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Corner": James Zug
> Atlantic City Club Closes Doors
Playing
through the Night: The Story of Squash in Atlantic City

By James Zug.
July 1, 2001. © 2001
Illustrations: Courtesy Atlantic City Squash Archives © 2001 SquashTalk.com
[The Atlantic City Tournament Winners Gallery]



On July
1, 2001 the two-three-one combination lock
on the Chalfonte-Haddon
Hall Racquet Club in Atlantic City worked its magic no more, and the famous,
or rather infamous, squash courts on the fifteenth floor went forever
dark.

Sentimentality, as Oscar Wilde quipped,
is merely the Bank Holiday of cynicism. But this final shovel-full of
dirt on the casket of hardball squash must give us a moment, however brief,
to pause and remember. The oldest hardball singles tournament is gone.

In
1929 two Quaker families, the Leeds and the Lippincotts (the latter from
the sailing rather than publishing Lippincotts, as evidenced by the hotel
insignia that had three sailboats on it), erected two hotels side by side
on the boardwalk at the small summer resort town of Atlantic City.

The fifteenth floor at Haddon Hall was
strangely left unused, so Bob Leeds and Jack Lippincott, the sons of the
owners, convinced their fathers that they should put in two squash courts.
The courts were placed back to back, cramped by the space and only one
of the four side walls had enough room for regulation boundary markings.
But they were the only courts, until the 1990s, on the Jersey Shore.

“In the beginning the people in town weren’t
exactly sure what to make of squash,” says Doris Lippincott, the elegant
and charming widow of Jack Lippincott. “They thought of it as some sort
of Quaker game we had brought in from Philadelphia.” But it soon took
hold. For many years it had over a hundred active members (some of whom
played in Philadelphia leagues), and club tournaments, including a handicapped
draw, were well-stocked. As was the bar in the club room on the 15 and
one-half floor, which always had a keg on tap. One of the great pleasures
of the club was drawing a pint of beer after playing and sitting in a
comfortable chair looking out over the gray Atlantic surf.

Chalfonte-Haddon Hall, though, became famous
for it annual tournament, the Atlantic Coast Championships.
Usually, held in late January or early February, the ACC was on par with
the Gold Racquets, the Harry Cowles and the William White as one of the
most competitive tournaments leading up to the national singles.

The tournament was very hard to win. Looking
at the list of winners, one sees some interesting results: Donny Strachan
winning his fifth title in 1948; Henri Salaun never winning the tournament;
1964, 1976 and 1978 when brothers played each other in the finals; and
Diehl Mateer

Hashim Khan
collects the ’71 Pro Veterans Title

eaching the finals at age forty in 1969
after being down two-love and six-love in the third in the quarters to
Charlie Ufford—Mateer then went up 14-11 in the fifth against Tom Poor
in the finals before a series of controversial lets and Mateer tins, including
a flubbed backhand volley at 14-all, no-set, ended his brief comeback
from a decade-long retirement.

No tournament matched the ACC for lubricity,
late nights and salacious good fun. The weekend was
entirely gratis: the tournament, rooms at the hotel, food, cocktails-everything
but tips. Because there were only two courts and a sixty-four men’s draw
(as well as, at different times, a pro draw, consolation draw, a women’s
draw, a veterans draw and a seniors draw), the ACC was memorable for its
around-the-clock matches.

Play commenced Friday afternoon and was
continuous through Saturday evening. Very often you’d have a three am
match. Players found themselves in an amusingly rigorous rotation of playing
squash, eating meals, drinking

Diehl Mateer
gets one of his 7 Atlantic City Titles

through the wee hours and catching quick
naps all weekend. Wives and players knocked out of the squash played paddle
tennis on the court outside in the courtyard of Chalfonte; in the 1960s
Howard Davis, an ACC stalwart, started a paddle tournament and provided
prizes for the finalists.

Saturday evening was, naturally, a black-tie
dinner dance. Sunday, after the finals, everyone poured themselves into
their cars or train compartments and limped home, drained and dazed.

“I
first played in the Atlantic Coasts my freshman year at Yale,” says Treddy
Ketcham, the long-time tournament director of the Gold Racquets. “I came
down on Friday, played and enjoyed the whole atmosphere. When I got back
to New Haven, I was so exhausted that I went out and lost five challenge
matches in a row and almost found myself off the team.” The weekend was
such a whirlwind that one player, still very much alive, brought two dates
to the weekend, gave each a room and, after
a
calm and steady cycle

UK Ladies Tour in ’63 hits
NYC and Atlantic City

between the rooms and the club, managed
to escape detection.

Each
hotel room had four faucets at the sink, two of which brought forth hot
or cold salt water. More than one late-night reveler tried to quench their
thirst out of the wrong faucet.

The apogee of these halcyon days was the
U.S. Open, held at the club on 6 and 7 January 1962. In the quarters Azam
Khan smacked his nephew Mohilbullah just above the eye with his racquet,
forcing a default at 15-11, 15-17, 15-13, 10-5. He then beat Ben Heckscher
in the semis and in the finals his cousin Roshan Khan. After seven failed
attempts to take the Open, four of which saw him lose in the finals, it
was sweet revenge for the Pakistani.

Chalfonte-Haddon
Hall also hosted the 1971 U.S. Professionals (today it is called the Tournament
of Champions), where Sharif Khan beat hard-luck Mo Khan 7-15, 15-8, 12-15,
15-4, 15-10 and Hashim Khan easily took the veterans. In 1991 it held
the second annual Copa Wadsworth (U.S. v. Mexico) which was the first
to be played in the U.S.

After gambling came to Atlantic

 

Sharif Collects
the 1971 US Pro (TOC) Over Mo Khan

City, the old hotels began to disappear.

Merv Griffen bought Chalfonte-Haddon Hall,
tore down Haddon Hall and renamed Chalfonte Resorts. The club rolled with
the times. They put in a mirror above the bar with “Merv Griffen’s Resorts”
splashed across it. The gambling certainly made the tournament even more
attractive, but it also made the space tempting for the resort owners.
When America switched to softball, the club’s days were numbered. The
Atlantic City Country Club attracted newer players (but it closed last
year), and more recently the new Shore Racquet and Fitness Club in Somers
Point, about six miles down the coast from the city, has easily outdone
Chalfonte with its state-of-the-art facility that boasts two new doubles
courts.

At the 59th Atlantic Coast Championships
in January 2001, the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Racquet Club could
claim it was the oldest hardball tournament in the world. But was also
the last. This spring the hotel changed ownership. The new owners of Resorts,
Colony, are demolishing the club and renovating the top floor of the casino
into suits for high rollers.

The button on the elevator no longer says
“Squash Court” but ” Fifteen.

“We are all pretty sad about losing the
old lady,” says Bill Sykes, a director of the club and long-time chairman
of the ACC. “There’s a lot of great history and great memories that are
being lost. But we’re going to switch the tournament to the Shore Club
and play hardball in the softball courts. I’m excited about it. Maybe
we’ll add a doubles draw, even a softball draw. But it won’t ever be the
same as having the tournament at the hotel. That was something special.”

Like all those good nights with a three
am match, it had to come to an end.

[ Read First Squash
Court in North America, also by James Zug]

[ Read Origins of Squash,
also by James Zug]

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