By Chris McClintick
When US SQUASH and the Professional Squash Association (PSA) partnered to launch the U.S. Pro Series in January of 2013, the primary goal was to increase the awareness of squash in the United States through the professional game.
Sixteen events—not including World Series events—were added to the inaugural calendar, six of which were PSA $10,000 Challenger tournaments hosted at Life Time Fitness clubs with four courts including Atlanta, Houston, Las Vegas, Chicago, Phoenix and Boca Raton, Florida, as a part of the Life Time Fitness Grand Prix Series.
In a push to integrate professional play with amateur play and the club’s membership base of 1.9 million—20,000 of which are actively involved in squash programs—the tournaments included amateur draws held alongside the professional matches.
Some of the professional players are ranked in the top hundred in the world, including eight-time U.S. Champion Julian Illingworth, New Zealand Champion Martin Knight, and Canadian Champion Shawn Delierre. The multifaceted tournaments also serve as an essential opportunity for lower-ranked professional players to cash in and earn points towards their rankings in a demanding professional circuit.
Equally, the events are a chance for amateurs to witness high-caliber squash and enjoy the competition and amenities of playing in a tournament. “The boys on the PSA tour are so down to earth and excited about squash,” said Danielle Maur, Director of Squash, Racquetball, and Tennis nationally at Life Time Fitness. “They come in and donate their time to meeting and interacting with the amateur players, kids, and sponsors. The amateur players are just like kids trying to get the pros’ autographs, socializing with and becoming the biggest supporters of these up-and-coming players.”
In line with US Squash’s vision of “Fit For Life” through the sport of squash, and Life Time Fitness’ belief of leading a healthy, fit life through sport and exercise, the series of tournaments are a catalyst for growth in the sport. US Squash President & CEO Kevin Klipstein noted of the series: “These tournaments bring several positive elements of the sport together in a really creative way. They increase awareness of the PSA and put a spotlight on the depth of the tour. They provide aspiring pro- fessionals a chance to compete in an environment where their talents are really appreciated. And the amateurs are engaged in a compelling way that makes adults look forward to the next event, boosting participation.”
Like the professionals, the amateurs receive apparel and equipment for participating, as well as professional photography including the required “Game Face” picture taken immediately upon each player’s arrival.
Maur says Life Time Fitness aims to increase the prize money level for some of the professional tournaments and possibly hosting future tournaments on a glass court in coming years.
The 2013 series concludes with the Phoenix Open, November 12-17, and the Boca Raton Open in Florida, December 3-8.