Well, it turns out that squash is pretty big in the Kingdom. This is almost certainly due to the high number of subcontinent Asians who live and work here. Squash was exported to the subcontinent from Britain in colonial days, and now some of the very best squash professionals in the world hail from Pakistan and India (along with the UK, Australia, the US, and South Africa).
For those unfamiliar with the sport, squash (or “squash racquets”) is an indoor racquet sport that derived from a back-alley outdoor sport in Britain called “Racquets.” It’s not too dissimilar to racquetball, which is certainly more popular in the US than squash. A racquetball ball is larger and very bouncy, and the racquets are short and stubby. Squash racquets are about the length of a tennis or badminton racquet, but have narrower heads than tennis racquets. Squash balls seem defective… If you drop a room-temperature squash ball from your outstretched hand (shoulder height), it will bounce 4 or 5 inches on the first bounce and then nearly die by the second bounce. Once the ball gets warmed up by hitting the crap out of it, it becomes a bit more bouncy (but still pretty dead) I’ll show my bias here, but squash is much more of a strategy game, whereas oftentimes in racquetball he/she who has the biggest forearms wins. We squash snobs refer to racquetball as “blue-collar squash.”
I picked it up while in grad school at Brown (it’s kind of a preppy, Ivy League sport), where our group participated in country club sports – squash, sailing, and golf. That is, until John Farrell decreed that we needed a blue-collar sport and we joined an East Providence bowling league. We were the “Bedrock Bowlers,” comprised of Fred, Barney, Joe Rockhead, and Mr. Slate. Of course, I was Joe Rockhead. We didn’t win many bowling matches, but we dominated the league in terms of weekly bar tabs.
Oh, back to squash. I played a lot of squash when I lived in Dallas, while teaching at UT-Dallas. There was a very active squash community in Dallas, and a much, much bigger one in Houston. We played in many Dallas-Houston squash tournaments. I played 4 or 5 times a week and got pretty good. I won several tournaments in Dallas and represented the city as city champion in the C-Division at the national Insilco B/C/D/E tournament held in Chicago – that was probably January, 1991. I was nationally ranked!! Got my ass kicked by a woman from Atlanta in the second round…
Once I moved to Boulder, I joined Flatiron Athletic Club, where there was also a very active group of squash players and where I met many good longstanding friends, both on and off the court (Jeff Williams, John Sullivan, Tim Goodacre, Danny Rodriguez come to mind). We often played Friday nights and would socialize over beers after our pick-up matches were done at FAC’s bar. We held tournaments at the club and also played in tournaments in Denver at the DAC.
Then kids came along and I suffered a rotator cuff injury on my racquet shoulder and I pretty much stopped playing about 12 years ago. Fast forward to the day my KFUPM email went live and I started receiving University emails. One of the first ones was for the KFUPM Squash Academy, which I have signed up for. We were supposed to start this evening (Mondays and Wednesdays each week for experienced players), but the Academy was cancelled for the week. Why? Because it rained today. And it’s supposed to rain on and off for the next few days. Like it really rained today – not just sprinkles. Well, that put everyone in a tizzy, so the Academy will start a week from tonight.
The courts are at the main campus gym, but over here in the residential compound, we have a community center that has a gymnasium, workout gym with free weights and machines, four nice outdoor tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court, a full-sized pool, and three beautiful squash courts (one is shown in the photo above)!! There’s also a library, banquet hall, billiard/ping pong/foosball room, and some meeting/event rooms. I haven’t found any pinball machines. Anyway, disappointed that the Academy didn’t start tonight, I went to the community center and whacked the ball around for a while. I’m very excited to start playing again!
Here’s a look at the game in case you’ve never seen it played before.