A History Of Squash At Apawamis: An Ongoing Tradition Of Excellence   
by Rob Dinerman

Dateline March 29, 2012 --- This coming weekend will mark the first time that the U. S. National Doubles Championship, which began in 1933 and has been held every subsequent year other than a World War II-caused three-year hiatus from 1943-45, will be hosted by the Apawamis Club, which over the years has been a dynamic and prominent beehive of squash-related activity and accomplishment, on the part of both its professional staff and its membership. In addition to the enormously successful junior program for which the club has for many years been recognized,  Apawamis has also achieved noteworthy distinction for the racquet-sports accomplishments of many of its members and for the quartet of luminaries who have served as its head squash professional during the 72-year period from 1940 to the present, as well as for the high-profile and hugely popular men’s and women’s amateur and professional singles and doubles tournaments it has held, this weekend’s 77th edition of this major doubles championship being the latest such prime example.

   The intimate and cozy original squash facility (two hardball singles courts, one doubles court and a small alcove for the pro to handle court-reservation bookings), constructed in 1938 with the financial backing of a group of prominent members headed by then-president Bayard Reed, has metamorphosed into the current squash player’s paradise that emerged from the massive expansion from fall 2008 to spring 2009, featuring five international singles courts, two doubles courts (no other New York metropolitan-area facility has more than one), a sizable fitness area with all the latest top-of-the-line equipment and a spacious pro shop. And the vitality and energy that fueled the original venture nearly three-quarters of a century ago has also increased logarithmically from that long-past period to the present time.

   The Allan Cummings era as the head racquets professional at Apawamis extended 33 years, from 1940 until his retirement in 1973. He was one of three Cummings brothers to hold this status for several simultaneous decades at a New York-region private club --- George Cummings was the head pro at the University Club of New York and Lester Cummings, a four-time winner of the North American Pro title during the late-1930’s and early-1940’s, was in charge at the Field Club Of Greenwich, the original training ground for the epic squash and tennis career of none other than Apawamis’s own Peter S. Briggs.

   The famed Cummings Cup, a friendly singles/doubles tournament between amateur members of Apawamis, the Field Club, the Greenwich Country Club and Round Hill, was created in the early 1950’s as a way of honoring these three siblings, all of whom remained at their posts until they were well into their 60’s.  This annual event was dominated by Apawamis for over a decade into the mid-1990’s, after which, due to the demise of hardball singles, the Clubs ceased competing for the Cup.

  When Allan Cummings retired in 1973, the position was inherited by Larry Hilbert, one of Cummings’s assistant pros at the time and a tennis standout at Fordham (where he has since been inducted into the Fordham Hall of Fame) who played on the satellite pro circuit for several years before deciding to concentrate on squash. Hilbert was a gifted athlete who attained a top-ten ranking on the World Pro Squash Association (WPSA) circuit during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when that tour was getting established.

    Indeed, it was to a considerable extent at Hilbert’s initiative, supported by then-Squash Committee Chairman and multiple-times Apawamis singles and doubles champion Gibbs Kane, that in 1980 the Apawamis Invitational, which for decades had flourished as one of the most popular events on the amateur schedule, became a significant stop on the WPSA tour, a standing it held all the way through the final WPSA 1994-95 campaign. Hilbert himself, who had won the event the prior year in ’79, took WPSA No. 1 and eventual champion Sharif Khan to five games in a thrilling quarterfinal in that inaugural 1980 pro tourney to the thunderous applause of a gallery that was packed with members cheering their torch-bearer on.

   After Hilbert left Apawamis in 1985 to take a similar position at the University Club of New York (he currently runs the squash and tennis programs at Piping Rock in Locust Valley, Long Island, and in a few weeks will be celebrating his 62th birthday, having undergone a successful right-hip replacement this past winter), the racquets program was headed for the next three years by Paul Assaiante, formerly the coach at Army and destined for future prominence both on court (he partnered Gordy Anderson to the 1994 U. S. National Doubles 40-and-over title, while also winning the 2003 National 50-and-over softball event) and, more significantly, as the head coach at Trinity College, which would capture the Potter Cup Trophy emblematic of the men’s intercollegiate team champion for 13 consecutive years from 1999-2011, in the process winning 252 straight dual matches, each a record-shattering tally, before both streaks were finally ended this past season.

   Assaiante was succeeded by the Club’s current Director Of Racquet Sports, the aforementioned Briggs, a two-time (in 1972 and ’73) Intercollegiate Singles champion while at Harvard whose sensational 1975-76 season included winning the two highest-profile amateur invitational tournaments, the Gold Racquets and Harry Cowles, then sweeping through the mid-February U. S. Nationals without the loss of a single game and teaming with  Ralph Howe the following month to capture both the Canadian and U. S. National Doubles championships. Shortly after turning pro that summer, Briggs pushed Sharif Khan (who had gone undefeated on the pro tour the year before and was in the midst of a 13-year skein as the No. 1 player on the WPSA tour) all the way to 10-all in the fifth game in the semifinals of the Boston Open before Khan came up with the winners he needed in the final stretch, then won an anticlimactic final the following day against Victor Niederhoffer.

