If you would’ve asked Nelson Squash Club board president Pat Hodgson whether the club was capable of sustaining additional programming and refurbishing its former lounge last year, he wouldn’t have been confident in his answer.
After a failed attempt to establish a squash club in the Civic Centre and after spending years relegated to a facility significantly smaller than what they were accustomed to, the club was starting to look a little anemic membership-wise.
He wasn’t even sure if it would last.
That’s when the new landlord invited them to return to their former facilities in The Royal, a dusty unused space that consists of a lounge-style bar and two large courts. If they’d had their way, they never would have left.
“We were forced upstairs by the previous owner, Luke Menkes. This was the only space he was willing to let us stay in,” said Hodgson of their former landlord, with whom they butted heads.
Having resided in The Royal for years before that point, Hodgson said the move dramatically hurt the club. And though their two-court space is well-used and loved by its members, it was also cramped and aging. When notified of the possibility of returning, they discussed their options.
“When the opportunity to go back downstairs was presented by the landlord, we took a long, hard look at how we’d make that happen,” Hodgson said.
They didn’t have to think long — with a sudden 200 per cent increase in their membership, a $30,000 cash injection raised by the members over three days, and a passion for squash unparalleled in Nelson, they were able to bring the idea to fruition.
When the Star swung by last week, work was well underway. And though construction detritus was still piled in the lounge, the courts are nearing completion.
Now they’re looking for Nelson residents to share in their good fortune.
“We’re actively seeking new members,” Hodgson said. “We’ve gone from 24 to almost 70 members. Over the course of the next two years what we really want to see is our membership grow. If we could get to 100 members that would be huge, and we think that’s attainable.”
Hodgson said the club has gone through some major upheavals recently, including switching from a for-profit business to a non-profit society, but now things are starting to stabilize.
They’re hoping to re-introduce a junior program that will introduce youth to the sport. Hodgson is particularly interested in teaming up with local schools to get squash rackets in young palms.
“In the past Trafalgar and L.V. [Rogers] would come down for a gym class and pay a modest fee, run a gym class for an hour and a half. You’d have ping pong, four courts going — it was a great opportunity for the kids.”
Hodgson said the facility isn’t as accessible as he would like it to be — currently it’s key-activated and closed to non-members. But as they refurbish their courts and get the lounge started up, they’re hoping community members will come in to socialize.
They’d also like to host parties with live music and become a social hub for the community.
“There’s a reason this club has been around for 30 years, and that’s because squash is a great social sport. You play your match, get to know people, sit down and have a beer. The league nights are a blast and the tournaments are legendary,” said Hodgson, noting squash teams routinely travel from the coast to compete.
During the transition period the Nelson Squash Club is offering year-long memberships for $200.
“You can’t go skiing at Whitewater or go to the aquatic centre and use it all year for 200 bucks. I think it’s best deal in town,” he said.
The club plans a grand re-opening in September, at which point the facility will be available to rent.
“You can come play squash or even just hang out, have a beer.”
For more information visit Nelson Squash Club on Facebook.