Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where have all the squash courts gone?

In my previous post, I mentioned that squash was very popular in Singapore in the late 70’s and 80’s. At that time, finding a squash court to indulge in our favourite sport was always a challenge.

I took up squash during the tail-end of my OCS days in Safti. My section mate, Lim Kheng Guan taught me how to play the game. Subsequently when I was posted to 30 SCE in Mandai, I had more time to play the game. We did not have our own courts and had to go next door to use the one at 40 SAR. At that time, the SAF had plans to build at least two squash courts in every camp.
Elsewhere in Singapore, it was still very difficult to find a squash court, and so after my ROD, I often had to depend on my friend KG, who was a regular, to bring me to his camp at Selarang Barracks to play. He was the QM (quartermaster) in one of the SARs (Spore Armoured Regiment). He also brought me to SCSC (SAF Command and Staff College) at South Buona Vista occasionally.
Mar 1978 (obviously posed) photo taken at Gillman Camp. Notice the wooden racket. My first racket was a Dunlop, a popular brand at that time. Another popular brand was Ascot.
The design of the new squash courts in SAF was terrible. To access the viewing gallery, you had to climb a ladder – I repeat, ladder, not staircase. Thus whenever we brought lady friends along, it was quite inconvenient.
When I started work in Philips (Audio Factory) in Toa Payoh, I was a member of the Sports and Recreation Club Committee. As squash convener, it was my duty to book the squash courts for our players. I usually went to the SSC (Singapore Sports Council) office in Kampong Java Road early on Thursday morning to book the courts there so that my colleagues and I could play on Saturday morning. There were two sets of squash courts in Kampong Java. One was near the KFC restaurant (A) along Kampong Java Road where the KK Hospital sits today. The other (B) was next to New Cemetery Road (later renamed Cavenagh Road) where there were many tennis courts. The design of the courts near KFC was even worse than those in the SAF.To get into the court, you literally had to stoop and crawl through a tiny door!

Today, the squash and tennis courts at B would be sitting smack on the entrance to the CTE Tunnel.

Occasionally, I managed to get another former army mate who was working at the HDB (Housing and Development Board) to book a court for us at the HDB Club. Do you know where that was? It was located at Toa Payoh Lorong 6; near to the stadium. I am not sure …. I think it was subsequently turned into the present Safra Club.

Later on, I managed to secure a long term booking for a court at Anglo-Chinese Junior College. I remember on one occasion running into my former Add Maths teacher Mr Chee Keng Lim who had become the principal of ACJC. I often trained with my Philips colleagues – not just those from my factory, but also friends from other Philips factories, including those in Jurong. Once a year, we represented Philips in the Seira (Singapore Electronics Industries Recreation Association) inter-factory competition, playing against other MNC’s like HP, TI and National Semiconductors. Unfortunately, they only allowed one place in the team for the ladies because we had not 1 but 3 very strong lady players; and we never did very well in the competition. The Seira competition was usually held at the courts in Fort Canning or the East Coast Recreation Centre – next to the MacDonald’s restaurant.

As I said, getting a squash court was very difficult in those days. And so if we knew any friends who had the ‘lobang’ we would ask them to bring us along. Thus I remember playing in places like the Shell Club in Pulau Bukum and Paya Lebar Road and others. One other place where I went to regularly was on the roof top of the PUB Building at Sommerset Road. My old friend Heng Tew used to work there and he would sign us in on Saturday mornings. We would also make use of the swimming pool there.

In 1986, when my new employers, NPB (National Productivity Board) moved to its own building in Bukit Merah Central, we finally had our own squash courts. I remember playing with one very famous ‘colleague’; our chairman Mr Mah Bow Tan, who was the minister-of-state for Trade and Industry at that time. In fact yours truly was the winner of the inaugural Mah Bow Tan challenge trophy.

In the late 80’s, squash courts became widely available in the numerous condominiums and country clubs which had sprung up in Singapore. At the same time, the popularity of the sport waned. I often wonder; maybe Singapore would still be a top squash nation if we didn’t build so many condominiums. Maybe it is human nature that when good things are in abundance, they lose their attractiveness.


alex said...

I learn the game when I was i n 41 SAR, our OC Capt(then) Patrick Choy was a good palyer, he took some of us in for the game. We palyed at 40 Leat Hing Camp. I unerstand Patrick last rank was BG, and was miliraty attache in Foreign office, based in Cambodia. True?

I playe the game in 70's and 80's, Avis travel industry compition, etc. In the 80's to early 90's the popular name was Prince.

Yes, we had Dunlop, Grey's etc. for the beginners.

Lam Chun See said...

