By James Zug
Squash has gone south. The McArthur Squash Center at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Virginia, opened in May 2013. The 33,000 square-foot building boasts a four-wall, white-ball glass showcourt with stadium seating for 50, bleachers for 250 and standing room for another 700. In addition, it has eight more glass-backed singles courts and two glass-backed doubles courts. The $12.4 million building, designed by Barzen + Ball, has plenty of natural light, four nicely-appointed locker rooms, a team lounge, snazzy displays about the history of Virginia and U.S. squash and perhaps the most modern audio/visual system in the nation: each court has its own permanent camera and 40-inch flatscreen monitor and the showcourt has a 90-inch scoreboard just above the leftside wall.
The McArthur has a three-tiered constituency. The facility is located on the 600- acre campus of the Boar’s Head Inn, the classic Charlottesville resort fifteen minutes north of the University of Virginia. Guests at the Inn and members of the Boar’s Head Sports Club will both use the squash courts. Additionally, the University of Virginia, which bought the Boar’s Head in 1988, will use it for intramural play and general use: any member of the UVA community—students, alumni, faculty and staff—has access to the courts. The Boar’s Head already hosts the Cavalier golf and tennis teams (to add the McArthur, UVA redesigned the third hole of the golf course—it now as a dogleg—and the facility stands on what was the third green) and so naturally the UVA squash teams will call McArthur home.
Both the Boar’s Head and UVA have rich squash histories. Lady Nancy Astor, a Virginia native and the first woman to be a Member of Parliament in Great Britain, donated two hardball courts to the university in the early 1930s; the Lady Astor courts were moved in 1992 and later became a part of a tennis pavilion. In 1971 the Boar’s Head Inn erected three hardball singles and one doubles court and hosted the new Virginia SRA’s state championships. In 2001 UVA started a men’s club team, and two years later a women’s team began. In 2011 the club teams got a boost with a coach: former Bowdoin player Grant White (he also teaches squash at the local school, St. Anne’s Belfield, which built five courts in 2010, and at the local Atlantic Coast Athletic Club). In 2012-13 the women’s club team finished the season ranked 26th and the men 36th.
As the building opened, UVA announced that Mark Allen would be its director. Allen, a 42-year-old Englishman who reached a world ranking of No. 41, is well-known in the U.S. He worked at the Potomac School in northern Virginia, the Bay Club in San Francisco and more recently at Meadow Mill in Baltimore and St. Andrews School in Delaware. For the past half dozen years Allen spent most of his time in Cape Town. He married a South African, Tracy, and taught at the Western Province Cricket Club. “I had a great time for the last six years living and working in South Africa,” Allen said, “but had been waiting for the right opportunity to return full-time to the States, and the position at the Boar’s Head was a perfect match. I’m excited at the prospect of building a squash program in a region with the perfect demographics for it to be successful. Boar’s Head Sports Club is so family-orientated—there are kids everywhere—so before too long I hope to have a solid junior program in place. And doubles will be a perfect fit with the adults.” Mark and Tracy have two children, Daniel (age seven) and Jayden (three).
The facility was the brainchild of Jaffray Woodriff, a UVA alum and the CEO of Quantative Investment Management, a local multi-billon dollar global investment firm and hedge fund. “From Jaffray’s point of view,” Allen said, “it was a gift not only to the university but for the wider Charlottesville community. He loves the game of squash and wants to introduce it to everyone.” The building is named after Woodriff’s grandfather, Douglas Glover McArthur, a Philadelphian who died last year at the age of 93.
Francis Johnson grew up in Charlottesville and went to St. Anne’s Belfield before playing at Yale. He now works for Woodriff’s foundation. “UVA and Charlottesville now boast a world-class squash facility, which demonstrates the growth and expansion of the sport. As a local Charlottesville squash product, I am ecstatic to see the initiative to host squash events of all levels and develop squash in a non-traditional location. With a first-rate facility and highly experienced coaching staff, the opportunities to expose and spread this incredible sport are endless.”
There are many milestones with the new facility. The Boar’s Head is now the country’s largest destination squash resort, a vacation spot for the whole family (on the campus there are 26 tennis courts, golf, a pool, gym, hiking, fishing and spa). Additionally, UVA is the first college with three doubles courts (the Boar’s Head still has its one old doubles and one hardball court) since the Air Force Academy built four doubles courts in Colorado Springs in 1960. This gives collegiate doubles a real shot in the arm. And not only does UVA now have one of the country’s best collegiate facilities but also one of the largest: there are five other softball courts on campus, including two near the business school.
Most of all, the McArthur is the first major, double-digit facility in the Upper South, giving squash a massive toe-hold in a region that is growing (see; Richmond). Squash in the state and region might never be the same. UVA now is the flagship for collegiate squash in the South. Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State all have club teams, so squash in the Atlantic Coast Conference was already off the ground. But for any serious high school squash player, the South did not offer a vibrant, top-level program until now. “I’ve been getting a lot of calls,” Allen said. “We will be the first choice for juniors who want to go to a warm-weather school but not give up serious squash.”
Going forward, the McArthur will be hosting a bronze junior tournament in July, the Virginia state juniors in December and the 2014 U.S. Championships and Masters in March next year. The grand opening of the facility will come in mid-September 2013 when the McArthur will throw a huge alphabet-soup squash festival: a PSA tournament, a SDA tournament, an adult tournament and a junior tournament.