By trade, Mir Zaman Gul is a squash coach. And for a squash coach to uproot his family and move 400 miles to Charlotte, he must have a reason to believe that his talents are in demand.
Zaman Gul is counting on Charlotte becoming a squash city.
The Charlotte Squash Club, which opened Nov. 1 and is located on International Drive at Providence Square Shopping Center, is the city’s first squash-only facility. Equipped with four state-of-the-art courts and other amenities, owners believe that the club will appeal to the sport’s existing players and catch on quickly with a younger or inexperienced crowd who are keen to its fast-paced action and fitness value.
“Squash is like sprinting and diving and lunging and doing squats for an hour,” says Margaret Rixham, a Myers Park resident. “I played for the first time in 10 years the other day and I could hardly walk two days later.”
The distinctions between the racquetball and squash are subtle to outside observers. A squash racquet, for example, is longer and more slender than a racquetball racquet and a squash ball is smaller and has less bounce than a racquetball ball.
Jim Marshall, who has played squash in Charlotte since 1993, was instrumental in establishing the Charlotte Squash Club. Though he is stepping back due to urgent family matters, he has monitored and documented the building of the club since the beginning in June and will continue to be active as a volunteer.
According to Marshall, a Cotswold resident, and others in Charlotte’s squash community, the city has about 50-75 active players. They often played at the Charlotte Athletic Club where two courts with movable walls were shared by squash and racquetball players.
Some of Charlotte’s truest squash players became frustrated with the lack of proper courts in the city.
Enter Graeme Dykes, a native of Zimbabwe and a former international professional squash player. A computer software executive, Dykes and his family moved to Charlotte six years ago.
Dykes, who lives in Ballantyne, began participating in the Charlotte Athletic Club’s “Saturday Morning Squash Fever” events in which a dozen or two people would play matches in a round robin format.
“That was the genesis,” said Dykes. “I floated the idea of ‘why don’t we have a court.’ ”
Dykes started recruiting potential investors. He and Marshall started sharing ideas about the possibility of an independent squash facility. They first looked at existing racquet clubs but received lukewarm response.
They debated whether they should build a stand-alone building or convert an existing structure to a squash facility, not an easy task since the ceiling has to be very high.
With the help of a realtor, Marshall found a 6,000-square-foot section of the Providence Square Shopping Center that had been vacant for years. Marshall and Dykes eventually understood that the conversion would be easier than originally thought.
In the meantime, the Charlotteans locked up a major player. Connie Barnes, a Chevy Chase, Md., resident who has opened other squash facilities in the eastern U.S., came aboard as an investor and shared her expertise in operating facilities. Dykes and Barnes are the club’s co-owners.
Barnes talked Zaman Gul, the coach at her Chevy Chase squash club, into coming to Charlotte to get things off the ground. Zaman Gul, a former squash world games medalist, now lives a minute’s walk from the Charlotte Squash Club.
Club owners and squash enthusiasts see endless possibilities now that they have a facility. Four tournaments, which could draw players from all along the East Coast, are already scheduled 2015.
Dykes and Zaman Gul held squash demonstrations at local high schools to gauge interest. Charlotte Country Day and Covenant Day are already forming club teams.
The club is enrolling members, and wants to have over 200 members in the next two-and-a-half years.