   Briggs, shown playing against Khan in a quarterfinal match at the ’78 Boodles British Gin Open at the Uptown Racquet Club in Manhattan in the photograph on the cover of this Tournament Program, had a dichotomous rivalry with The Champ, whom he was never able to defeat in singles – though they had several close matches, most notably that Boston ’76 match and an 18-17-in-the-fourth North American Open semifinal in Mexico City in 1975 --- but never lost to in doubles, including final-round clashes in the ’77 and ’80 Cambridge Club Doubles tourney in Toronto, with the Briggs/Howe duo out-playing Khan and Tom Page in ’77 and doing the same to Khan and Michael Pierce in ’80.

   Briggs also triumphed in this prominent late-autumn event with Mark Talbott in ’83, thereby launching  perhaps his career-best doubles season, during which he won the Philadelphia Elite and Metropolitan Open with Dave Johnson, the Heights Casino with Gul Khan, the U. S. National Mixed Doubles with Joyce Davenport and the inaugural North American Open doubles with Talbott, resulting in the Briggs/Talbott tandem being voted the WPSA Doubles Team Of The Year at seasons-end for that 1983-84 campaign. Eleven years later, Briggs would  partner Jeff Stanley to the ’95 North American Open Doubles title, and he would team up as well with Peer Pedersen, a National Doubles Tournament Co-Chair this weekend and captain of the 2010 Lapham/Grant U. S. men’s team, to win both the 2002 U. S. National 45-and-over (running off the last eight points after trailing Sandy Tierney and Derrick Niederman 9-7 in the fifth) and the World Doubles 45-and-over Championship in 2004.

   Briggs arrived in Rye in autumn 1988 (after previously leaving his mentor Al Gordon and his beloved Kidder, Peabody as head of the mortgage desk) fresh off a four-year stint as head squash coach and assistant tennis coach at Cornell University. He is therefore now well along in the 24th year of a career at Apawamis, whose Invitational tourney he won a record four times during the 1970’s, that has been nothing short of spectacular on every important measurable front.

   The much-heralded Apawamis junior program that he created and oversees is constantly producing star players, respected teammates and student leaders, a tribute to both Briggs --- during whose tenure no fewer than 110 “alumni/ae” of the Apawamis junior program have been elected team captain at the high school, prep school or college level, far more than any other club has produced during that time span ---- and his vaunted team of assistant pros. This latter group currently includes  Simon Gondwe, a former Zambian National Champion, East African National Champion and Zambian National Team captain and No. 1; Manek Mathur, who along with former Apawamis assistant pro and mid-2000’s Trinity College teammate Yvain Badan captured the Briggs Cup crown in December and teamed with Clive Leach to reach an additional  three ISDA finals this past winter; and late-2000’s Trinity alums Travis Judson (like Mathur a Bantam co-captain) and Tommy Wolfe, whose namesake father Tom Wolfe is the renowned author of such classics as “Bonfire Of The Vanities” and “The Right Stuff.”

   In addition, at the impetus of its former Chairman and CEO, squash enthusiast and 35-year Apawamis Club member A. J. C. “Ian” Smith, Marsh McLennan-sponsored professional international-game singles men’s and women’s events consistently attracted the best players in the world during their long runs, beginning in 1985 for the men, with a women’s draw first added in 1990, and extending to 2008. The roster of men’s titlists is highlighted by such all-timers as Mark Talbott (a six-time hardball winner who rallied from 7-12 in the fifth game to overtake Ned Edwards in that inaugural 1985 final), Gary Waite (also hardball), former PSA No. 1’s Karim Darwish and Jonathon Power, while the list of women’s champions includes world top-tier stars Cassie Jackman, Sarah FitzGerald and Nicol David, all past or (in the case of David) current WISPA No. 1’s, as well as 2004 World Open champion Vanessa Atkinson and four-time World Open finalist Natalie Grinham.

