267th park opens

32 acre Portola Springs Park features pickleball courts

On a crisp night, more than 30 people gathered at Irvine’s newest sports park to dink, punch, slice and occasionally yell “pickle!”

If you haven’t heard of America’s fastest-growing sport, get yourself over to Portola Springs Community Park and prepare to fall in love with pickleball.

It’s a hybrid of tennis, pingpong and badminton, played with a solid paddle and whiffle ball on a miniaturized tennis court.

And Irvine just opened six new courts — the only free, lighted courts in Orange County dedicated exclusively to pickleball.

Jay Unantenne, pickleball instructor for the city of Irvine, gives pointers to Yuki Leischner and Francine Verbarg at Portola Springs Community Park.

One of the first to try them was Neil Diamond’s guitarist of 34 years, Hadley Hockensmith, who plays pickleball three times a week.

“These courts are fantastic,” he said. “And the city was smart to build them because this sport is cresting and hasn’t peaked yet.”

267 parks

Portola Springs Community Park offers commanding views of the city as well as 32 acres of lighted ballfields, sports courts, playgrounds and a community center.

More than 400 people attended its Jan. 26 opening, where Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner called it a “fantastic example of the collaborative master-planning process that has served this city so well.”

That master planning has created 267 parks — propelling Irvine into the nation’s top 10 ranking for city park systems.

Irvine Company designed and built the new park and donated an adjoining 120 acres of open space for public ownership and enjoyment. This adds to the city’s 16,500 acres of existing open space and parklands, which equals one- third of the city.

The hillside views elicited a few oohs and ahhs from pickleball players.

“It’s like we’re out in the country,” said Francine Verbarg, who joined the city’s new pickleball league. “It’s a public park, but it feels like a private club.”

 Learn about Irvine pickleball classes, lessons and leagues at cityofirvine.org/tennis-pickleball/pickleball.

At a glance

The new 32-acre Portola Springs Community Park, at Portola Parkway and Pearblossom, features:

  • Two lighted softball fields
  • Two lighted soccer fields
  • Soccer training field
  • Three lighted tennis courts
  • Six lighted pickleball courts
  • Sand volleyball court
  • Tot lot playground
  • Exercise court
  • Outdoor garden
  • Community center with terrace
  • Walking trails
  • Group picnic shelter