Sarnia will be one stop on the first-ever Canadian Pickleball Series next year.
The cross-country series of tournaments is being organized by Sports Travel Experts, whose CEO Karl Hale is also tournament director of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, said Rob Harwood, Sarnia parks and recreation director.
Council agreed last week to underwrite the local event for $35,000 on the understanding donations and sponsorships will offset the city’s costs.
“I’m quite impressed with the business case on this one,” said Coun. Brian White. “We don’t very often see a time where a new sport takes off as quickly and flourishes as much as this sport.”
The Sarnia Cup will feature about 500 athletes of all age and skill levels playing a three- or four-day double elimination tournament. The professionals will also play an exhibition at the event, tentatively set for September of 2020.
Sarnia’s new Blackwell Park Pickleball Hub will be the main venue with some matches at Cathcart Park, Linden Park and Germain Park.
Sarnia already has some stature in the pickleball world, said Harwood, noting organizers contacted Tourism Sarnia-Lambton following media reports of the local pickleball scene.
“That tweaked their interest for sure,” Harwood said later. “For Sarnia to get it was miraculous.”
Sarnia is the smallest host city in the series so far. Others confirmed include Toronto, Kingston, Saskatoon and Peterborough.
The Blackwell Park Pickleball Hub is the city’s first stand-alone pickleball facility. It has six newly resurfaced courts at 6230 Blackwell Side Road, as well as a picnic shelter, upgraded parking lot and new landscaping.
Sometimes called the world’s fastest-growing sport, pickleball is a scaled-down version of tennis played by two or four players on a smaller court with a ‘whiffle ball’ and oversized, lightweight paddles.
In addition to the 500 tournament players expected, the Sarnia Cup will attract 300 family members, trainers and coaches, with half of them tourists, Sports Travel Experts estimates.
The company will be responsible for all management, including registration, administration, a website and marketing.
Harwood said he’s confident the city will recoup its upfront investment. Potential sponsors have already expressed an interest, he said, while Tourism Sarnia-Lambton is contributing $5,000.