Hardball Doubles Courts Construction on the Steep Ascent
By Rob Dinerman

August 28, 2006
-Perhaps the most noticeable and dramatic phenomenon permeating the American squash world these days has been the rapid and continuing coast-to-coast construction of hardball doubles courts. Just in the past two years, 20 such arenas have sprouted up or are on the verge or in the process of doing so, whether as additions to facilities that already offered doubles courts or as start-ups, whether in high-toned private clubs or as highly promoted features of public commercial facilities, and whether in long-established squash centers like Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York or in much lower-key areas like South Carolina, Georgia, Vermont (whose impending first-ever doubles court will fill the current no-doubles-courts void between Boston and Montreal) or Gum Spring, equidistant from Richmond and Charlottesville, where such is the emphasis on doubles in racquet sports (based on recent industry-wide surveys asserting that recreational tennis is trending heavily in a "doubles" direction as well) that the manager of the Wood'N'Racket Farm, which heretofore has been a tennis-only facility, is arranging for both of the new squash courts he is installing to be for hardball doubles.

This expansion is in marked contrast to the tepid atmosphere that pervaded doubles squash in this country barely a decade ago, when there had been a lengthy period during which not a single doubles court was built and in fact a number of such courts were quietly done away with. There were only a few scattered pro doubles tournaments on the schedule on the WPSA pro tour and the slate of amateur events was similarly limited both in number and attraction. The game appeared to be stagnating, with a shrinking present and little apparent growth potential for the future.

Possibly the remarkable turnaround the sport has experienced has been at least in some measure driven by the unforeseen and noteworthy early-2000's creation and almost-immediate flourishing state of the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA), a pro circuit boasting well over a dozen stops and devoted ENTIRELY to competitive doubles which (belying the brevity of its history) already offers enough big-money ($ 50,000 to $ 100,000 in several instances) and high-profile events to have drawn a number of top-tier PSA stars, including such recent top-five performers as Jonathon Power, Chris Walker and Paul Price. To the extent that the ISDA has been a significant cause of this growth (and without question it has been at least a substantial contributing factor), it constitutes a re-creation of the "Showcase Of The Sport" role that the WPSA hardball singles tour (in the words back then of WPSA President Clive Caldwell) played 30 years ago in the marked increase on this continent of hardball singles courts during that 1970's time frame.

But ironically in view of the foregoing, in the opinion of many squash aficionados, it was actually the takeover of singles squash by the international game (at the expense of hardball and with the accompanying demise of the WPSA) a decade or so ago in the United States that has paradoxically serviced the growth of hardball doubles and the consequent increase in the past few years of the number of doubles courts. At the large majority of the clubs that have been adding doubles courts (or in some cases installing them for the first time), most of the emotional and (considerable) financial impetus has come from the large middle-age (i.e. mid-30's to mid-50's) proportion of the members who were former hardball players by background and disposition, who weren't willing or able to make an enjoyable or successful transition to softball, who badly wanted to keep competing in whichever form of hardball squash was still available to them, and who correctly perceived that in addition to representing the only means left to them of accomplishing this latter goal, hardball doubles would also provide the added benefit of offering a level of camraderie and teamwork that would make their entire playing experience that much more enjoyable in the process.

The fact that many of this group are at their peak earning power professionally and to a substantial degree hold influential positions in their respective clubs is clearly part of the scenario as well. This dynamic does contain an element of "The Empire Strikes Back" and is also a tangible example of the well known health- and exercise-devoted orientation of the baby-boomer generation that characterizes modern American society as a whole. But whatever its practical or psychological genesis, there is no questioning the impact of the rise of doubles-court construction on the larger squash picture in this country.

At the University Club of Boston, for example, which hosts a mid-January ISDA tour stop, there are three times as many softball singles courts as there are doubles courts (six compared to two), yet in a normal in-season workday there are more than twice as many doubles-court bookings as there are singles-court bookings, as well as a much more active in-house league and more and better-supported doubles tournaments.

The New York Athletic Club, which actually did away with its doubles court in the 1980's out of a sense (understandable at the time) that doubles squash was permanently fading, undid that decision in 2004 by constructing a beautiful glass-back-wall court which has already hosted three editions of the ISDA Big Apple Open (other host ISDA sites on the appended list include the University Club Of San Francisco, the Maryland Club and Apawamis). At The Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, the desire to host the (ultimately enormously well-attended and successful) 2006 Lapham-Grant tourney, an annual event matching the U. S. vs. Canada in singles and doubles competition, last February spurred the members to finance the replacement of the previously wood back wall with a glass back wall in the one existing doubles court and to add a second court as well.

And, most importantly in terms of the message it conveys about how hardball doubles (which currently dwarfs the softball version of the sport) has affected the mind-set of those looking to promote the game as a whole and their own clubs in particular, it has now become the case (and this was unthinkable as recently as five years ago) that today no aspiring squash-club entrepreneur would commence building a new club without making sure that a hardball doubles court was in the floor plan. The new squash facilities (all of which are either under construction or already "up") in such widely differing locales as Minturn (near Vail, CO), Nantucket, King of Prussia (in suburban Philadelphia), Charleston, SC, Rye, NY, South Hampton, Long Island City (in Queens, NY), John's Island (in Florida) and Sea Island (in Georgia) have all reflected this change in the squash landscape, as does the decision by squash doubles and court tennis standout Sam Sammis to include a doubles as well as a singles court in the Inn he owns as part of an overall major real estate holding in Vermont.

Most of the foregoing have held or are planning to hold doubles exhibitions and/or invitational tournaments to showcase their gleaming new additions and to fuel their respective membership drives. Hardball doubles squash is emphatically launching itself into the overall squash and business picture in the United States, and the marked proliferation of new courts springing up seemingly everywhere and at a dizzying pace constitutes a tangible marker of that transformation.

New Hardball Doubles Courts in the Past Two Years:

1) Minturn (near Vail) - Racquet & Trout Club
2) Nantucket -- Westmoor Club
3) Sea Island, Georgia- Sea Island
4) Vero Beach---The John's Island CLub
5) Charleston, S.C., Charleston Squash Racquets Club
6) Los Angeles - Jonathan Club - One court renovated and another court built
7) San Francisco - University Club - 2nd court built
8) Westchester - Westchester CC
9) Southhampton, L.I. - Elmaleh/Stanton Squash Club ----court opening this autumn
10) King of Prussia, PA - 2 courts set to be completed this fall at the Fairmont CLub
11) Long Island City, NY - scheduled to build a court in the next six months
12) Rye (NY) --- 2nd court due to break ground at the Apawamis Club in Feb./March
13) Maryland Club-Planning to add a THIRD court in the next year
14) Gum Spring (near Richmond)-Wood'N'Racket Farm, planning to install two doubles courts by Dec. 1
15) Randolph, VT-The Three Stallions Inn, doubles court set for 2007
16) Marblehead (MA)-Leggs Hill YMCA (first U. S. YMCA to install a doubles court), groundbreaking in Sept '06.
17) New York---The New York Athletic Club
18) San Francisco---Brand-new doubles court in the downtown clubhouse of the Olympic Club

This first appeared on squashtalk.com

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