New Pickleball Courts Open Across From Madison Square Garden

In a bid to capitalize on the growing pickleball craze that is sweeping NYC’s outdoor courts, the high-end gym chain Life Time is bringing the game indoors. To that end, they’ve opened seven new courts on the ground floor of its PENN 1 gym, across from Penn Station & Madison Square Garden.

| 08 May 2024 | 01:16

Life Time, the upscale gym behemoth that has opened eight separate spots in Manhattan, is now offering seven fresh indoor pickleball courts at its upscale 33rd St. gym–directly across from Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.

However, the courts will be reserved for members that subscribe to Life Time’s “Premier” plan. For a hefty minimum of $329 a month, these subscribers can also access preexisting courts at Life Time’s “Sky” gym, which is located at a mixed-use luxury development on W. 42nd St. The gym’s “Standard” membership, which doesn’t include pickleball rights, costs $299 per month.

Pickleball (or “pickle”) is an all-ages racquet sport that could be said to split the difference between paddle tennis, badminton, and traditional tennis. It’s become a craze nationwide in the past few years, and NYC has not been exempt from pickleball fever. Indeed, the sports’ boosters like to say that it is the fastest-growing sport in America.

Its surging popularity has also triggered a backlash in some corners of the city, however. At Carl Schurz Park, some local residents took issue with picklers painting three impromptu courts onto an open play area, which also housed spirited roller hockey games and frisbee tossing. The city’s Parks Department later formalized the courts, which are located just south of Gracie Mansion. Efforts to create a fourth pickle court there appear to be on hold.

In Greenwich Village’s Seravalli Park, things have gone differently. Parents concerned about a loss of playground space successfully got the Parks Department to ban the sport back in December 2022.

Other Manhattanites more unequivocally appreciate the newfangled hobby, such as residents of the East Side’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village. Blackstone Group, the complex’s current owner, has converted many of its paddle tennis courts–which were popular it opened in the 1940s–into pickle courts. They get heavy use. More recently, pickleball nets have popped up on the basketball courts in the Stuyvesant Town portion of the development.

Life Time’s new courts were already jam-packed with competitive picklers on April 15, a formal opening day of sorts. Six of the seven courts are situated next to each other in a perpendicular layout, with one “championship” court–which is empty more often–sequestered near the entrance.

Life Time is partly banking on picklers to shell out extra cash not only because they’ll want to play indoors, but because they’ll be eager to access exclusive types of play. Ryan Brister, a vice president of club operations with Life Time, told Straus News that something called “open play” will take into account pickler’s individual “DUPR” (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) scores. Private courts go for $60 an hour.

“We have a tournament next weekend that’s completely sold out, and we start our leagues in May,” Brister added.

Brister also believes that high demand for available pickle courts will draw new members, and that the Sky courts were only the “appetizer to the entree” offered at PENN 1: “The who’s who of pickleball, the people who are the most avid players, or the ones who are looking to learn–we’re gonna be their home base.”

Much of what else Life Time is offering to picklers–locker rooms, workout rooms, and group training classes–is already available under its “Signature” plan. Brister hinted that this gets to the heart of Life Time’s other strategy to attract picklers to a pricier membership; the gym is essentially hoping that picklers that play elsewhere for free–yet stop by Life Time to work out under a lower tier–will be tempted to combine their pickle-and-conditioning habits at PENN 1. “You can stay under one roof,” Brister said.

Of course, Life Time at PENN 1 is next to Penn Station, and therefore commuters are part of its most reliable clientele. They’re “one-third of the traffic in this club so far, and that’ll change with these courts opening,” Brister said. Many stop-in commuters are members at Life Time’s Westchester, Long Island, and New Jersey clubs. Needless to say, these locales all boast passionate pickleball scenes. Perhaps seven fresh courts opening next to a go-to transit center will incentivize a membership upgrade.

Or perhaps, as Brister noted, PENN 1 will remain a “convenient” place for mere “Signature” subscribers to shower before catching a Rangers game. As for now, though, none other than Pickleball TV will be stopping by to cover the gym’s upcoming tournament.