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Three for three: Squash Canadian Open continues the streak of bringing top-level sports to Calgary

Visitors to the city’s Plus 15 network will by now have noticed that something is a little different downtown this week.

Up to Friday, an all-glass squash court will be nestled in amongst the shops and escalators in the atrium of Bow Valley Square.

Returning for a second year, the Oxford Properties Canadian Men’s Open has brought some of the top international and domestic squash players to what is increasingly becoming an important venue for the sport.

“We’ve got five of the top 15 male players in the world, and 25 of the top 40 males in the world—so the calibre of squash is huge, and for a squash fan, you haven’t seen a bigger event in a country like this for a long time,” said Dean Brown, tournament chairman for the Canadian Open and CEO of the Bow Valley Athletic Club.

Brown said that the custom-built, all-glass enclosure is part of a larger movement to showcase the sport outside of the traditional squash venues. The Bow Valley Square location joins a growing roster of similar setups at places like Grand Central Station in New York, and in front of the Pyramids in Egypt.

In the New York example, it took a sport that would have had seating in the tens, and transformed it into a venue that was viewed by the tens of thousands. In excess of 300,000, said Brown.

“This whole glass court thing has transformed the pro tour, and given it an accessibility to the public that couldn’t happen if these things were all in clubs all the time,” he said.

Profile of Open larger this year

The numbers that Calgary will likely have will be in the thousands over the next few days, according to Jamie Nicholls, Director of Athlete Development with Squash Canada.

“The eyeballs that we’ll see, that we’ve already seen even before the tournament starts, would be 10 times what we would be able to have in a closed venue.”

Among the major draws of top international talent to the Open this year is a significant boost to the prize money for competitors.

The top prize is $55,000, up from $30,000 last year. And as a result, the tournament has drawn the top players in the sport, compared to zero last year, said Nicholls.

Among the top international players attending are Victor Crouin (10th in the world), Joel Makin (11th in the world), and defending champion Nick Wall (46th in the world).

Canadians David Baillargeon and Nick Sachvie will also be competing in the tournament, as will the Bow Valley Athletic Club’s pro Connor Turk, as a wildcard entry.

As for Turk, Brown described him as one of the top national players in the sport, who earned his spot through high-level play. Turk himself is ranked among the top 200 players in the sport, internationally.

“Hopefully we’ll get our members down here, have a few drinks, get rowdy, and cheer him on,” Brown said.

Nicholls said that the prize money and the number of players bring the Open into the top 20 biggest events in the world for Squash.

“You’re gonna see one of the most dynamic sports in the world—they call it chess on your feet,” he said.

“And you’re going to see some of the fittest athletes. Squash is the second fittest sport in the world, according to Forbes magazine.”

Streak of top level sporting events in Calgary

The Oxford Properties Canadian Men’s Open is the third major international sporting event in Calgary, in as many weeks, following Nitro RX and the Snow Rodeo FIS World Cups over the past two weekends.

Carson Ackroyd, Senior Vice President of Sales with Tourism Calgary said that this was a direct result of the stance that Calgary has taken towards bringing events to the city.

“Calgary was very aggressive through the pandemic around trying to be a place that would open sports as soon as possible to hosting, so hence you saw the World Curling bubble and the Women’s World Hockey Championships,” Ackroyd said.

“Coming out of that, many of the partners that we’ve worked with saw Calgary as a place that was open for business and really wanted to host, and so we’ve carried that momentum forward.”

He said that Tourism Calgary has continued to aggressively seek out new and unique events for the city, which includes the upcoming Scotty’s Tournament of Hearts, Canadian Winter Special Olympics, and a bid on the North American Indigenous Games for 2027.

He said that in large part this has been a successful strategy because of partners like Oxford Properties Group which has Bow Valley Square among its portfolio. Ackroyd said the corporate community in Calgary one of the competitive advantages that the city has as a market for events.

“It’s huge, and really for us in our world, it comes down to the champions that want to bring these events forward,” Ackroyd said.

“You get a whole bunch of different companies getting behind different sorts of events, and that’s how you get a big portfolio of events and a city that can make a difference.”