When the GC Tournament Committee decided to change the format of the Open Championship by using the first day to extend the time available for singles play, a challenge was born: what to do with the dropped doubles competition? The choice for the 2014 season was to stage the Open Doubles Championship on the same weekend as the English National GC Doubles Championship (competing for the Ranalagh Cups).
The Tournament Director contemplated long and hard (also having to wait on how many pairs would want to take this potentially unique opportunity to win both competitions in the same weekend). The main consideration seemed to be not just awarding both pairs of trophies to winners determined by only one method.
Once 12 pairs had submitted their entries, the way forward became apparent: conduct a straight, seeded knockout for the English National (each match being the best of three 13-point games) and an all-play-all block for the Open Championship (single 13-point game). In the first round of the knockout, the top four seeds received a bye. In addition, the first game of any knockout match (unless the players had already played) would count towards the block.
The only difficulty with this cunning plan was identifying the right playing order to avoid duplicated matches but after much head scratching, in the end, only the final was a repetition of an earlier block game. The weather was almost as perfect as Goldilocks' porridge (not too hot, not too cold) and players generally made a great effort to follow the complex instructions and play with suitable expedition.
The trend in the block was not easy to follow but the biggest surprise was top seeds Beaudry & Dodge losing their third and fourth games. Meanwhile, Moore & Sheen were on the wrong end of one 20+ yard clearance at hoop 13 and, otherwise, would probably have had a perfect five out of five record at the end of Saturday. They sustained their form until Sunday lunchtime and at that point they and the Cheyne brothers were each both on only a single loss and clear of the rest of the field.
Meanwhile, in the knockout, matches all went to seeding, except for the 8 versus 9 tie. Here young Euan Burridge played with great credit and after losing the first game, he and his father held firm to defeat the Brand brothers. The quarterfinals then included two close matches: in both cases the lower seeds won the first games (King & Savage against Crawford & Percival, Moore & Sheen against Lightbody & Tibble) but then went on to lose on the third games at the thirteenth hoop.
In the semi-finals on Sunday morning, Beaudry & Dodge never looked in trouble against Crawford & Percival but the Cheyne brothers had a see-saw battle with Lightbody & Tibble. In the end, the former won through. As a result, they faced two crucial matches on Sunday afternoon. Firstly, they played Moore & Sheen and won 7-5 to give them 9 wins out of 10. The manager kept them in cruel suspense but no other way of reading the results suggested any other pair would be worthy winners of the Open Championship. In the meantime, they went onto court to compete in the final. However, there they met opponents who played at a consistently high standard.
Beaudry & Dodge made very few mistakes, especially impressive given the speed of the court and the number of poor approaches played by other pairs throughout the weekend. They never looked in difficulty and won 7-3 (including taking the score from 2-2 to 6-2), 7-4 (having taken a 4-0 lead) to retain their title as English National champions. One of the highlights was Harry Dodge scoring hoop 7 in the first game with a dam buster shot from the north boundary. The ball sailed through without touching the sides and the crowd took several seconds to register what had happened.
So, in the end, the grand experiment resulted in two different pairs taking the trophies under two different regimes for determining the winner. The manager always teetered on the edge of losing control of all his pieces of paper but the format seemed to work to the general satisfaction of participants. Not bad after the weekend had started with one player having a nosebleed and a pheasant invading a court!
By the end of the weekend, two pairs had completed their matches against all other eleven opponents (congratulations to Weston & Wood and Jenkins & Shore). All pairs played 11 or more games (maximum of 15 and six other pairs played 13).