Not every tournament achieves the accolade of having been many things to many people. The 1st Yorkshire Open Doubles reached this high standard. First in the list was the generally pleasant weather; very good for October, having been preceded by a worryingly dismal few days of heavy rain. A reasonably stiff breeze on the first morning was about the limit of complaints. The lawn conditions were slightly spongy. The walnut trees at the Hotel were bearing a crop of the best possible quality and abundance.
As ever, the Ripon Spa Hotel was an excellent venue for a croquet tournament. The hospitality is always warm. This effect was even enhanced on this occasion, as local club members and staff of the Hotel (in addition to the ever-competitive Sam Curry) were among the competitors; faces new to the national tournament scene was one of the themes of the weekend. This is great news as that scene begins to expand. New blood at top?level events stimulates everyone and the champions of tomorrow all have to play their first tournament at some point.
Top of the new faces were Fergus Thompson and Allan Wood, who were playing their first competitive event. The latter is head chef at the Hotel, where the staff have started to use the courts in their break periods during the day. Fortunately, he was too much of a gentleman to intimidate his opponents with threats of culinary revenge if they had the temerity to beat him! Not that the pair did much losing during the weekend.
Freda Vitty was Tournament Director and produced a highly effective scheme for finding a winner among fifteen pairs. The event started with three all?play?all blocks. The triumph was in her seeding. Only two "shock" results occurred in thirty games. One of these was Thompson and Wood learning that losing a single crunch game is often the margin between success and failure in this sport. On the other hand, this game was a loss to Peter and Carol McGregor, who were the other "unknowns" to acquit themselves well. They play with great expedition, which is highly refreshing but also an occasional source of downfall. Some balance to be found there perhaps. In general, everyone played with suitable dispatch (fifty?minute time limits) and the tournament never fell behind schedule.
What was not surprising was to see the three top?seed pairings dominate their blocks; each being unbeaten. David Barrett is a former winner of the Lancashire International Open and is back to form after wrist problems. He had found difficulty in searching for a partner for the event but eventually struck oil in recruiting Barbara Young, who over the past few years has been a year?on?year improver with her Association Croquet. Barbara is tenaciously solid, without extravagance and not one to give away easy position. She had never played competitive Golf Croquet before the tournament. As she began to trust herself over the course of the weekend, she even found that she too could pull off the occasional long hoop and pressured clearance. Sam Curry and Freda Vitty are another pair of fierce competitors and gave none of their opponents a scent of victory. Finally, Roy Ware and Tim King were obvious candidates to perform well, having come first (twice), second and third in the four national doubles tournaments of the past two seasons. Ware and King were the only pair to easily deal with McGregor and McGregor (winning 7-1 twice during the weekend); their performance for a first game of a tournament was as good as can be imagined. McGregor and McGregor showed great character to go on and play as well as they did for the rest of the weekend after that baptism of fire.
Freda's excellent scheme continued into the two second?round blocks. Firstly, she identified the potential for nine?point games to provide a suitable format when available time is limited; the deciding hoop nine being (as in thirteen?point games) a repeat of hoop three. This allowed the lower block to consist of nine pairs in an all?play?all format. Secondly, her seeding formula worked perfectly. In the Main Block (still thirteen?point games) Barrett and Young, Curry and Vitty and King and Ware were all unbeaten by lunchtime on Sunday and then had to play each other in the final three rounds of the tournament to decide the winners. Of the others in the Main Block, Derek and Eileen Buxton drew clear to earn fourth place; an excellent reward for their faithful dedication to supporting many top?level events in recent years.
Expeditious play continued. The nine?point games had a time limit of 30 minutes. Only three games (out of 36) went to time (including the only draw of the weekend). For places 1 to 6, the figure was two in fifteen.
In the Plate Block, Thompson and Wood made full use of their potential. They did lose a game but only on the deciding hoop and they were clear winners of the block. They beat the second?placed pair 5-2, so the difference in class was evident. If Wood can arrange a suitable sous?chef then that name could make an impact at top?level singles events too. The Plate Block was an ideal opportunity for new acquaintances to be made and ensured that everyone had a complete weekend of croquet.
Meanwhile, the Main Block reached a suitable post?prandial climax on the Sunday. The result remained in balance to the last shot of the day. Barrett and Young struck the first blow though. They gained an early hoops advantage against King and Ware, who remained competitive with some high?class shooting but, as the game entered the critical phase, each played their most misfortunate shot of the weekend (Ware peeled an opponent through Hoop 9 and King only limped through Hoop 11, leaving himself no shot to prevent the inevitable on the next hoop). Barrett and Young took the game 7-5.
In the next game, Ware and King did what was needed to keep themselves in with a chance of winning the Tournament. This time they were ruthless and Curry and Vitty were always behind, losing 3-7. And so to the finale. Ware and King now needed the right Curry and Vitty to turn up against Barrett and Young; a loss for the latter pair and they would come second because they had only beaten Derek & Eileen Buxton on time. Although Curry and Vitty never led, they clung on valiantly. Each side was cautious and refused to roll over on any hoop. The tension mounted. The spectators had failed to note the start time, so this added to the suspense as they began to suspect that time was soon to finish (the only timer was hidden away safely in Young's pocket). Barrett and Young had the first approach to Hoop 9 but several mistakes meant that each side had a chance to take a crucial lead. Time then was called. In the final eight shots, Curry had an attempt from the boundary, agonisingly spilling out to one side of the hoop. Barrett was able to run the hoop and secure the game.
Barrett and Young triumphed to win a beautiful pair of wine bottle coasters (sponsored by Black Sheep Brewery). They played a steady game that gave nothing away to their opponents. When necessary, Barrett showed more than enough ability to run a long hoop or make a distant clearance. Despite being unbeaten, they almost lost out by two of the Main Block games only being wins on time but they walked away with the spoils, so they did all that was necessary.
As ever, Abdul Ahmad was on hand to demonstrate his expertise as Manager and Referee of Tournament. The weekend passed in excellent spirit and everyone was able to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. The even better news is that plans are afoot to add an extra court at Ripon Spa Hotel. With a fourth court in place to provide extra capacity, the Hotel has the potential to become one of the top UK venues, not least if global warming starts to reduce any tendency for Northern courts to be softer than always ideal!