I think in those days, the senior commanders liked this game. My brother who was in 7 SIR said that his CO, Maj Tham also liked to play the game. And whenever he was playing, all the men stayed away.

BTW Alex. Where was 41 SAR in those days? I think you mentioned before that it was in Stagmont Ring. My son is now in 41 SAR (Kranji Camp) but it is at CCK Way. A friend of mine said that years ago it was already at this present location. He said that in those days he had to take a bus to Woodlands Rd and then catch a special bus or something into this camp.

Another friend whose son is now in Signals goes to a nearby camp on a hill on the other side of KJE called Stagmont Camp. I am getting a little confused.

alex said...

Hi Chun See,

I was enlisted in 1970, and the camp is located at Stagmont Ring. 41 SAR was a new set up, the first V200 battalion. The same larger location has the detention camp, the ammo dump. Yes, we need to take a bus and stop at Yew Tee Village station, walk towards the railway track and wait for weather a minibus or pirate taxi to take you to the camp. Otherwise you need to walk for 25 minutes to reach the main gate. I also remember the sign is black words on white background,with both Chinese 油池村 and Yew Tee Village written on it. Again that stratch of upper Bukit Timah has no street lights then.

Along the way are few sawmills, and you can smell the burning sawdust day and night. The farmers planted tobacco in Yew Tee. The terrine is up and down, and it was always a challenge for us to do our run out and back to the camp in full battle order because of the two “hill lots”. Oh Yes, just after crossing the railway junction, we need to turn right to reach the camp, and along the way you can see the BBC transition station with two tall transition towers. That is a landmark.

Anyone who has a early day road map may be able to give us a better idea of how it looked back then. I was looking at the online map, and believe it is where the present Choa Chu Kang estate is. I remember the Kranji river flows into the camp and we used to do some fishing, by illegally getting over the fences on Sundays when we were on Guard duty or standby. Personally I believe the river and reservoir location now may not be where they were 40 years ago.

Victor said...

Chun See, you did not mention squash courts in the Community Centres (CC). Quite a few had them, e.g. Kg Chai Chee CC.

veii said...

As long ago as the year 2000, some of the squash courts at NUS were already converted to other uses. One was used as a rock climbing gym, and another was a weights room, I think. The drop in popularity for squash is actually an international phenomenon - in the U.S. it used to be fairly popular at elite schools and universities, but not at the moment. Perhaps there will be a revival some day in the future, the way these things go.

Lam Chun See said...

Alex. Thanks for that detailed description. I think I shd be able to work out the exact location of the former 41 SAR now. I think it is probably at the same location as the present 41 SAR. Probably it's the name Stagmont Ring that misled me.

Victor. Thanks for that I reminder. Now I recall that we used to play at the CC's as well. During my first couple of years at NPB (Cuppage Centre - shall blog about that one another time), we used to go to Cairnhill CC to play squash. During weekends, I sometimes to go to Princess Elizabeth Estate where my old fried Chuck used to live and played at the CC there with Chuck and some other old friends. After a game, we would adjourn to the nearby hawker centre for refreshments.

And Veii's comment about the NUS squash courts also reminded me of the sad fate of the courts at NPB (now named Spring). A few years ago, I visited this place and was really saddened to see that they had converted it into an adhoc store-room to keep all sorts of old files.

Lee KL said...

Incidentally I happened to work in Philips Video Factory, Lor 1 Toa Payoh between 1984 and 1987. Our usual game in Video Factory was badminton.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Lee. Coincidentally, I left Philips in 1984 to join the NPB.

Lam Chun See said...

Alex, I recall the name Patrick Choy now. I think he was already a Lt Col when the game was so popular in the late 70's and 80's. He and another player by the name of Dr Ong (I think that's the name) helped to popularize the game. I remember reading a series of articles in the Safra magazine written by Dr Ong.

You mentioned Leat Hing Camp. Where is that? Or did you make a typo error and was actually referring to Keat Hong Camp?

alex said...

Hi Chun See,

Typo, It was Keat Hong Camp, 40 SAR, AMX-13 tank unit camp.

Thanks for the correction.

seo firm said...

These is one of the great information which you can share with us. The drop in popularity for squash is actually an international phenomenon - in the U.S. it used to be fairly popular at elite schools and universities, but not at the moment.

Richard said...

Guys, today there are a few junior scheme on going at Kallang Squash Centre, Singapore Poly and Singapore Chinese Girls School run by a few coaches.

Today, there are a few Primary Schools help to promote this game to their students. We hope more Principals, teachers, parents especially those who know how to play the game will come forward to promote the game to their students and children. The next important issue, we must have the support of both the School Sports Council and the Ministry of Education to encourage.

Now, if everyone of us continue to give our support by encourage other parents to take up the sport.