for them because it can enhance the city.”

According to Deanna DeGraff, HCPA board chair, public interest in pickleball is steadily growing with many nearby communities investing in and installing dedicated public courts. River Falls, New Richmond and Baldwin currently have four public courts each and Menomonie has six, while across the river, Stillwater has 12 and Woodbury has five. More courts are also being proposed for Prescott, Barron and Cumberland.

“The other thing we’re seeing too is, because it’s growing and people are continuing to play, the level of play is getting better,” she said. “People are taking lessons and doing other things. From where we were a year, two years ago; it’s amazing.”

Peterson said HCPA continues to have a strong relationship with the YMCA and plans to continue that partnership, working with the YMCA to expand their programs on the new courts and with fundraising efforts. He also said it will be a great investment for the city.

“I don’t think the city will lose out on this at all,” he said. “Pickleball is so popular. We hope to have tournaments out there where we can bring people in to stay at the hotels and eat in restaurants and all those things. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

He said HCPA is looking to raise somewhere in the $150,000 range for the eight courts and has offered to fund the ongoing maintenance of the courts, such as replacing nets when needed, court striping, wind screens, benches and more. He said the support funds would come from HCPA member fees, promotional endorsements from local businesses and member volunteers.

From just four-to-six beginners in 2012 to over 110 members in 2019, Peterson said it’s easy to see why pickleball has become so popular in Hudson.

“When I go over there to play, I can’t stop smiling,” he said. “It is such a fun group. We all get along. I don’t want to demean any other programs, but the people who come here who have played in other areas say it’s so much more fun here.”