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Friday, June 18, 2021

Hong Kong’s new courts are a glass act

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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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4 Comments

  1. Hi Alex W, Welcome to SquashMad and I look forward to reading more of your work.

    I’d just like to give you my thoughts on your comments on HK and also using its squash scene to compare against UK’s. I’ve been traveling and living in Singapore (I’ll get to this later) and HK quite a fair bit in my life. These 2 countries are very similar in terms of their squash scene – the number of juniors and social players (given their population) is unbelievable, and that they do not have as many world class players as they should (though HK is improving by leaps now).

    One very stark similarity these 2 countries have is the lack of space/land. Prices of real estate in these countries are amongst the highest in the world. For comparison sake, land in HK can be as much as USD10k a square feet for a 30 year lease, and in the most expensive part of London, Kensington Palace, it’s only about 6k quid – freehold that is.

    Even if one can afford it, there is only so much of supply on these small countries, which are hugely densed in population. Choices for sports are limited – squash courts take very little space, hence it is a very naturally popular sport. For one to find a rugby field, or a hockey pitch here, it’s pretty tough, while these are easily available in the UK.

    Taking HKFC as an example for their new glass courts, it is really not an “average Joe” sports club. It is one of the more affluent ones which most locals can’t afford. It is not, and in my opinion, will not (for a long time at least) be the norm for new courts in HK.

    One thing I feel why UK still has many more world class players – there is a club system to support mid-level professionals (those not in the top 30 or so) – in terms of coaching, etc. In Asia, if one is not in the top 20, it is not attractive economically at all. Hence, the number of people who “take chances” going pro is far less.

  2. Sorry bud, but what you said about glass court manufacturers changing exorbanent prices and only concerned with making money is a very short sighted comment.

    Do you have any idea how much overhead there is in squash court manufacturing? When was the last time you saw a squash court constructed anywhere? The reality of the situation is that there just isn’t a high enough demand for glass squash courts anywhere in the world to create competition. There just isn’t. ASB is headquartered in Germany and has to fly in specially trained people to construct a court and pay for their hotels and food along the way, along with not only the glass, but all the tools necessary for construction. There is also warehousing costs for all of the tools and the cost to pay engineers to design these courts to be structurally sound. These things aren’t free, no matter what industry you operate in.

    Furthermore, these guys need to feed their families. They aren’t going to do something like install a glass squash court “for the good of the game” if it causes the to go bankrupt. This frustrates me to no end when I hear people say things like this. This is exactly why squash isn’t as big as other sports because people in the sport aren’t business minded. Just like any other business, squash clubs have to pay rent for the land they occupy, the power they use, the employees they hire, the insurance they need to operate.

    Here’s and idea: why don’t you try installing glass squash courts at discount prices “for the good of the game” and let me know how that goes for you.

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