The sixth FEC European Golf Croquet Championship attracted a record field of 32 to Budleigh Salterton from 29 May to 2 June. Ten nations were represented, including thirteen English, six Swedes, four Germans, three Spanish and individual representatives from Belgium, Finland, Latvia, Norway Switzerland and Wales. Budleigh has always offered excellent hospitality and the club has worked very hard in recent years to bring their lawns up to the same level. They are now simply excellent and were regarded as distinctly quick at first by many of the visitors, a condition assisted by the sunny weather throughout the event.
Four blocks of eight required 112 bo3 matches but, with 10 lawns available and the players enthusiastically co-operating with auto-management, these were completed easily in two days. The qualifiers from Block A included past champion Stephen Mulliner and the Swedish defending champion, Simon Carlsson, joined by John Spiers and, after play-offs, Andrew Dymond from Dulwich. In Block B, Howard Cheyne pipped James Goodbun for top spot with the improving Nick Archer third and Cliff Jones after a play-off. Block C was won by an in-form Tim King ahead of Don Beck. Third was Eje Elebo from Sweden on his maiden English croquet trip with Richard Thompson fourth. Nick Cheyne and Joi Elebo (Eje's son and a previous European Championship entrant) were top of Block D with Chris Roberts and Tom Weston third and fourth.
The first round of the knock-out produced no real surprises, which sadly included the departure of the two Elebos. However, the quarter-finals showed that John Spiers had bounced back impressively from a disappointing time in Cairo and blew Howard Cheyne away by 7-2, 7-4. However, younger brother Nick kept the family interest alive by defeating Simon Carlsson 7-4, 7-3. Nick Archer made a fast start against Stephen Mulliner but was pulled back but responded well in game 2 and only lost at the 13th. James Goodbun and Tim King were expected to have a close encounter and game 1 indeed went to the last. However, James then hit one of his purple patches and raced away to take the match 7-6, 7-1.
The hoops were reset for the semis which meant they were both narrow and very firm in the dry turf. Despite this, Nick took game 1 against John by 7-2 very quickly and looked to be set to achieve a rapid restoration of family honour. However, game 2 went to the last and, after both players had their chances, John squared the match. Nick took a 3-1 lead in the decider but John hauled him back and took the game 7-5. In the other match, Stephen and James had a typically competitive, high clearing-rate encounter and Stephen emerged the winner by 7-4, 7-4.
The KO R1 losers competed for the (virtual) FEC Bowl and Sweden took the honours when Joi Elebo defeated Don Beck 7-4, 7-4 in the Bowl final. Like son, like father because Eje Elebo beat Chris Roberts 7-3, 7-0 in the final of the "Pot", the event for the Bowl R1 losers. The quarter-final losers competed for the SuperBowl and Howard Cheyne got the better of Tim King by 7-5, 5-7, 7-3.
The Plate consisted of four blocks of four with a semi-final and final, all b03. Normunds Zelcans from Latvia had lost his first five matches as he came to terms with the speed of the lawns and then was undefeated in his next seven as he swept to a very well-deserved Plate victory.
The final was watched by a crowd of 85 and John Spiers began in continued good form, notably some excellent long hoops, and game 1 went to a prolonged duel at the 13th. The game ended when John's attempt to run with Y from the boundary hit Stephen's K instead, cleared it and then followed through into the jaws. However, Stephen had a 2 yard angled jump for the game and made it cleanly. Game 2 began with a 20 minute battle for hoop 1 which Stephen had to run twice to win - the first being accompanied by a little gardening as his mallet scraped the turf. He then went 3-0 up but John recovered to 3-2 before Stephen closed out the match 7-3 to win his third European GC Championship.
The club hosted a very good value Championship Dinner on Saturday night which provided an opportunity to thank the grounds and catering teams who had worked very hard to make the event such a playing and gastronomic success. Budleigh are keen to see this event return so we might be back in Devon next year.