By Jay Prince
Since launching Squash Magazine, I’ve seen and played a lot of squash. From juniors to masters to the best players on the planet, the opportunity to experience all that squash has to offer has been right there for the taking.
But one area that I’ve sadly missed out on are the small market, highly enthusiastic squash cities in this country. Sure, I receive lots of email about different venues that host a variety of events—from one-day sign up and play events to club events to “regional” tournaments being hosted in remote areas that, frankly, aren’t very convenient for me from Seattle.
I’ve played as many of the local tournaments in the Seattle area as possible. For the most part, the only time I’ve missed out on a local tournament is when I’ve been traveling for the magazine or injured. Fortunately, the injury bug has been a bit less of an issue recently (knock on wood!).
In early May, I was asked by my regular playing companion, Naveen Garg (you may recall my column about his training efforts leading up to the World Masters last summer) if I’d be interested in going to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with him to play in a tournament at a club called The El Gancho. It would be a unique tournament in that they were going to host three racquet sports simultaneously—squash, tennis and racquetball. Sounded interesting.
Naveen had traveled to the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area a couple months prior for vacation (honestly, I’m still trying to figure that one out… seemed like an odd place for a vacation when mired in Seattle’s dreary weather). The El Gancho features two squash courts that are convertible between squash and racquetball. Hmmm… for me that was kind of strike one. The only other club in the area was the Kiva Club (home of the Kiva Classic), an all-men’s club. Hmmm… strike two (not really into the private men’s clubs myself, though I know they are still around and thriving in areas like New York City).
But I couldn’t come up with a strike three. And when the tournament organizer, Jeff Pollock, offered to put us up in his house and help with some of our expenses, I jumped in.
I’m glad I did! No, the squash tournament was not big. The draw Naveen and I played started out as a five-player round robin, until one of the players dropped out having been injured in the tennis tournament portion of the event.
Naveen and I flew from Seattle on the Friday to Albuquerque (which I hadn’t been to since I was an Air Force baby where my dad was stationed until I was about six months old), drove the 60 miles to Santa Fe, met Jeff at the Club, and promptly found out that I was expected to be on court playing Naveen in about 15 minutes. Yikes! Can’t remember the last time I arrived so close to match time.
One thing I hadn’t considered was the fact that Santa Fe is at an elevation of 7,200 feet! I was sure I’d be face down on the floor within minutes but, for some reason, I actually survived that issue quite well.
By the time the weekend was done, I’d won my three matches and played an exhibition match with Scott Denne, the pro at the Kiva Club (Naveen and I were also afforded the opportunity to play some doubles at Kiva with Scott) in front of 10-15 local players who were excited to see some good squash—from Scott!
My take away from the weekend was simply that despite the lack of regulation-size courts, or even a volume of courts greater than two, the enthusiasm for the sport is tremendous and, with Jeff Pollock’s burning passion to grow the game, I can see nothing but opportunity there. True, the game is different when played on small courts; and it’s different when players lack experience to truly understand the nuances of the game. But to experience the passion for the game simply because they love to play is the ultimate trump card when countering the fact that small markets might not have the same facilities and playing-level as larger markets. I love playing squash in Seattle, but there is certainly passion for the game in Santa Fe!