Jaffray Woodriff stood outside the Boar’s Head Sports Club with a giant pair of scissors. Just as Woodriff was about to cut the ceremonial ribbon for the new McArthur Squash Center, he paused for dramatic effect.
As spectators chuckled and cameras clicked, Woodriff grinned.
His squash dream had come to fruition.
On Thursday, the $12.4 million facility had its grand opening as the first-ever pro squash tournament in Charlottesville got under way.
“When you look at [the facility], it’s much more than 11 squash courts,” Woodriff told an assembled audience. “The building is something that set out to innovate.
“Rather than repurposing an ancient basement, as has been done at some of our competing universities, I wanted squash to be a visible part of the University and the greater Charlottesville community. Not only does McArthur make a strong visual statement from the outside, but the beauty of Central Virginia is visible from the inside.”
In first-round action of the ILEX Construction Charlottesville Challenger, it wasn’t a good day for Americans.
No. 1 seeded Julian Illingworth, who trains out of New York City, was upset by Abdulla Mohd Al Tamimi of Qatar in five games.
Meanwhile, wild-card entrant Mike Lewis, the former Dartmouth standout, was upended by Ireland’s Arthur Gaskin.
In one of the better matches of the day, one that was long by squash standards — it lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes — South African Clinton Leeuw defeated Geoffrey Demont of France, 11-8, 14-12, 11-13, 15-13.
“I was trying to play my shots tight and make sure that the rallies were nice and long and just try and weather the storm,” Leeuw said, “because I knew sooner or later he [was] going to get tired and start making mistakes.
“You know, it took a long time to get him tired because he was hitting a lot of winners.”
Leeuw said it took time to adjust to McArthur’s unique four-sided glass court, just one of a handful in the world.
“You have to get used to the bounce and the pace of the ball because it plays differently with different light, different times of the day,” he said. “You constantly need to be making those little adjustments, but this court is a great court.”
Woodriff, a 1991 graduate of UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce, donated all of the money for the facility, which is named after his late grandfather, Douglas McArthur.
While this weekend’s event is for pros, Woodriff’s long-term hope is to see squash succeed in Charlottesville at both the grassroot and college levels.
“For decades, the sport has been dominated by some of the finest academic institutions in the country,” he said. “It is appropriate that the University of Virginia will be taking its place among these schools and will compete at the highest level...
“The groundwork has been laid for the University to aspire to greatness in the college game.”
Robert Sweeney, the senior vice president for advancement at Virginia, feels greatness is definitely in the future for squash at the University, which is currently only played at the club level.
“I believe that we will have a varsity squash program within a decade and will be national champions,” Sweeney said, “just [like] our Boar’s Head neighbors in our tennis program...
“This is just the beginning.”
The pro players competing were impressed.
“I’ve played all over the world, in places like Malaysia and Hong Kong, and this is the nicest facility I’ve seen,” said Joe Chapman. “And it just has beautiful surroundings as well — with the lakes and the mountains and everything.”
Tournament play continues today and runs through Sunday. Matches are free and open to the public.