We Scored Some Court Time at Central Park’s CityPickle

Pickleball's officially taken over NYC. We couldn't be happier.

April 25, 2023 6:11 am
A pickleball looms like an alien mothership over Central Park's Wollman Rink.
Central Park's got a case of pickleball fever!

Until this spring, New York City’s pickleball scene had mostly bubbled along at the grassroots level. There were spray-painted courts in Williamsburg, spats over playground concrete in the West Village and murmurs of pickleball paradises in Tri-State area towns, where courts weren’t just carved out of tennis lines but built to precise, 42×20-foot regulations. Would New York — where attempts to play any form of racquet sport are often imbued with a degree of futility — ever make a firm investment in America’s fastest growing sport?

Our local pickleball powers-that-be decided to answer that question this winter, and in dramatic fashion. The city’s first sort-of-permanent pickleball courts will be at Wollman Rink in Central Park, under the banner of CityPickle.

Wollman, you might remember, is no longer operated by The Trump Organization. It’s now managed by a joint venture including Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils hockey team, the Equinox Group and the Related Companies. This group struck a one-summer deal with CityPickle, the hometown brand that’s hosted pop-ups at Hudson Yards and JFK’s TWA Hotel and plans to open an indoor, “climate-controlled” pickleball club in Long Island City later this year.

I was fortunate enough to get an hour of court time last Thursday at rush hour: 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., with seven companions, under a sky the same color as the courts. Long story short, it was easily my favorite hour of the entire week. Below, some takes on the experience and some information on how to make it happen for yourself.

Year-Round Pickleball Addiction? Padel Is Here to Help.
After a recent match in Brooklyn, we can attest: the game is wicked fun

How to book a court

CityPickle has an online court reservation system, which functions like any buzzy restaurant — time slots for its 14 various courts are made available a week in advance. Rates vary depending on the type of play and the time of day:

  • Peak: 7-10 a.m. and 5-9 p.m., Monday through Thursday, plus all-day Friday/Saturday/Sunday, for $120 per hour
  • Off-Peak: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for $80 per hour

Those rates are…not that bad, considering it’s the middle of Manhattan and you can reserve for up to eight players in a single session. (There’s seating off to the side for friends waiting to get into the next game; if inclined, your party might explicitly target one of the six court-side cabanas for an extra $30 over the hour.)

Other ways to play: sign up for an Open Play hour, overseen by a CityPickle pro, for $28 an hour. In your first session, these coaches take an appraisal of your skill level and sort you accordingly. There’s also Community Play, which can get you court time for just $5, but slots will go fast — CityPickle will only designate three courts a day for Community Play, between the hours of 10am and noon.

You can also sign up for a clinic, which will run you about $40 an hour. And your final option would be booking via some sort of corporate event. (Find more information on that here.) As always in New York’s lifestyle sphere, the person who’s quickest to enter their credit card information is going to reap the most fun.

What to expect

There isn’t much to it, which is a good thing in my book. If nothing else, pickleball ought to be predictable.

Central Park CityPickle has 14 courts, all of regulation size and all separated by little foot fences (thank god for those — the perforated balls are pinging all over the place). There are paddles available for rental ($6), though you can BYOP if you wish. Looking around, I saw a ton of non-CityPickle paddles, suggesting that at this point in the “summer,” at least, there are mostly local diehards out on the rink.

As for the surface itself, it appeared to be made of “temporary tennis roll” (a mixture of acrylic, sand and PVC), which had an excellent grip and yielded expectable bounces. I’ve played on some mangled cement around the city; running around at Wollman was a revelation.

Other logistics to consider: if you arrive in work clothes, you’ll have to change in the ice rink lavatory, which…is about what you’d expect from a public park bathroom. (There are lockers to stash your stuff, though.) While there’s a concession stand inside selling food, snacks, water and soda, alcohol isn’t available to the masses yet. The bar in the graduation party-style tent outside is specifically for corporate events.

Equinox members can expect some early-access booking links to hit their inboxes soon — a perk of the luxury gym’s dominion over Wollman. (Here’s hoping this doesn’t make it impossible for non-Equinox members to find a court in June.) For those looking to book immediately upon reading this, take note that Cycle for Survival is hosting an event at Wollman Rink in early May. Pickleball will be back up and running as of May 4th. (Try logging on to snag court time a week before that, on April 27th.)

When you do go, make sure to check out the merch — I’ll inevitably buy one of those ’47 Brand “CP” caps before October 9th, when the site shuts down for the year. I wasn’t mad at the socks, either. And finally: whatever you may think of the supertalls on Billionaires’ Row, looking up at trees and skyline after winning a point is pretty damn cool.

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