Charlottesville Welcomes the World

by Chris McClintick

This summer the 2018 World Masters will be hosted stateside for the first time in tournament history at the Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The biennial tournament, the world’s largest adult squash event, is one of the major championships run by the World Squash Federation. It was originally started in 1976 in London for men and 1982 in Perth for women and have been combined since 1993 in Edinburgh.This will be the twenty-fifth staging of the World Masters; it has been held in ten different nations but never before in the U.S.

Over the decades, Team USA has captured a few titles at the World Masters. Jack Herrick won the men’s 45+ in 1983 in Auckland; Joyce Davenport the women’s 50+ in 1992 in Vancouver; Michael Gough the men’s 75+ in 2014 in Hong; Bert Kornyei the men’s 70+ in 2016 in Johannesburg; and Natalie Grainger who will go into Charlottesville as a two-time defending champion in the women’s 35+.

The 2018 World Masters, scheduled for July 29-August 4, has big shoes to fill. The 2016 tournament in Johannesburg drew more than 950 players, including more than 600 South Africans. An Englishman who played in the 2016 event, 2018 World Masters tournament director Mark Allen hopes to see a strong American contingent following the example of South Africa. While the tournament will draw former touring professionals like Grainger, Allen says that the tournament caters to players of all skill levels with an emphasis on camaraderie and the experience of an unforgettable week.

Mark Allen

“Johannesburg did a great job of getting the message out that this isn’t a tournament just for really good players,” Allen says. “Yes, there will be exceptional players, which can be part of the joy of the tournament—saying that you got on court with a Sarah Fitz-Gerald or an Alister Walker. At the same time, it’s not a one and done event. Players can be sure of many matches—by the end of the week they will be competing against players at their level.”

It is fitting that the world’s most passionate adult squash players will convene at one of the most innovative venues: the state-of-the-art McArthur Squash Center nestled below the Blue Ridge Mountains. When the center opened its doors in September 2013, it was clear that the facility had been designed to host the biggest squash tournaments. Located just outside downtown Charlottesville at the Boar’s Head Resort, it has hosted four U.S. championships: the National Singles from 2014-2016 and the U.S. Women’s Team Championship (Howe Cup) in 2014. Every fall, the McArthur Squash Center has been the site of a festival of squash centered around a PSA draw on the blue-and-orange glass show court, surrounded by adult and junior singles and doubles tournaments on the adjacent eight singles courts and two hardball squash doubles courts. Owned and operated by the University of Virginia Foundation, the center has served as an incubator for the Cavaliers squash program, which just achieved varsity status ahead of the 2017-2018 season after decades as a club program. The facility will construct an additional five singles courts early this year before the tournament, with all sixteen courts integrated with Club Locker technology.

Allen is preparing to host the international adult squash community for what will be one of the most ambitious squash tournaments ever held in the United States. While the tournament format will be similar to past iterations of the event, the 2018 World Masters will provide a once in a lifetime experience for participants on and off court.

Before the event begins in Charlottesville, the tournament is offering a special hotel rate in Alexandria, Virginia, where participants can practice on Episcopal High School’s courts each morning for three days while exploring the nation’s capital. The men’s and women’s draw start dates are staggered to provide travel and cost flexibility. (Historically, the women’s draws have been roughly a third the size of the men’s draws, which has meant rest days throughout the tournament while the men’s draws play out daily.) In a tournament first, the intention is to play out for the last sixteen finishing positions in larger draws. An estimated 70% of players will have at least four matches over the course of the week.

Participants will be able to take full advantage of the greater Charlottesville area throughout the tournament thanks to a new half day structure: each day will be split into two halves, with age divisions assigned to either a morning or afternoon session, allowing for players to plan excursions during their off session well in advance of the tournament. Popular destinations in the area include Thomas Jefferson’s iconic home Monticello, scenic Shenandoah National Park and Charlottesville’s cultural hub— the Downtown Mall. Charlottesville is also within a ninety minute drive of Washington, DC, Richmond and colonial Williamsburg. The entire Boar’s Head Resort is booked for the tournament, with all its world-class, 4-diamond amenities at the disposal of the players—regardless of whether they are staying at Boar’s Head or a nearby hotel. In addition to the McArthur Squash Center, the resort offers the renowned Birdwood Golf Course, a fitness center,a spa, on-property hiking, biking, fishing, outdoor swimming pools and twenty-six indoor and outdoor tennis courts. Charlottesville’s best will also come directly to Boar’s Head with vendors, wine and beer tastings and caterers set to set up shop at the resort throughout the week.

“It could be at least another twenty years before this tournament is back stateside,” Allen said. “This really is a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunityfor Americans. It will be one of those things that people will be kicking themselves if they don’t come, because they will have to wait a long time to play in it on home soil again.”