Damon Bourne is used to hearing the stereotypes about squash: That it's a country-club sport, exclusive to wealthy Ivy Leaguers and corporate executives.
"It's probably not an unearned reputation," says the owner of Madison Squash Workshop, which hosts a professional women's tournament at its south-side facility next week. "But in Europe and Australia and the rest of the world, it's more like bowling is here. Most of the clubs are courts with a bar. It's a very social community."
Bourne is trying to create that kind of community at his facility with four courts and a pub-like area for socializing. He recently hired Jonas Laurson, a Danish pro, to give lessons and develop a youth program by reaching out to area gym teachers. And he offers not just trial memberships at the club, but the opportunity to sample the sport a few times before committing to anything.
"I get on the court with people and try it with them," Bourne says. "I find that golfers and hockey players make good squash players because the swing is almost identical. If you look at a slap shot, the preparation is the same. Tennis players are a little harder to convert, but they pick it up."
The game is played a lot like racquetball, in an enclosed court, but the racquet is longer and the ball is smaller and not as bouncy, so the action isn't as frenetic.
"It's akin to clay-court tennis," says Bourne. "The points can be very long. The better you get at racquetball, the shorter the points are. But the better you get at squash, the longer the points are."
Next week's tournament (free to the public, schedule available at squashworkshop.com) features 20 players from 11 countries, including England's Emily Whitlock, ranked 29th in the world.