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Navy with Electric green logo Open Squash

Open Squash

Jan 17th 2024

74 And Playing Squash Like It’s 1974

Doug Garr (Patch)

Doug Garr's 40+ Year Journey Through The New York City Squash Scene

Doug Garr at Open Squash Patch

Doug Garr at Open Squash recently

Journalist Doug Garr, 74, started playing squash in New York in the late 1970s. He’s still playing today and his experience learning and playing the game here follows the opening-up of the sport for more and more players over the years. Doug serves as an inspiration for many younger players at Open Squash who are wondering if they will be able to continue playing and enjoying the game for many years to come. Go, Doug!

In 1979, Doug’s friend was writing a column about the game for the Village Voice, and he dragged Doug along to a place on 42nd Street near the public library that had just opened. Doug’s friend wrote the column and moved along, but Doug got hooked. He’d been a college athlete and was getting “heavy” and wanted to do something to stay fit. He joined the club and played there for several years. Then he joined a club on Park Place. One of the members was the artist, Frank Stella, who put a private court into his house upstate. The New York Times ran a story about Mr. Stella’s squash game in 1986:

As an artist, Stella is known for his intellectual brilliance, his brashness and his capacity to move from one unprecedented style to another, from the stark black-stripe paintings that first attracted national attention in the late 1950's to the extravagant shaped-canvas constructions of recent years. He sees connections between the art and sport and his personal approach to each.

Doug began playing hardball American squash, then switched to the soft-balled “English” game we all play, now.

Doug Garr on court at Open Squash (Patch)

Doug on court thrashing his opponent as usual.

“I went along to play English squash with a guy called Richard in my apartment building, and I didn’t know the difference in the game, and he ran me off the court,” Dough said. “He asked me, ‘do you want me to give you some points?’ and I said, ‘No, I have too much pride for that.’ And I got beat-up for an hour. Then finally I said, ‘I’ve gotta learn this game!’”

Doug replaced his wooden racket with a metal one and started learning how to hit the ball with more finesse. He learned to lob. He learned to spin. Park Place was run at a loss by a guy named Lionel, Doug said, who died of a heart attack. Doug and some other players ran the club as a co-op, and five guys became the board of directors. They kept the club going for about a year, but ended up having to sell it when the guy who owned the building wanted to put in a boxing club.

In the late 90s, Doug joined The Printing House on Hudson Street, which is an Equinox gym, now. The squash courts have all gone. Founded in the ‘80s in an old printing factory, it had an active league scene and hosted The Village Open once a year. There were many women members and musician Lou Reed could occasionally be seen on the courts doing martial arts.

“You had to call up on the phone to get a court,” Doug said. “We converted all the courts to English courts and suddenly it was the coolest club in New York. And everyone had their phones set up on auto dial a week in advance just to get a court.”

Doug captained the Printing House’s 3.5 team for a couple of seasons, and then in the mid 2000s, he just dropped out of playing squash.

“I don’t even know why,” Doug said. “It just kind of got away from me.”

The only clubs to play at were private university clubs, or you could get the subway out to City View Squash Club in Queens. Doug tried doing that a few times but he tended to be late for games thanks to New York’s legendary transit system. At that point, Open Squash founder David Ellen started looking for a space with real estate leader David Puchkoff, and they invited Doug along to an event in the Bryant Park Open Squash space, back in 2019.

Open Squash is a nonprofit squash club with locations in downtown (“FiDi”) and Bryant Park that opened in 2020.

“I couldn’t even hit the ball, I was so rusty, but they had all these plans on the wall where the courts were going to be, and it was exciting,” Doug said. “A year later, they opened the club, and I’m a charter member. I’m coming back!”

Doug ran into longtime squash player Glenn Caldwell on court one night, and the two of them had played together for years.

“He didn’t even recognize me, we were like ‘holy sh*t!’,” Doug said. “It’s been so good to play the game again and see these people I’ve known for years. I come to the round robins and I play a lot with my friend Ira. I love it.”

Now, Doug is 74, and still playing at a high level. He’s in good physical shape, and many of his friends are trying to convince him to play pickleball.

“But I just say, ‘that’s a sport for the elderly set and for youngsters who are wussies,’” he said. “You don’t have to think. Squash is the most complete form of exercise; you’re going to have to drag me off the court.”

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Doug! And see you at the next Friday night round-robin at Open Squash, for a slice of pizza!