Sixteen players gathered for the Super-B and B-Level weekend at Southport & Birkdale Croquet Club held between the 29th and 30th of July. The manager, John Haslam, split the field into two blocks of eight, trialling a novel format for those contesting the Super-B: a Swiss format with best of 3s in each round with ad-hoc time limits at manager's discretion, and a more conventional single game Swiss format in the B-level event.
Conventional wisdom suggests that players enjoy frustrating the best plans of any tournament manager. True to form, three of the four Super-B first round matches went the distance, with only Kevin Carter (Surbiton) showing enough quality to win in straight games, and was rewarded by an extended period on the bench by the manager's side, whilst the others tussled in the Southport afternoon sun.
The experimental format was swiftly abandoned mid-afternoon for the conventional single game, and Kevin again made light work of his next opponent, beating Brian Kerr before Eugene Chang (Sheffield) had even started his second Swiss round.
Sunday morning saw both scratch players unbeaten, but Kevin's challenge faded as the Nottingham contingent of Martin Beacon and Clive Goode, cheered on by their partners and fellow spectators, both edged close games against him to bolster the trophy hopes of their 'fellow' Northerner/East Midlander (ahem!!). Notable mention should go to Chris Martin (Edinburgh Meadows), playing south of Hadrian's Wall for the first time, who came second despite being the joint highest handicap in the Super-B.
The B-level event saw rapid improver Nathan Baker (Fylde), in only his second season of advanced play, edge out Barbara Haslam (Southport) in the effective final, with seasoned warrior Jerry Guest (Chester) coming second by virtue of having played an extra game.
There was light entertainment throughout the tournament provided by the adjacent Southport Radio Car Club, hosting a race meetup for the Off Road National Series with regular loudspeaker announcements proclaiming the exploits of racers Dominic Nun(n?) and Eugene, leading to much amusement amongst the AC tournament regulars in attendance.
Some other highlights for the reporter included:
a cash prize in an envelope for winning (does that qualify him as a croquet pro?),
the bonus sunshine on Sunday,
the camaraderie from local members and spectators,
the excellent lunch and teas provided by the members (sadly not to be taken for granted in croquet clubs around the UK these days),
the discovery that Southport & Birkdale CC have a permanent webcam with live internet feed onto their main lawns, available for members to see who is playing and decide whether to join in! Surely this should be introduced at all good clubs around the country?
To those reading this article who have not visited Southport & Birkdale CC before, what are you waiting for?