Neighbors want to preserve Orono golf course as city considers adding pickleball courts

Pickleball is a fast-growing sport, and Orono city leaders said they've had several requests for courts where people can play.

"I hear it all the time. We do have a large contingent in Orono that just does pickleball, and it's old, it's young," said Mayor Dennis Walsh.

The Orono Public Golf Course met all their criteria. But the course is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and many of its neighbors want that history preserved.

"This is part of Orono, it's part of our character and we don’t want to make this beautiful site a playground," said Ben Jaffray, who lives near the course.

At a meeting Monday night, more than a dozen community members told the Orono Park Commission they don't want pickleball courts and an ice rink for hockey added to the golf course.

"I certainly wouldn't go to a pickleball court and say, ‘I want to build a golf course in the middle of it.’ I think it really just kind of just really takes away from the appeal of the golf course," said TJ Bonnett.

"The biggest concerns for me are the sound, the lights, the traffic," said Bob Jaffray.

The currently snow-covered Orono Public Golf Course (FOX 9)

More than 700 people have signed a petition titled "Keep Orono Public Golf Course Dedicated to Golf."

The search for a location began a year and a half ago, after city officials heard multiple requests for pickleball courts. The golf course checked all their boxes, but Walsh said he’s also been listening to neighbors' concerns.

"I think what (park commissioners are) going to do is bring out all the different options that we still have in Orono. And we have a few. We don't have a lot, but we have a few," Walsh said. 

The mayor said adding hockey into the mix adds some challenges with the elements, so taking it off the table might create more options.

"If it is just strictly just pickleball, there that may be an easier hill to climb," he explained.

Some neighbors urged the city to put money toward improving the golf course, instead of adding new sports.

On Monday, park commissioners ultimately decided to table the project until a later date after hearing from some avid pickleballers themselves.

"There's really no place in Orono to play pickleball besides on tennis courts that have pickleball lines. It's very, very difficult," said pickleball player Julie Jones.

"Pickleball has changed my life. I think it's an extremely positive thing," said pickleball player Brian Rasmussen. 

City officials plan to discuss this project again at a meeting in March.