AFTER being in existence for 27 years, the Nicol David International Squash Centre continues to thrive as the main heartbeat of squash activities in Penang.
On any day, it is normal to see players, especially children of the Squash Academy of Penang (SAP), swarm the squash centre, which has undergone several facelifts to remain one of the modern and well-maintained sports facilities in Penang.
The 12-court centre at the Bukit Dumbar hill was opened on Nov 21, 1987, thanks to the effort of a group of local squash enthusiasts. They had forked out their own money and took a bank loan to finance the building of the squash facility on a piece of land leased from the Penang Water Supply Corporation Berhad (PBAPP).
Their reason for embarking on the endeavour was simple - to create a place where squash lovers in Penang can meet and play.
They rented out the courts at the centre to the public to generate income to cover the costs for maintaining the facility and to repay the bank loan.
The centre was first known as the Pepsi Squash Centre, due to a sponsorship contract signed with Permanis Sdn Bhd at the time.
In the late 90s when the sponsorship deal ended, the name of the venue was changed to Penang Squash Centre.
Following a major renovation in 1999 in preparation for the 2000 Malaysia Games (Sukma) squash event which Penang hosted, the name was again changed to Penang International Squash Centre.
The following year, the centre was used as one of the venues to host the Women’s World Junior Championship.
The final change of name was done in 2010, following another round of extensive renovation at the venue. Among the major changes done was the relocation of the cafeteria which used to be smack in the middle of the centre to the front part of the building.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng then mooted the idea to rename the centre as the Nicol David International Squash Centre to honour Penang’s most celebrated sportswoman after she won her fifth world crown.
It was also in 2010 that the lease between the original owners of the centre and PBAPP ended. With the blessing of the state government (which is also the parent body of PBAPP), it was decided that the day-to-day running of the centre should be handed to the Squash Rackets Association of Penang (SRAP).
“It was apt that the centre is named after Nicol because this is the place where she started playing squash. In fact, all the Penang players who went on to achieve success at the national or international levels in the last three decades all started their playing careers at this centre,” said the SAP head coach Aaron Soyza, when met at the squash centre.
Last year, the centre underwent minor renovation to adjust the sizes of several courts to comply with the requirements needed to host the 2013 Women’s World Squash Championship, which was held in Penang in March.
Although the main draw matches were held at the SPICE Arena, the Nicol David International Squash Centre hosted the qualifying rounds.
Annually, there are two tournaments — the Penang Open International Women’s Championship and the Penang Junior Open Championships held at the venue.
Former national player Aaron, who is also the coach of the current world top 10 player Low Wee Wern, said that whatever income generated by SRAP from the rentals of the courts goes back to the public.
“Our main expenditure are the maintenance and upkeep of the place. We have two full-time staff members to oversee the operations of the centre as well as others who help keep the place clean.
“Since SRAP is a non-profit organisation, the extra revenue goes back into the development of squash in the state.
“I’ve been coming to this centre for more than two decades, and I’m proud to say that the growth of squash in Penang has come a long way, especially among the young.
“SRAP will continue to run this centre as a public place for people to play and hold squash activities in Penang.”