Jenny offers a personal view on the new Dawson balls....
Last week saw the first use of the new Dawson croquet balls in English tournaments. Despite the similarities between the new Dawsons and Barlow GT balls reported on the CA website, some differences in playing characteristics were observed.
Since many clubs are now looking to increase their stocks of balls, and there are at least 3 realistic options on the market, it seemed worth writing a few words about the experiences in the North of England Week and Northern Championships to give people an idea what we thought of the new Dawson balls.
Bowdon CC has 8 sets of the new Dawson balls and since it was their first use in a tournament, there was much talk about them. In no particular order, here's some general comments on my experiences, and those of others with these balls...
The balls arrived within a week of being ordered. They're from a well-established manufacturer, and (unchecked rumour) are slightly cheaper than Barlows.
They're round. One Bowdon member tested the balls with a gauge and claimed them (all 8 sets) to be within 1/200 inch in all dimensions (noone felt inclined to check the thoroughness of this test!)
There is a slight seam on the balls from the mould join. This doesn't seem to have any effect and it will presumably wear off quickly. The two hemispheres of the balls match very well, and they look very well made (not much pitting from air bubbles, consistent milling pattern, etc). The milling is a bit shallower and blunter than Barlows, hence probably should expect less pull, and other effects observed (see below). (certainly nothing like the deep and sharp milling on the previous version of Dawsons).
The colours are good and bright (rather useful as some matches ended after dark!) compared with relatively dark colours on earlier types of balls.
Brine: apparently the balls are neutral when floated. This jargon means that if you plonk them into some salty water, they just sit there and float. Barlows have a small air bubble in them which is not fully central, hence they will tend to rotate a bit in the water. What measurable effect this might have on a croquet ball smacked across 20 yards of grass is anyone's guess.
Enough of that - out into the field:
Dave Maugham and Colin Irwin tried out the balls and the only significant difference they reported was about a 10-15% increase on the stop-shot ratio over Barlows.
Everyone commented on how stop-shots were much easier with Dawsons than with Barlows. Even people with peripherally-weighted and/or long-headed mallets, which are harder to perform stop-shots with, were regularly getting satisfyingly high ratios
"These balls rush beautifully!" was heard exclaimed several times a day by various people. They do. Beautifully.
After playing a few crisp stop-shots and rushes, several people looked wistfully at the balls and praised their likeness to Jacques Eclipse composite balls. I haven't used Jacques much myself, but found the Dawsons to be about 2/3 the way from Barlows to Jacques - they seem harder and produce a much crisper sound and stroke.
"The front ball goes a LOT further" - yet another repeated comment. This usually came after an attempt to do the pass-roll from hoop 3 sending the croqueted ball to 5, while approaching the hoop 4 pioneer. My first experience of this stroke was to then have to rebuild the break from the hoop 5 "pioneer" stopping 3 inches off the south boundary - on a stroke I am perfectly happy playing accurately with Barlows. My ego recovered on seeing DBM and Phil Cordingley have similar experiences while getting used to the new balls. All croquet strokes seemed to have the front ball go a lot further, and dodgy pushes seemed a lot less effective at producing pass rolls. As the experts got used to the new balls, however, lots of highly effective pass-rolls were seen. I reckon a lot of this comes down to the shallower and blunter milling, others suggested the effect is due to less deformation in the new balls.
They seem to pull less than Barlows. Certainly less on straightish strokes. Though some people commented that they pulled a lot more - especially on croquet strokes. Taking an average of these comments ... <g>
Lots of really poor jump strokes were played in the North of England week - it's possibly a bit harsh that one or two people blamed the balls.
The balls certainly do seem harder than Barlows, and survived the week as to be expected, but only time will tell if they get cuts and scrapes with lots of use. At the moment the CA doesn't do any torture-testing of balls.
The new Dawson balls are really good. They look really good, are great for rushing and stop-shots. They arrived very quickly after we ordered them, and all comments about them at the two tournaments last week were very positive. The only slight drawback is that they seem to also provide less pull, and hence overall make the game even easier for the top players (but also for the rest of us). I'd certainly be very happy to encounter Dawsons at all the tournaments I play in, but alas they only seem to be at Southport and Bowdon at the moment.