Pickleball players take to the courts at Key Largo Park on Feb. 26. All courts were full, with many players waiting for a spot to play. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

    Fred Workman and his 24-year-old son Riley have discovered a game they can play together: pickleball.

    “It’s actually very fun because we found something that we have in common,” said Riley. “He has a tennis background so he’s already pretty good to start off with.”

    “It’s a game for everybody. I don’t think the game intimidates anybody,” said Fred, who also loves the camaraderie of pickleball. “This is a social environment too; and I thought the dog park was great,” he joked.

    The father and son spend several mornings a week at Key Largo Community Park on one of the half-dozen pickleball courts that are shared with the basketball complex. On any given day, dozens of players line up with their paddles, eager to join in a game. But scoring a court is challenging this time of year.

    “Especially during the winter time frame when we have a lot of snowbirds here, we’ll have 50 or 60 people waiting to play,” said Key Largo resident and pickleball enthusiast Carlos Paez. 

    “It’s to the point where people leave because they have to wait so long between games,” he added.

    Paez and other “picklers” in Key Largo are thrilled to learn Monroe County is moving ahead with a project to alleviate some of the frustrating court congestion.

    Suzi Rubio, Monroe County senior project manager, says a plan that has been in the works for the last three to four years to build an additional 10 pickleball courts will soon become a reality.

    “We’re going to start construction very soon,” said Rubio. The new courts are to be built on county-owned land close to Key Largo Community Park behind the Walgreens at MM 99.5. Rubio says construction of the roughly $400,000 project on the one-acre parcel of land is slated to begin in the next several weeks. 

    “Barring any unforeseen circumstances we should be fully constructed by the summer,” added Rubio.

    That is welcome news to husband and wife pickleball regulars Dianne and Victor. The couple from New Jersey, who did not want us to use their last name in this story, have spent the last three winters in Key Largo and pickleball is a big draw.

    “We are really anxious to have them because one of the reasons we come down here is to play pickleball,” Dianne said.

    Lifelong tennis player and Key Largo resident Victor Trzeciak understands why pickleball has become increasingly popular.

    “Pickleball is something that just about anybody can play and I think that’s the attraction and it is very social as opposed to tennis which is less social,” Trzeciak said. 

    Pickleball may be the fastest-growing sport in the country, but Monroe County Parks and Beaches Director John Allen says the local tennis community is just as important.

    “We also love the tennis players. We’ve got to support them just as much as the pickleball players,” Allen said.

    As for the new Key Largo pickleball courts, Riley Workman said they can’t be built soon enough. 

    “I’m ecstatic about it. It’s always crazy busy over here so if they can put 10 courts over there, it will allow more people to play at the same time.”

    Kellie Butler Farrell
    Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.