Saturday, July 20, 2024

Hong Kong’s new courts are a glass act

Glass Courts and The Future of Squash

By ALEX WILLIAMS

 

Latasha Khan on court in Hong Kong
Americn pro Latasha Khan on court with a junior in Hong Kong

Having recently visited Hong Kong to set up my Blade distribution network, and needing my thirst for squash quenched, I went back to my favourite club in the city, Hong Kong Football Club.

I hadn’t been there for nearly six months, so what I saw when I arrived was really something to behold. The three show courts at the club had all been transformed into glass courts.

Alex Williams in action
Alex Williams in action

Visiting in the middle of the day, when the courts were quiet, there were people struggling to hit the ball, playing on a glass court. Compare this to England, where some of the best players in the world are struggling to find a decent plaster court to play on, with most having never hit a ball on a glass court.

A stark contrast indeed.

Perhaps this is why squash is growing so quickly among the people in Hong Kong? The clubs recruit children at a very early age, introducing them to squash and tennis, with enthusiastic coaches and glass courts for them to play on.

So why don’t we have these glass courts? Why don’t we have so many young people desperate to get on court?

Think about the Ivy League universities in America; Harvard, Trinity, Brown… they all have at least one all-glass court. Then look at the phenomenal new Boars Head facility recently opened by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Compare back to England once more. Brunel University is about to become (in eight years time) the first university in the country that will build a glass court.

Fixing the glass on to the traditional walls in Hong Kong
Fixing the glass on to the traditional walls

A beer with a friend recently revealed his thoughts about the decline of squash at the other end of the scale. Take a typical squash club in England. What’s the average age? 52? I’m not far off there, I bet.

Well, now think about the age the most people will stop playing squash because they feel they are too old. Maybe 65?

Now think about how many young or junior players there are in the upper echelons of the club. Probably not too many in that list.

So how long is a typical squash club in England going to remain in business? Not much more than 10-15 years if things don’t change soon. 

Compare this again to Hong Kong. The average age of squash club members there is much younger, not because of a lack of working age players, but because of an extraordinary number of juniors desperate to get on court.

So why doesn’t the UK have more glass courts (we currently have three permanent glass courts, St. George’s Hill, Abbeydale and The National Squash Centre)? Surely a few panels of glass can’t be that outrageously expensive?

Traditionally, to build a glass court, you not only needed the glass panels, but you also needed a considerable amount of space to fit a viewing gallery.

Why do players want glass courts? Is it so that a larger audience can watch? Or is it for the experience?

For the chance to play on the same style court that we all regularly watch Ramy Ashour work his magic on? The same court we watch Nick Matthew cover every inch of?

BladeLogoIn my opinion it’s very much the latter, as those hours I spent in Hong Kong, playing exclusively on glass courts were among my most enjoyable I’ve spent within those four walls.

The surprising thing about these walls in particular; however, was that although they’re made of glass, you can’t see through them. They are bolted to a solid wall.

This glass is not there to improve one’s ability to watch squash, it is there for the experience of playing on a glass court. 

ALEX WILLIAMS
Squash player for King’s College London, mathematics student, President of King’s College London Squash Club, squash player for East Anglia Tennis and Squash Club, Blade distributor.

 

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