Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA

Dec. 7th - 10th

Pleasanton, CA


The Glass Court Returns

The Glass Court Returns

By Rob Sabo

Yankee Stadium. Wembley Stadium. Rose Bowl. Old Trafford.

Some professional sports venues are as big of an attraction as the teams themselves. For professional racquetball, there’s no bigger stage than the full glass court with stadium seating.

The glass court will be featured at the upcoming Golden State Open Tier 1 tournament at Bay Club in Pleasanton. Calif. on Dec. 7-10. Loved by both spectators and touring professionals, the glass court hasn’t been used in an International Racquetball Tournament since 2021, said Adam Manilla, GSO tournament director. The court will be being shipped from storage in Chicago and transported across the country to California for the final IRT event of 2023.

It may not rival Stade Roland Garros for the French Open or Centre Court at Wimbledon in terms of prestige, but the glass court is without a doubt the best way to present the sport of professional racquetball to fans, Manilla said.

“It is the one court where you truly feel like a professional in the sport of racquetball,” he said. “It gives the sport a lot of life for spectators and fans – you can see the action from many different angles. It’s just a great way to showcase the sport.”

The full glass court made its first appearance back in 2008 when the World Racquetball Championships were held in Colorado. The court was erected at 16th and Arapahoe streets in downtown Denver and was a huge hit. Pablo Fajre, commissioner of the International Racquetball Tour, said that having the glass court at the Golden State Open allows the IRT to create much better streaming video for professional matches, which helps promote the sport of racquetball.

“The glass court gives us the capability to create good video content because we can record matches with greater quality,” Fajre said. “It’s also very attractive for spectators because they can see the players and action better because it’s illuminated so well.

“The lights are difficult for the players because they can lose the ball when they go to the ceiling, but it’s very good for the cameras,” Fajre added. “Fans at home and in the stadium can see the ball a lot better with all the lights and the clean glass. I hope this is just the first experience with the glass court and we will have it at a lot more tournaments because it allows us to present the sport in the best way possible.”

The added visibility may be a hit with fans, but playing on the court isn’t without its technical challenges, said IRT No.2-ranked professional Jake Bredenbeck. The ball moves slower than on panel or concrete courts, he said, and it’s also easier to lose track of the ball, especially deep in the corners.

“The ball is a lot more dead than on normal courts, and it’s definitely more difficult to see the ball due to how it contrasts with the outside of the court,” Bredenbeck said. “But for the spectacle of the game itself, there’s really nothing like it.

“It is a special court to play on,” he added. “It does have a special feeling for the spectators. You can see a lot more of the action, and it just makes it a much better experience to view the game. It’s great that Adam and his crew have made this happen.”

The slower court, combined with the notably slower official IRT black ball from Gearbox Racquetball, may have some players shifting and rethinking their strategies, especially heavy hitters like Bredenbeck. Regardless of playing on the fishbowl court, it’s still just racquetball, Bredenbeck said.

“It’s the same game, but it’s on a more dead court, so you have to make adjustments and change your game up a little bit knowing that the ball isn’t going to bounce as much.”

One equalizer among the professional field is that no one has played on the glass court since the IRT switched over to the black ball, Manilla noted.

“That’s going to be a lot different,” he said. “I don’t even know how that’s going to affect play. It will be an interesting change, and we all will have to adapt to it.”

Still, he added, the benefits of playing on the court outweigh any technical difficulties.

“There's a lot to it, but when you get on that court as a player, and you see all the fans surrounding you, the energy is just amazing,” Manilla said. “There simply is no other court like it.”

Transporting the court from storage in Chicago and setting it up in Pleasanton is as difficult as executing a backhand splat rollout from 39 feet. Manilla said IRT sponsor KWM Gutterman is providing much of the funding to move the court.

“”They are one of the main sponsors overseeing the process,” Manilla said. “A lot of this doesn’t get done without them.”

The battle is only half won once the court finally arrives in the Bay Area later this month. Manilla said it’s a five-day build with a core assembly team of four, with a plethora of volunteers chipping in time and manpower as needed.

The glass stadium court build will be complete on Tuesday, Dec. 6, Manilla said. Professional players who arrive on Wednesday will have a chance to hit on the court prior to the start of Thursday’s opening-round matches.

The stadium seating surrounding the court is expected to hold between 350 to 400 spectators. Amateur players who register for the tournament will receive a bleacher pass for all IRT matches played on the glass court. Non-tournament players and fans, meanwhile, can purchase VIP passes for the entire event or day passes to watch their favorite touring professionals. Hospitality is baked into the VIP passes, but spectators also can purchase hospitality passes for $50 for the entire weekend, which includes five meals, snacks and drinks.

Although the court will be returned to Chicago once the GSO wraps up, Manilla and Bredenbeck said it’s likely to be used at future IRT pro stops.

“This court is important to the sport of racquetball,” Manilla said. “Bringing it to different locations is an idea that Jake, Pablo and I have had to bring new energy to the sport and have it shown in a more professional setting. Hopefully, we will be using this court multiple times throughout the year. It’s our belief that it will help get the sport of racquetball shown more. A lot of professionals believe in this court, and we are pretty excited to make it happen here and keep it going in other locations.”

“It’s special for everyone in racquetball,” Bredenbeck added. “It’s great for the players because you get to see and hear everyone cheering you on, and it’s special for the crowd because they can see the game differently. Most importantly, it’s better for streaming, which is the easiest way for us to get more eyes on racquetball. If you can create a more professional stream, that benefits the sport. It’s an important piece of bringing more exposure and excitement to professional racquetball.”