The now annual European GC Championship has attracted over 50 applications in each of the last two years but only 32 can be accommodated, divided into four blocks with 16 players progressing to the knock-out stage. The 2015 event was held at Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club whose lawns, catering and support were simply first rate. Ten countries were represented and the BBC South-West sent a reporter and cameraman on Friday. They produced a very positive two-minute slot on the prime evening news program and emphasised the international nature of the entry by opening the piece by short comments in Spanish, Swedish and Finnish from the relevant players.
The tops seeds divided into the young, namely the defending champion, Rachel Rowe and Jonatan Andersson, the Swedish 2014 runner-up, and, shall we say, the experienced in the shapes of Stephen Mulliner, a three-time past winner, and Lionel Tibble, the current London Masters holder and a man who seems to miss his clearances only very rarely. James Goodbun, Martin French, John Spiers, former winner Simon Carlsson (Sweden), Roar Michalsen (Norway) and the Irish duo of Patsy Fitzgerald and Evan Newell were also well fancied to feature in the later stages.
The block stage went more or less as expected. Stephen and Jonatan emerged undefeated while Lionel and Rachel both suffered just one defeat - to James Goodbun and Latvia's Janis Steins respectively. Nick Archer and Jim Field both scored 5/7 to qualify comfortably while Lewis Palmer, now living in and representing Sweden, had to win two play-off games to reach the knock-out. Round 1 produced a mild surprise when Nick Archer defeated James Goodbun but a much bigger one when Lewis, having lost the first game to the impressive Jonatan, fought back to take both the next two by 7-6. He went on to beat Evan Newell to become the surprise semi-finalist alongside Stephen, Rachel and Lionel.
Both semi-finals consisted a quick first game and a much more closely contested second and it was the "experienced" pair of Stephen and Lionel that went onto Court 7 to contest the final at 2 p.m. on Sunday in front of a crowd estimated at about 70 in dry but distinctly blustery conditions.
The match was an epic that took three and a half hours to go the full distance of 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 with Stephen eventually surviving a protracted duel at hoop 13 in game 3 to take the title for the fourth time. The standard of play was high, especially given the wind which made all eastbound positional shots very hard to control on the fast court. Lionel had a distinct edge in shooting, missing very little and demonstrating a remarkable ability to clear centre ball and stop his own quickly. Stephen's shooting was reasonable but less consistent but he made up for it in positional tactics and successful long hoop attempts. It was one of those matches where it really was a pity that there had to be a loser.
The Bowl (KO R1 losers) was won by Wolfgang Usbeck (GER) who defeated Simon Carlsson (SWE) in the final and the Shield (losing quarter-finalists) was won by Nick Archer at the expense of Martin French. In the Plate, Roar Michalsen (NOR) prevailed over Andy Cowing. The players warmly expressed their appreciation to the club and its members who had looked after everyone very well. The EGCC will hopefully be back to Budleigh before long.