The line-up for the English National GC Doubles Championship chopped and changed a bit in the final few days before the event, with Tim Jolliff, Peter Moore and Andrew Wimshurst parachuting in as last-minute replacements, but we had 10 pairs on the start line on Saturday morning all vying to get their hands on the Ranelagh Cups. This included two sibling partnerships - Ivor & Richard Brand and Adam & Andrew Wimshurst, last year's winners Jonathan Powe & Stephen Custance-Baker and top seeds Stuart M Smith & Steve Leonard. Handicaps ranged from -4 to 5 (John O'Gorman - more about him later!).
Every visit to Budleigh is a pleasure. Lovely courts, delightful surroundings and always a warm welcome, albeit a socially distanced one currently. Add some good weather and a bar at lunchtime and you have a winning combination. We were all very grateful for the Club's preparatory work to make the facilities available in difficult circumstances and to ensure the hoops were set tight and firm. Many thanks to Peter Moore and his team.
The format for the event was pretty standard - an all-play-all qualifying bock followed by best-of-3 semis and final. We had hoped to get through 8 of the 9 block rounds on Saturday but it was always going to be a tall order and Budleigh's tight hoops meant that progress was a little slower than expected. Stumps were drawn shortly before 7pm on Saturday evening after 7 rounds, which meant an early start on Sunday for the final 2 block games.
The undoubted stars of the qualifying block were Tim Jolliff (-2) & John O'Gorman (5), who punched way above their weight throughout the weekend. Tim was unerringly accurate and gave excellent advice to John who did what he was told. They emerged clear winners with 8/9 wins, taking the scalps of the top seeds Smith S (-4) & Leonard (-3) on the way.
Powe (-4) & Custance-Baker (-1) claimed second spot (7/9) but the 3rd and 4th positions were very much up for grabs going into the final round with Tim King (-3) & Moore (-1) and Smith S & Leonard both on 5/8, and Lionel Tibble (-3) & Louise Smith (2) on 6/8. In the end Tibble & Smith L took 3rd spot and Smith S & Leonard 4th, although both had to endure slightly nervy finishes on the 13th hoop before their games were eventually won.
In the all-play-all Plate, the Sidmouth pair of Philip Harris (2) & Stephen Pearson (3) came into their own with some precise tactical play; having not troubled the scorers in the qualifying block they upped their game considerably, winning 4/5 to claim first place and, more importantly, a bottle each of Anniversary Ale from the well-stocked bar.
The semi-finals of the Championship were rather different affairs. Powe & C-B won theirs against Tibble & Smith L relatively easily in 90 minutes 7-4, 7-5, helped considerably by C-B's ability to jaws from distance (even when he was trying to clear or take position). A skill all of us envied! The other semi was a much more protracted match - 3.5 hours of tactical toing and froing - and was eventually decided in extraordinary fashion over the final few hoops. Before it reached that stage, Smith S & Leonard had taken the first game 7-3 and looked set fair for a straightforward 2-0 win, but Jolliff & O'Gorman came back strongly to win the second 7-4.
The final game became interesting after Jolliff (Blue) and O'Gorman (Black) had won the 10th hoop to equalise 5-5. Following some interplay on H11, Leonard (Red) had an opportunity to clear Blue from in front of the hoop and stay in front himself. His partner (Yellow) was sitting behind him on the North boundary, 3 yards East of the centre line. Leonard (Red) hit Blue cleanly but unfortunately promoted it through H11 to sit one inch beyond the hoop on the southern side. 6-5 to Jolliff and O'Gorman.
O'Gorman (Black) calmly took position 3' in front of H12 and all looked good for a 7-5 victory. But Smith (Yellow) had other ideas and promptly ran H12 cleanly from 25 yards. 6-6.
Jolliff (Blue), sitting tight behind H11 had no approach to H13, so thrashed it back through the hoop to the North boundary. Leonard (Red) took position 4' in front. Black took position 8' in front before Smith put Yellow onto the back (South) of H13. Blue cleared Red to the East boundary. Red cleared Black to near H2 and ended up on the North boundary directly in front of H13. O'Gorman (Black) took position 4' in front, slightly to the East. Smith - unable to do much more - jawsed Yellow from an angled position behind the hoop so that it sat exactly central in the hoop. Blue took position. Leonard (Red) - much to the surprise of the watching spectators who should have known better - then shot at the hoop from the North boundary, hitting Yellow flush in the centre allowing Red to follow through the hoop without touching the sides. A fantastic shot to end the game and match, but a tough loss for Jolliff & O'Gorman who were a whisker away from a place in the final. To their credit, Jolliff & O'Gorman went on to take 3rd place overall, beating Tibble & Smith L 10-7 in the 19-point playoff. A fitting end to a very impressive performance.
After the excitement of the semi-final, the final was a rather more straightforward match, with Smith S and Leonard taking the honours 7-5, 7-3 with some impressive clearances from distance and accurate hoop-running. They were deserved winners of the Ranelagh Cups and will be a tough pair to beat in future years.
Peter Nelson closed the event with some kind words of thanks to Budleigh for all they had done to make the event a success.
We look forward to returning to Budleigh next year (31 July - 1 August 2021).
All the scores are available via Croquet Scores here: https://croquetscores.com/2020/gc/english-national-doubles-championship