   Also featuring the best doubles players in the world have been the biennial Briggs Cup Doubles Championships, a ground-breaking inner-city charity-linked event, the brain-child of former Dartmouth College roommates and prominent current Apawamis Club members Pedersen and Steve Mandel, the champions boards for which are graced by the game’s top names, including Power, who partnered Mandel to the pro-am title in 2005, and ISDA pro doubles superstars Damien Mudge (a Briggs Cup winner with Michael Pirnak in 2003, with Gary Waite in 2005 and with Viktor Berg in 2009) and Ben Gould, who along with current partner Mudge has dominated the ISDA circuit throughout the past two seasons. This tournament’s $100,000 (along with three $15,000 pro-ams) main-draw purse is twice that of the second most lucrative stop of the ISDA pro doubles tour and its five editions (in 2003, ’05, ’07, ’09 and ‘11) have raised more than a million dollars for Citysquash, a youth-enrichment organization located in the Bronx which since its inception during the early 2000’s has used squash as the “hook” to further the education of inner-city youngsters.

   Finally, “The Morris,” an annual member/guest doubles event created by Briggs at the Apawamis Club in 1989 and named in honor of the late Edward (Ned) Morris, a longtime right-wall doubles star and club member whose widow, Angel, hosts a Saturday-evening cocktail at her home just a five-minute walk from the clubhouse, had 62 teams this past autumn and has averaged more than 60 team entries over its past four holdings, making it by far and away the most highly attended member/guest squash-doubles event of any club in the country and necessitating no fewer than four separate draws with matches spread out all over the Rye/Greenwich region.

  One of the most memorable Morris tourneys was the second, in 1990, when Pedersen teamed up with his great pal and former New York Mets pitching ace Tom Seaver, a member of the Greenwich Country Club at the time, to win the event.  Seaver, along with some WPSA pros,  would often play in an opening-night exhibition doubles match at the Country Club to kick off the North American Open Doubles competition, and throughout that Morris weekend 22 years ago “Tom Terrific” displayed the all-around athleticism that had earned him more than 300 career victories, three Cy Young Award designations, a major role in the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series victory and 1973 National League pennant, and first-ballot election into baseball’s Hall Of Fame.

    Another prominent athlete from a different sport who graced the Apawamis squash courts regularly during the 1950’s and 1960’s was long-time club member Jim Fuchs, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist, two-time Pan Am Games gold medalist and four-time World record-holder in the shot put. His regular doubles partner Gibbs Kane, who together with Fuchs won several club doubles championships during that period, was known to carefully lecture his partner regarding his occasionally misdirected powerful forehand blasts (his enormously muscled right arm being useful for more than just the shot put), which would actually break through the skin on the back of the leg of anyone luckless enough to not have cleared in sufficient measure, though it should be noted that Fuchs was aware of what damage he could cause and therefore made a special effort to heed Kane’s directive and hold up his swing if he thought there was any chance of hitting his opponent.

   Apawamis club members of exceptional achievement from yesteryear include Sven Karlen, the only person ever to win the club championship in tennis, squash and golf in the same year (1975) and the progenitor of three children (namely John, Pete and Jenny) all of whom held captaincies of their college’s varsity squash teams (amazingly, three siblings from two other Apawamis families also captained their college squash teams, namely Claire, Kate and Kelly Whipple and Reed, Blair and Leigh Endresen); the late Dave Gile, father of former Apawamis club champ and Yale all-American Larry Gile, whose authoritative voice, stentorian self-presentation and man-of-authority visage made him one of the most sought-after referees on the amateur invitational circuit throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s; Bill Andruss, like Hilbert a Fordham Hall Of Fame inductee, who won Apawamis club championships in both tennis (1970) and squash (1973) and was a top-10 WPSA player, a PSA No. 32 and the captain of the 1981 U. S. team that placed seventh in the World Team Championships in Sweden; and Mitch Jennings, a consistent and durable supporter of Apawamis squash who remains passionate about both the club and the sport even after a massive heart attack some years ago consigned him to a wheelchair.

   Indeed, on the evening of October 19th, 2009, finals night at that year’s Briggs Cup, Mr. Jennings made a point of showing up to watch the final rounds of all three pro-ams (named the Jennings Cup, the Kane Cup and the Karlen Cup respectively) that preceded the Pro final. He proudly exited his confining wheelchair and walked onto the new glass-back-wall doubles court to personally congratulate Chris Walker and Rob Dinerman, the team that had just won the pro-am draw that had been named in his honor.

   Across the decades, Briggs’s Apawamis programs have touched many players featured prominently at various National levels. Longtime club member Rob Berner teamed with his son, Robbie (currently a senior at Yale, where he has been an important member of Ivy League championship squads in both squash and lacrosse and contributed victories to Yale’s 5-4 wins against both Trinity and Harvard this past winter) to win the U. S. National Father & Son Under-17 Championship in 2006. Other intergenerational pairings from Apawamis who have won this event are Simon Aldrich and his son Dillon, who eked out a fifth-set overtime win over the Berners in 2005, and Charlie Parkhurst, a many-times Apawamis tennis club champion, and his son Henry.

