Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA

Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA


Professional Racquetball Returns To The San Francisco Bay Area

Professional Racquetball Returns To The San Francisco Bay Area

By Rob Sabo

Professional racquetball returns to the San Francisco Bay Area when the second annual Golden State Open gets underway December 7-10 at Bay Club in Pleasanton.

Last year’s inaugural event was the first International Racquetball Tour pro stop in Northern California since IRT events were held in Stockton and Fresno in May of 2014 and ’15. The last time professional racquetball was played in the Bay Area, meanwhile, was the Bay 101 World Championships back in 1997 and ’96 (won both times by Sudsy Monchik).

The brainchild of former IRT pro Bobby Horn and current IRT No. 8 Adam Manilla, the Golden State Open is expected to have as many as 50 IRT pro players and 240 total entrants, both up significantly from the 2022 event.

This year’s Golden State Open also features the return of the full glass show court, an unmatchable stage for watching the sport that had been mothballed since 2021. Creating an entirely new tournament for the world’s best national and international racquetball players proved to be a tremendous undertaking, Manilla and Horn said – and both admit they were overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work involved in the event’s inaugural year.

“We kind of bit off more than we could chew,” Horn said. “We had a team behind us, but it was a small team and we needed more. Adam also played in the tournament (singles and doubles), so he was unavailable for about 75 percent of the time. That left me trying to do all the groundwork myself – but even if Adam was available, we just didn’t have enough people.”

Added Manilla: “We didn’t have enough people in place – we tried to do everything ourselves, and that’s where we struggled. We didn’t realize all the pieces and people that it takes to make a tournament happen.”

Coming into the 2023 event, Horn and Manilla have assembled a much larger team that’s being spearheaded by Stockton racquetball legend John Ellis, who stepped in as tournament director. Ellis will run the amateur events while Manilla and Horn focus on the pro side of the tournament.

Ellis said the decision to join the GSO team stemmed primarily from the need to free up time for Horn and Manilla.

“Having hosted a lot of professional and non-professional tournaments in my career, I know what they’re going through,” Ellis said. “Ultimately, I’m here to help some friends that I saw grow up as kids and are now adults doing big things in the sport of racquetball.

“We will be able to take the stress of hosting the amateur portion of the event off their plates,” Ellis added. “It will be nothing like last year when they were running the whole thing. We’ll help make their lives easier.”

Manilla, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., said he often traveled to Stockton to play in junior events and train with Ellis.

“Ellie is the definition of Bay Area racquetball,” Manilla said. “There’s no better person to do it.”

“He’s a no-brainer,” Horn added. “John Ellis is a huge name in racquetball. We wanted someone who can influence people to come play the tournament, and he’s one of the best at that, especially when it comes to Northern California tournaments.”

Manilla said another team is in place to assemble the glass show court, which will be constructed in the Bay Club’s basketball gym along with full stadium-style seating. All hospitality for the event will be professionally catered as well, he noted. Jacobs, Malcolm & Burtt (JMB), the nation’s largest shipper of fresh asparagus with more than 4 million cases shipped annually, is the primary sponsor for the Golden State Open.

“JMB is the one who made the tournament happen last year, and they set the foundation for us to do it again this year,” Manilla said. “Without their support, this tournament wouldn't happen.”

The Golden State Open is the newest – and final – event on the IRT tour calendar for 2023, but Manilla and Horn have been working overtime to promote racquetball in the Bay Area. The Bay Club at Pleasanton played host to the 2023 USA Racquetball National Junior Festival and Championships in June, as well as the National Masters Racquetball International Tournament in July.

Events like the Golden State Open are important for both touring professionals and junior-level players, Ellis said.

“Professionals need as many tour stops as possible,” he said. “Racquetball needs events that excite the diehard players, and this is one of them. So many juniors play at the Bay Club, and they will get a first-hand look at what it takes to host a professional racquetball event and enjoy the excitement of watching the pros play. It’s super important to the sport to have professionals interacting with the juniors.

“The Golden State Open is also a great event for the City of Pleasanton and their visitor’s bureau” Ellis added. “We have hundreds of players staying at the DoubleTree Hotel and spending money at restaurants in the city. Adam and Bobby are on the verge of hosting a longstanding event in Pleasanton, and I’m happy to play a small role in making it a reality.”

Manilla is still seeking his first IRT Tier 1 win in singles, but he has garnered a Tier 1 tournament title in doubles with partner Andree Parilla. Manilla, an intercollegiate champion in both singles and doubles, also will represent the United States along with his sister, Erika, in the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile in October. The duo qualified by winning mixed doubles at the USA Racquetball 2023 National Doubles and Singles Championships in Tempe, Ariz. in February.

Horn, meanwhile, hasn’t played fulltime on the IRT since 2019 and plans on transitioning into professional pickleball. He does plan on playing in the Golden State Open and relishes the opportunity to be the spoiler.

“I am hitting racquetballs once or twice a week, and I hope to ruin somebody’s weekend,” Horn said.

The Golden State Open will be a great venue to reconnect with old friends, Ellis added. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Ellis said he hosted roughly 20 shootouts each year. Running the Golden State Open is a way to rekindle his love of racquetball, as well as watch his son make his own mark in the sport.

“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my racquetball friends that I’ve hardly seen since the pandemic,” Ellis said. “It’ll be good to see a few hundred racquetball players working hard to win their divisions.

“Watching a bit of pro racquetball will be good for my soul as well,” he added. “I love the sport, but I don’t play as much as I used to, so naturally I miss the competition. My 21-year-old son, Julius, will be competing as well, and I am looking forward to watching him compete in the sport he loves the most.”