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Squash Growing in Popularity

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jan 24, 2005 5:30PM

2005_01_sports_squash_tournament.gifThe second-largest squash tournament in the U.S., the six-day Windy City Open at the University Club in Chicago started Thursday. The prize grew to $50,000 this year from $30,000 last year, in part because of new sponsors LaSalle Bank, Foley & Lardner LLP and Grant Thornton, in addition to title sponsor SSA Global -- a Chicago software company.

The success of this tournament is not surprising to those in the elite world of squash. According to the Trib's Q section yesterday, squash is growing in popularity among the white collar crowd, gaining on golf and tennis.

Played by only about 500,000 nationally and 1000 in Chicago, squash has taken on an elitist air in part because in order to play, one must have membership at one of the few clubs with courts -- often exclusive ones like University Club, Lakeshore Athletic Club and the Racquet Club.

According to the Trib, among the signals pointing to the sports surge in popularity include:

  • Forbes magazine recently pronounced squash the best sport for getting and staying fit. One of the brutal reasons: The rulebook forbids stalling to catch one's breath between rallies.
  • Squash is one of five sports, including golf, being considered for inclusion in the 2012 Olympics.
  • Tennis Industry magazine, now called Racquet Sports Industry, has reported that squash is the only racquet sport that is growing, based on court construction and gear sales. Most players have a college degree, and by one estimate more than half earn more than $100,000 annually.

However, Chicagoist noticed that the sport was covered in the Q section, and not the Sports section. Guess it's still got a way to go. Squash afficianados attribute part of the sports small but growing popularity to "squash finally is emerging from a 15-year conversion from hardball squash in this country to the international softball version, which uses a ball with a less cooperative bounce. The transition initially hurt the game in the U.S., not just because courts had to be expanded from about 18 feet wide to 21 feet wide, but also because the softer ball demanded more leaping, running and lunging--in short, greater fitness." Yeah, we can see how middle-aged lawyers and bankers would be less than thrilled by greater physical exhertion. But some are finally getting into shape and picking up the sport. They've got to have someplace to do business when the golf courses are covered in a foot of snow.

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