MANILA, January 22, 2005 
(STAR) BUSINESS & LEISURE By Ray Butch Gamboa  -  After a month of binges, itís time to end another Hedonistic phase and buckle down to some serious weight loss and body toning program. Most people are headed back to the gym to sweat off the excess poundage gained during the holidays, but a good number find it difficult to maintain a strict gym regimen and schedule of at least twice or three times a week. I should know. Justifying my erratic gym schedule with the excuse of having "no time to go to the gym", I have created my own gym space at home, complete with a professional ĎAll-In-One Personal Gymí supplemented by a walker, an ab roller, an ab swing and several weights. Iíve also purchased some audio-visual aids to boot.

The Personal Gym was great for some time Ė I actually used it for a couple of months because I had to justify the pretty hefty cost of the huge contraption. It was great going too for a while, and my abs, arms and legs showed kind results for the good part of an hour of huffing and puffing at the machine. But my love affair with it ended too soon ó miss a few mornings, and youíre stricken with inertia and soon back to your lazy sluggish self. Nowadays, the resident cat has claimed its comfy cushion for its afternoon nap.

I have found badminton to be the best-suited for me and in fact have been playing the sport for over 20 years now, having started with it back when badminton was not even popular yet. Valle Verde Country Club was the most prominent venue for badminton in the 80ís and in fact continues to be among the most active proponents of the game among all the country clubs.

Nowadays, itís fashionable to quip "badminton" when asked about oneís sport, but back then some people thought it "baduy" to claim badminton as your sport. That was because most people thought of street or "Luneta" badminton as the norm, not having been exposed to serious, world-calibre badminton.

The real game is faster that tennis, although the tennis court is wider and longer, because the shuttle cock, light and fast as it is, is not allowed to touch the ground if one is to make a point in the game. A full hour at the court can get you sweat-drenched, with heavy, weary limbs, but exhilarated nevertheless.

Public badminton courts have literally mushroomed all over, not only in Metro Manila but in provinces as well. Cebu, for one, has a very wide and active base of badminton players, with Albert Ledesma at the helm. Unlike tennis, a family with no formal training to speak off in badminton can enjoy an hour or the game, and end up being able to hit the shuttle cock across the net after a few tries. Herein lays the mass appeal of the sport. This may well hold the key to the sportís popularity, although itís best to start off with a good scientific approach to learn the basic footwork (extremely important) and the right stances to go with it with the help of a qualified trainer. Believe me, there is no dearth of able trainers in this sport. Badminton has been so popular that trainers have likewise mushroomed in proportion to the public courts. The affordable rates of these courts have also helped in making the sport popular in all levels.

In the Pasig area, Valle Verde Country Club is still the most popular among the country clubs, but the public courts have bitten off a big chunk from its regular clientele. And why not? Although the Clubís rates are as competitive, if not actually lower than most of the public courts, one has to be a member (read: buy membership into the exclusive Club) to be able to play and bring guests into the Club. Member rates are friendly, but guest rates are prohibitive, designed to encourage Club members to play among themselves and bring less guests that could congest the courts. Too, if one brings guests into oneís home (Club) court, it could get embarrassing to ask these guests to pay for their court usage, unlike in public courts where its usually "kkb". Result Ė itís cheaper to bring guests to a public court.

The popularity of the sport in the last two or three years is almost phenomenal, given then the sport has been around in the country for decades. I remember playing inter-club tournaments 20 years ago against Club Filipino and Manila Polo with old-time friends like the Manosa brothers, Pinggoy and Bobby, the Ortigas brothers, Poch, Sidring Locsin, George Ledesma, Li and Maricris Tolentino and others. We also played against other clubs like the Malabon Badminton Club, the Badminton Club of Camp Crame, etc. Valle, of course, lorded it over the other country clubs when we produced such champions as Naresh Ramnani, Ricky Morales, Kennie and Kennevic Asuncion, children of Coach Nelson Asuncion, Weena Lim and all the other Valle kids who brought honor to the Club.

In the 80ís, my partner Sidring Locsinís and my claim to fame was when we beat the tandem of Ricky Morales and Naresh Ramnani in a doubles match, when both champions were still in short pants and bawled over their loss to two bullies who couldnít stop chuckling over their convincing 15-0 victory, Today, of course, we cannot even hope to smell the shuttlecock when we face off again, if we even dare.

There are so many new faces now in the badminton scene, and a lot of promising new champions in the making. The beauty of the game, aside from the fact that absolute newcomers can expect to hit the shuttle back and forth after less than an hour into the game, is the camaraderie one develops in the sport. On any given Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I can come to court expecting a quorum even without bothering to set up a game earlier. Sure as clockwork, Tony and Liz San Diego with daughter Claudine will be there, as well as Pocholo and Ellen Ramirez, Jojo Lee with or without Liza, Chabeng Regino and kids Gerard and Lalaine, Eric and Eunice Roxas with Mark and Mickee, Benny de Guzman, Ato Dee, Francis Pua and the rest of the gang. More often than not, tandems are shuffled to equalize the game and friendly bets of after-game dinners are a constant source of heckling and "kantiyawan". Clicques are formed, but always in healthy competition.

Iím starting to see this even in the public badminton courts as more and more families get into the game. True, one can see more and more erstwhile useless warehouses converted into income-generating badminton courts, back-to-back with as many as ten courts in a given space. In the Pasig/Mandaluyong areas, the Metro Badminton Club of Jojo Lee and partners are doing very well, while Nelson Asuncion holds court in the San Juan area. In Libis, there are quite a few that I know of, among them the Yellow Feathers of Joey Roxas and company, and in ritzy Greenhills, the group of Wolf Lambsdorff is lording it over. In the South, particularly in Alabang, the game has caught up much faster. As of latest count, more courts are expected to crop up, which can only mean that the demand is proportionately getting higher as well. That should be good news for parents who wish to steer their kids out of mischief and into more pro-active activities. Sporting games are definitely the better alternative, and adopting badminton as a family sport can be a fun and inexpensive way of family bonding on weekends.

Next week, the mathematics of the business of badminton on the second part of this series.

Mabuhay! Be proud to be Filipino.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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