  The latter also teamed with Parker Odrich to win the U. S. Junior Doubles title, as have Dave Barry and Chris Delaney, all four of whom are products of the Apawamis junior programs under Briggs.  Kevin Klipstein, who played for Briggs at Cornell and later worked under him as an Apawamis assistant pro, is now in his seventh year as CEO of U. S. Squash.  Other former assistant pros at Apawamis who have gone on to notable achievements are Katherine Johnson, 1997 Intercollegiate Individuals Champion out of Princeton; Greg Zaff, winner of the 1990 Xerox Canadian Open (defeating Talbott in the final) and later the founder of Squashbusters, the pioneer first-ever squash-oriented youth-enrichment organization (and the model for the many that have followed), who was recently voted into the U. S. Squash Hall Of Fame; Lee Belknap, who won the 2007 William White with Karen Jerome and the U. S. Century Mixed title with Victor Harding; Sui Lynn Leong, a former World Juniors finalist and runner-up as well in the 2002 Intercollegiate Individuals tournament and in the 2009 U. S. National Doubles as Belknap’s partner; and Demer Holleran, a five-time winner of the Marsh McLennan tourney in the early-1990’s, when it was played with the hardball, a three-time Intercollegiate Individuals Champion out of Princeton and a twelve-time U.  S. National singles Champion who also won the U. S. National Doubles eleven times and the U. S. Mixed Doubles eight times , thereby annexing a total of 31 such crowns, a record for American women.

   And current Apawamis touring pro Natalie Grainger Pedersen, formerly the World No. 1 ranked player, World Open and British Open finalist, and President of the women’s pro circuit, earned the U. S. and Canadian National Doubles titles in 2008 and the U. S. National Doubles in 2009, in each case with Jess DiMauro as her partner, as well as the 2010 U. S. Mixed Doubles crown with Round Hill’s Steve Scharff and three U. S. Open singles championships, along with gold medals in the Pan Am Games in both team and individual competition. In late February she teamed with Herbert (Pug) Winokur of Round Hill and the Greenwich Field Club to notch the U. S. Mixed Century Doubles event, and she had won the U. S. National singles five consecutive times until that streak was finally ended just last month in a final-round loss to reigning Intercollegiate Individuals champ Amanda Sobhy, Grainger’s longtime protégée and her doubles partner last season, when they captured the Turner Cup, whose $50,000 purse was by far the largest in the history of women’s doubles.

   Others among the list of current-day Apawamis members, a number of whom will be competing in this U. S. National Doubles tourney, who have generated praiseworthy accomplishments are Palmer Page, the USSRA CEO for several mid-2000’s years and Intercollegiate Champion in 1971, who sprinted through the U. S. Hardball Nationals 60-and-over draw without dropping a game this past February;  former singles and doubles club champion Jon Gross, who defeated John McEnroe in tennis twice when they were both in their late teens, right around the time of McEnroe’s run to the 1977 Wimbledon semifinals; Tom Clayton, a Tournament Co-Chair this weekend and a Yale captain (as was his sister Kerry) in the late 1980’s, who won the U. S. National 40-and-over Doubles crown in both 2008 and ’09 with Round Hill and Field Club member  John Macatee; and former Canadian National Singles and Doubles champion and multiple Apawamis “Morris” winner Mark Barber, the only person in the tournament’s 24-year history to win as both “guest” and “member.”

    Much of this legacy of past and current accomplishment on the part of both the pro staff and membership is clearly documented on the plaques and winners’ boards posted near the courts. Briggs has made a project of “decorating” the squash house and spread among a legacy of his teachings are famous photos, timeless pictures, inspiring vocabulary lessons and memorable sayings, mottoes and quotations, all constituting instructive reminders to visitors and members alike that squash is more than just a game. Certainly anyone who spends any appreciable period of time visiting (and marveling at) the newly-renovated Apawamis squash clubhouse cannot help but come away with a sense of admiration for its rich history and tradition, along with the confident conviction that an even brighter future beckons

Rob Dinerman, an Apawamis Invitational finalist in 1979, has written the center-piece article for several U. S. National Doubles Programs in past years, the Baltimore event in 2010 being the most recent such example prior to this 2012 edition. A former WPSA top-10 and winner of more than 50 Open hardball singles tournaments, including a record six New York State Opens, Dinerman frequently has feature articles, player profiles, archival pieces  and editorial columns posted on the dailysquashreport.com,isdasquash.com and wdsatour.com squash web-sites, and he wrote a prep-school memoir in 2009, “Chasing The Lion”, excerpts of which can be found on his web site, robdinerman.com.

Editor’s Note: This article was the major article in the 2012 U. S. National Doubles Program, which was hosted at the Apawamis Club on the final weekend of March 2012.


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