The only thing hotter than Kern County in the summer is its growing pickleball scene, with the new Greenacres Pickleplex preparing to open this weekend. 

After three months of work, the team at North of River Recreation & Park District has transformed the tennis courts at the Greenacres Community Center and Park into the district's first dedicated pickleball courts. The courts will officially open with a grand opening ceremony on Saturday. 

"We're really excited about growing the pickleball community," said Lisa Plank, NOR marketing director. "It's been a fun project. (We've) really embraced it."

Pickleball has been around since 1965, but in the last five years or so its popularity has exploded in Kern County. While it has similarities to tennis, it trades the racket for a paddle and tennis ball for a wiffle ball. It's also played on a smaller court (20 feet by 44 feet) than tennis has (27 feet by 78 feet for singles, 36 feet by 78 feet for doubles).

"Pickleball is ideal for any age group, from children to seniors," Plank said. "It's an easy concept to grasp and because the court is smaller, it's a little easier on your joints and from a cardiovascular perspective. It's a little less intensive."

The idea to open a pickleball court came from the community that NOR serves. More than a year ago, the district began receiving calls about using existing tennis courts for pickleball. While some NOR parks have had lines painted on tennis courts to make it possible for people to play pickleball, the Greenacres Pickleplex is the district's first dedicated pickleball courts.

"Because we serve the community, we take into consideration what the community wants," Plank said. "When we get feedback ... we look at the feasibility, economically. Really, the public drives us. We want to give the public what they want. The soaring popularity of pickleball made this easy."

The Greenacres Pickplex joins the Bakersfield Racquet Club, Stockdale Country Club and Jastro Park among the Bakersfield locations where pickleball fans can play. When considering where to put its first dedicated pickleball courts, the NOR team found Greenacres Park to be a good fit.

"We really looked at how much usage the tennis courts were getting," Plank said. "To do a conversion to start out was easier and less of an undertaking than a court right from scratch."

The project cost approximately $30,000, Plank said, which covered electrical rewiring, new light fixtures, fencing between courts, concrete, paint, posts and signage. 

"This conversion happened pretty quickly; we shut the courts down three months ago," Plank said. "This wasn't getting as much use, so it was a good place to start. We determined we could get eight courts dedicated to pickleball."

On Monday, the courts were just about ready for pickleball players, with just signage and bleachers outside of the court yet to be added. By Saturday's grand opening, everything should be finished. There, the logo will be unveiled.

Also at the ceremony will be pickleball vendors and groups giving demonstrations, a small kids area and refreshments. Northwest Bakersfield Pickleball will be there ready to show newcomers how to play the game. 

"After the grand opening, if people want to play, they can play," Plank said. 

While the Greenacres Pickleplex is NOR's first dedicated pickleball court, it likely won't be the last. The district is looking at Emerald Cove for a possible second court, though that won't be until the end of this year or early next. Despite being a court built from scratch, it probably wouldn't take longer than four months for it to be completed once started, Plank said.

For those who haven't gotten into the pickleball hype yet, Plank encourages you to come to the grand opening and see what the sport is all about.

"It's fun!" she said. "It's a great thing to do with friends. It's good exercise. The concept is really simple, one of those things you catch onto easily. And you don't have to be an elite athlete to enjoy it or be good at it."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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