The players returning north on Sunday evening must have wondered quite what London had done to upset the heavens! As they turned off the M25 onto the M40, the stair-rod rain and floods on the motorway came to an immediate and abrupt end. The huge black mass of cloud over the capital steadily receded in the rear-view mirror. Fortunately, Surbiton Croquet Club appears to have been granted a special dispensation. Not only was the rain relatively limited over the weekend and never completely dispiriting, the final of the English National Golf Croquet Doubles actually took place in warming sunshine, while the thunder storms were seen and heard in the surrounding near distance.
Not withstanding the dramatic backdrop of weather, the final never quite reached the heights of a truly memorable climax. But the game was played with excellent spirit and the champions were worthy. Previously, ten pairs had participated in an all-play-all block of single 13-point games with seventy-minute time limits. The top four pairs qualified for the semi-finals.
In the midst of a hose-pipe ban, the Surbiton courts are not easy.
Court 1 in particular was extremely glass-like in places and others courts suffered from dappled green growth on a general brown background.
This caused some bobbling. Finally, drainage piping is the cause of a very dry ridge down courts 1 to 4. However, as some players were able to demonstrate, careful play could result in high success.
Only attracting ten entrants (rather than sixteen in the previous year) was a slight disappointment and hopefully not a trend. A lively discussion about slow play not withstanding, the atmosphere was enjoyable with competitive thrust and convivial atmosphere in appropriate balance. This event is an excellent introduction to the national Golf Croquet scene and players of all standards are most welcome to join the fun.
Many of the prominent names from English Golf Croquet were present at the event, although several have had somewhat disappointing seasons and only three of the top 20 players in the UK rankings participated.
Defending champions, Tim King and Roy Ware were among the favourites for repeat success. Other strong pairings on reputation were Bill Arliss and Derek Old, David Hopkins and Dick Strover, John Moore and Chris Sheen and Mike Percival and Paul Strover. The interesting outsiders turned out almost to deliver on their promise; John Spiers and Richard Thompson beat three of the top four pairs in the block. Both players have made impressive progress in a short time at the national level of the sport. In fact, a sum of their grade points gives them the highest for any of the competing pairs. Unfortunately, they lost sufficient other games to finish only fifth. They will have learnt from the experience and, if they choose to play together again, will no doubt be strong contenders for future events.
Derek and Eileen Buxton, Daphne Gaitley, Mark Hamilton, Chris and Ray Mounfield, Bob Pritchard and Brian Rees were the other competitors who all enjoyed wins at some point in the weekend and helped to contribute to the success of the weekend.
King and Ware attempted to defend their title with occasional sublime play but lacked sufficient consistency to reach their previous combined heights. They did enough, however, to finish fourth in the block (six wins). Percival and Strover were extremely determined and showed excellent mastery of the pace of the tricky courts (six wins and one draw). To qualify, they did not need the excellent jump shot from Paul at the thirteenth hoop of their last block game. But he succeeded and this determined their opponents in the semi-finals. The other semi-finalists both won seven out of nine games, but Hopkins and Strover beat Moore and Sheen and so finished top of the block.
For the semi-finals and finals, the single game between opponents was first to seven points or more and two or more points ahead (up to a deciding nineteenth hoop if necessary). The semi-finals both needed to go beyond the thirteenth hoop. Moore and Sheen beat Percival and Strover at hoop 16. Hopkins and Strover beat King and Ware at hoop 14.
Tight games but probably fitting that the top two pairs from the block went on to contest the final.
In the final, Moore and Sheen never really had to progress beyond steady, consistent play. Of note, Moore ran a nine-yard hoop five to begin to step up the lead over the opponents, while Sheen had a delicate jump shot at hoop nine to take definitive control of the game.
Otherwise, nothing much else spectacular. Hopkins played without obvious flaw, usually sticking to his usual precise touch play but calling on long-range accuracy when a clearance was necessary.
Unfortunately, Strover lost his better form from earlier in the weekend and missed too many opportunities. Moore and Sheen won 7-3.
The winners were both very much on personal come-back trails. John Moore has been playing less croquet recently and taking up some other passions. He is almost certainly the first concurrent British Minigolf <http://www.miniaturegolfer.com/bmga_bc_2006.html> and English National Golf Croquet Doubles Champion! He has also recently competed in the European Veteran Athletics Championships in Poland. Meanwhile, Chris Sheen has previously won The Ranelagh Cups with his brother Roddy. He also performed as an efficient and effective manager of the Championship.
George Noble ran an excellent service with respect to court preparations under such trying conditions and delicious cuisine from the kitchen, ably assisted by his delightful assistant, daughter Anna. All look forward to another enjoyable event next year. See you there!