Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Snorkelling, cliff jumping and a party on a pirate ship: Adam Murrills on making squash grow in the beautiful British Virgin Islands

‘Staging the Carey Olson Tortola Classic was a dream come true after rebuilding the club following the wreckage of Hurricane Irma’
By ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)

Adam Murrills is known as the Lionel Messi of squash because of his wide array of dazzling trick shots. There is also a serious side to this entertaining character, and his staging of the Carey Olsen Tortola Classic 2022 in the British Virgin Islands saw him add the title of tournament promoter to his CV alongside his growing reputation as an inspirational coach.

I emailed Adam asking for a review of the event following the final, but he is a man in demand, with a busy squash schedule despite being in what many may think is a remote location in the Caribbean.

Adam wrote to say: “Apologies – the last couple of weeks have been hectic! Straight after the completion of the PSA event we welcomed a few US Juniors to the BVI with their coach, Alex Ingham, for a little mini squash camp.

“Then I set off for Guyana with our Junior National Team for the Junior Caribbean Squash Championships. Today we finished slightly earlier than usual so I’ve managed to finish this for you!”

No apologies were needed and I was delighted to receive such a thorough, informative article outlining the background to the tournament, the rebuilding of the host club following the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, plus all the extra bits and pieces that go towards making a small tournament so special – one that is likely to grow into an outstanding fixture on the international calendar.

Adam tells the story in beautiful fashion:

We have recently come to the end of what was a fantastic week of squash here in the British Virgin Islands. We absolutely loved hosting the Carey Olsen Tortola Classic.

In September 2017 the BVI was decimated by Hurricane Irma – one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded. Hurricane Irma left the islands in pieces. This devastation included Tortola Sports Club. Two of the four squash courts were completely ruined. The BVI went through a huge rebuilding phase for the next 12 months.

I was then lucky enough to arrive on Tortola (the main island within the BVI) in September 2018. Post Irma there had been no squash coach on the island, and therefore the junior programs had fallen away. Upon my arrival it was great to revive the junior programs and have meetings with the club committee about the potential rebuilding of the courts.

A plan was agreed for what we wanted to achieve for the new courts. We wanted high quality courts (and thanks to CourtWall we now have those), and we wanted a moveable middle wall so that our National Team players could practice doubles in the run up to Major Games like the Commonwealth Games and the PanAm Championships.

Fans flocked in to watch the tournament in Tortola

We simply wanted four courts again so that we could expand our junior programs and just get more people playing the game in general; and one of our main goals was to make the courts more open and visible to the outside world!

Four years and one global pandemic later … and our vision is now a reality!

Our club is very open and welcoming. We have huge footfall within our bar and restaurant as we are located in the centre of town. Every person who comes in to have lunch, or their evening dinner at our facility has to walk past our beautiful tennis courts… and they’re therefore aware of the sport and what the club and our tennis coaches offer.

Squash courts, however, are generally enclosed within an outer shell. Our hope with our new courts was to change this and to allow people to see what squash is even if they weren’t specifically visiting us to play.

With us being located in an area where hurricanes are prevalent, we couldn’t get away from having a solid structure surrounding our courts. By having an open upper balcony, though, and shutters on the ground floor which we keep open as much as possible… we believe we’ve found the right balance between hurricane protection and visibility. Hopefully you can get a feel for this from the photos and our tournament video!

The completion of our new courts in April gave us the perfect reason to host our first PSA tournament since Covid. On top of the new courts being enticing for the pros … who wouldn’t want to play squash in the gorgeous Caribbean!

For us, hosting a professional squash tournament has many benefits.

– It brings professional sportsmen to the Island
– It provides top quality squash and entertainment for our members
– It hopefully highlights to the pro players what we as a territory have to offer in terms of squash events and opportunities on our shores
– It inspires our younger players

Inspiring our youth was a big focus for us and I can honestly say that the professional players were amazing in being generous with their time and getting involved with our junior programs!

They jumped in for Q and A’s with various junior group sessions, they hopped on court with our juniors in and around their practice hits, they played a fantastic doubles exhibition and hosted an hour and a half ‘Play The Pro’ prior to the final! I’d like to think part of their generosity came from the fact that they felt welcomed and well treated by all our members and the club as a whole. A huge thank you to all of the pros!

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On top of simply hosting a professional event and enjoying some top quality squash, we were keen to show the players the beauty of the BVI. On semi-finals day we had a boat trip courtesy of Carey Olsen (title sponsor) and Sam Childs (our videographer for the event).

We went snorkelling and cliff jumping at ‘The Indians’, had a lovely lunch at Norman Island, and then visited the world famous Willy T – a pirate ship which serves as a bar / restaurant floating in the middle of the ocean! I think it’s safe to say the boys enjoyed spending a day on the water!

That evening we hosted a Sportsmen’s Dinner at the Sports Club. The staff transformed the bar and restaurant and had it looking very classy. The event was a sell out and was of course free for players. We were treated to a gorgeous three-course dinner.

In between the starters and main courses we had three of the players out to the front for a series of questions posed by our Junior National Team, who currently representing us at the Junior Caribbean Championships in Guyana.

The three players in the hot seats were Liam Marrison, Simon Herbert and Jonah Bryant. The boys had been great all week in interacting with our juniors and they were once again fun and informative when answering the juniors’ questions.

Between the Mains and Desserts we got three more of the pros out to the front and opened up to questions from the floor. We had some interesting questions and our three older heads of Chris Binnie, David Baillargeon and Spencer Lovejoy (not so old!) gave some insightful answers. It was nice for our members to gain more of an understanding of the ins and outs of professional squash!

The brilliant tournament video created by Sam Childs from Island Films

All that was left now was Finals Day. This began with 90 minutes of Play the Pro. Following this was a full throttle doubles match between Team America (Andrew Douglas and Spencer Lovejoy) and The Rest of the World (Simon Herbert and Liam Marrison). After 30 intense minutes of high octane squash… the best of three contest finished 11-10 in the third to Team America. A little side wager of 100 bucks went to Andrew and Spencer!

The final itself more than lived up to expectations! Competing for the title were David Baillargeon (Canadian National Champion and World Ranked 66) and Farkas Balazs (Hungarian National Champion and World Ranked 82).

Opinions were split on who would prevail. David started the stronger and stormed out to a two-game lead. Balazs has a very relaxed style and seemed unconcerned with being behind. Speaking post match, he felt like he’d been playing too much to the back which more favoured the Canadian’s strengths.

Balazs’ plan was to start looking to be a bit more pro-active taking the ball in short. This strategy seemed to work as he gradually moved David around the court and gained more and more control in the match. He remained strong throughout and went on to close out his ninth PSA World Tour Title.

The tournament as a whole has been a real highlight in our year. It was amazing to host our biggest ever event and welcome the professional players back to the BVI. We hope the pros enjoyed it just as much as we did.

Here’s to the 2023 event…!

Thank you, Adam, for painting such beautiful pictures with your words. Let me know if you need an MC next year! 


Pictures courtesy of Sam Childs and Adam Murrills 


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