Soboba Casino Resort General Manager Jason Cozart said the idea to convert the tennis courts at Soboba Springs Golf Course into pickleball courts was spurred by the growth that the sport has seen across the country in recent years.
“With the popularity of the game overall and the possibility of holding large events and/or tournaments, it was a really easy decision to turn an underutilized part of our property into something that would drive traffic and fill a need we saw in our community,” he said.
Cozart said the overall project, which began last fall, took a lot of coordination and consultation to make sure the courts would meet the expectations of the pickleball community. He said several pickleball ambassadors, professionals and community members provided great insight and feedback at every stage of the project.
The final result was wholeheartedly embraced at the official grand opening celebration on Jan. 27. Cozart said they received some great feedback in the few weeks prior during the courts’ soft opening. The facility has 20 regulation courts and one stadium court, which is where the ceremony took place.
Cozart welcomed everyone to the event that showcased the project and thanked his SCR team and everyone who had a hand in getting the facility ready for its official unveiling. After a blessing from Soboba Tribal Member Raina Maciel, Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco was invited to the stage to share a few words.
“We’re proud to bring these amenities as another facet of the resort atmosphere,” he said. “We look forward to keep growing the resort in a manner that brings opportunity to our community.”
Dignitaries were then introduced, which included Tribal Council Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado and Sergeant-at-arms Mike Bentiste and Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas and Secretary Andy Silvas. Also recognized were several members of the Hemet-San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce who assisted with a ribbon cutting at center court.
Inter-Tribal Bird Singers Jericho Vivanco and Deven Lopez performed two songs, followed by music from DJ Mike Nevarez who also served as emcee throughout the event.
Cozart said, “This is a place where we’re hoping the community can come together with friends and family to make memories; a place that will continue to provide growth for the Tribe and the community at large. We hope to have some big tournaments out here and hope you’ll come join us for those.”
After those closing remarks, he made his way to the center of the stadium court with SCR colleague Charles Berglund to play the inaugural game against pickleball professionals Jem Morris and Warren Tamanaha. Morris of Washington is co-founder of The Pickleball Experience and spends his time touring on the pro circuit. Tamanaha is from Garden Grove and has been playing since 2020. Despite some very exciting volleys and some strategic moves from the amateurs, the pros emerged victorious. The game was refereed by USA Pickleball Ambassador Rosie “Dinker Bell” Roper.
Roper of Hemet has been playing the game since 2010 and has been an ambassador since 2011. “We are so excited to see this open,” she said. “The courts are beautiful and to have this many in the area is a big plus. This is wonderful.”
Throughout the five-hour celebration under sunny skies, there were instructors and coaches letting players try their hand, or rather paddle, at various fun games. For those new to the sport, they provided some basic lessons.
Certified pickleball instructor Ryo Shinagawa of Corona has been a USA Pickleball Ambassador for about five years. He has been playing the game since 2016 and was happy to show newcomers how to play and have fun with others who were testing their skills at getting the ball in the right spot. “The sport has really grown within the last two years with millions of new players,” he said.
He said the stadium court with bleachers at each end for spectators to watch games and side walls totally covered so there are no distractions is really nice. “The color is totally new and different and helps with the visibility of the ball,” Shinagawa said.
Jennifer McKee of Valle Vista had never played any sports before but has been playing pickleball for about a year and a half and loves it. “I love the sportsmanship and the socialization – it’s a fun activity that’s not overly strenuous,” she said. “Everyone encourages each other; you feel like part of a community.” She added that it’s easy to play anywhere since the only required equipment is a racquet and ball, making it very portable.
“This place is a huge value for the valley and we’ll definitely be back,” McKee said. “This sport is in its infancy but it’s growing fast.”
Cozart said, “I love that anyone can play the game. Regardless of skill level, competitiveness or age, this game brings together people from all walks of life. Not to mention that it can provide some great exercise.”
For the most part, the adjacent pool will be open during the same hours as the pickleball courts and a permanent food truck is also on site during hours of operation. The restrooms in the pool area will be available during operating hours, and pickleball members will also have full access to locker rooms and bathrooms in the golf course clubhouse.
Executive Casino Host Justice McKnight is part of player development and said he is excited about the crossover promotions that will be part of the player experience. He said there will be discounts and other offers based on casino guests’ play level. And with something for everyone, from golfing to swimming and now pickleball, he expects to see a lot more activity throughout the Soboba Casino Resort. For more details, McKnight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 951-665-1000, ext. 1215.
Vendors at the event were very helpful with questions that novices and seasoned players had. Kevin Klabunde with Selkirk Sport explained the difference between all the paddles that ranged in price from $50 for a beginner to $250 for the Luxx. He has been the western regional sales manager for six years and said Selkirk Sport is the number one brand in pickleball as far as distinction. The Soboba Springs Golf Course pro shop will stock Selkirk Sport and other pickleball gear plus equipment available to rent for first-time players.
Klabunde is from San Diego but played tennis at UCR when he was a student there and was inducted into its Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007.
Cozart feels that the pickleball courts at Soboba offer much more than others he has visited. “With the beautiful clubhouse right next door, and the pool facility, I believe we offer a fantastic setting with a full set of amenities,” he said. “State-of-the-art lighting will provide excellent playing conditions at all hours, and the number of courts we have will allow for private court rentals that will not interfere with open play that many pickleball players will enjoy.”
For more information, please visit www.soboba.com or download the Soboba Casino Resort app to effortlessly stay up to date on all active and upcoming promotions, discounts and special events. The app is available for free at both the Apple App and Google Play stores.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians