New York City
New Doubles Squash Hub?
Over the past two years we've all read and heard about the gloom and doom plaguing doubles squash. Tournament play is down, no young players are playing the game, and no one seems to have a solution. Recently, however, I had a long conversation about this issue with Morris Clothier, one of the best doubles players ever. Many issues were raised in this conversation regarding the “state” of doubles squash in the US. After the conversation concluded I was more upbeat about the state of our game than I have been in years.
In years past, people would play the tournament circuit in preparation for, and in hopes of getting a better seed in, the US National Doubles. Players would enter the requisite number of events to also obtain a ranking. Buffalo, Gold Racquets, Baltimore, Merion and the like were the “staples” of the doubles world. Good players played most, if not all, of these events in preparation for the US Nationals at the end of the season. Many also played with the same partner throughout the season for ranking and seeding purposes.
With the change in the USSRA's policy three years ago to allow professionals to play in the US National Doubles, that whole process has changed. Rarely do the top players team up before the Nationals since the pro ISDA circuit conflicts with the traditional amateur events. As a result, you will see a top “amateur,” like Morris Clothier, team with a top pro, like Gary Waite, in the Nationals while they will not play together during the regular season.
As a result we are seeing less and less tournament play in the traditional sense of the word. Events such as the Smith Chapman in Montreal, which once had hundreds of players on the waiting list to enter, now find themselves with draws that are not full. Why is that? One reason is set forth above. Another reason is the growth of the ISDA and the Pro-Ams associated therewith. A look at this year's schedule shows that there are/were seven ISDA events in the New York City area alone on the 2004-05 calendar. These events, which boast prize money ranging from $25,000-150,000, also have huge “Pro-Ams” that run in conjunction with the tour stops. Thus the doubles player who lives in the New York City/Southern Connecticut/Northern New Jersey area can play seven events without ever leaving home. As a result there is no need for these players to travel to the traditional events.
Why then is doubles booming in NY while it appears to be dying elsewhere? A major factor in New York's growth, Clothier claims, is the fact that the club professionals at most of the NYC clubs are on the ISDA tour. They are actively promoting the growth of the game that lines their pocketbooks and at which they compete at a very high level.
Compare that to most other clubs across the US that have club pros whose main focus is junior development. As an example, we have no junior doubles squash in Buffalo but we have a booming junior program devoted to softball singles. In NYC, however, doubles play is booming, and courts are booked well in advance of play. The game is being promoted by the club professionals at a much greater level than in other areas.
This year, in addition to the seven ISDA events, New York will host the US Doubles Nationals. From a city that hadn't hosted the National Doubles since 1979 to a city that is now hosting the event twice in a three-year period, New York has really changed the manner in which the game is being played. Does this mean an end to the traditional tournaments? Does this bode well for the future of the game of doubles squash? Please e-mail me with your comments at email@example.com.