Kevin Connolly won the GC C-Level Series National Final
When the Isle of Wight Pop Festival promoter decided in March to postpone his event to the third weekend in September, we all knew we were going to be in for a hard time. It wasn't until 9am on day one when all 16 players presented themselves for the manager's briefing that we knew the logistical problems of accommodation and travel had been cracked. Now began the task of completing 15 all-play-all rounds in two days. At this level, and with only four lawns, both manager and players accepted that a one-hour time limit for all games gave the fairest and best chance of success.
Nine series winners were joined by seven points qualifiers and included 10 players whose handicaps had improved to below 7 since their original acceptance earlier in the year. Early rounds on both days took longer as players found their way around "foreign" territory but in the event just 10 of the 120 games were decided on time.
By lunchtime on Saturday the schedule was in good shape with Kevin Connolly (Watford), the favourite and top seed, and Jim Beach (Glamorgan) both undefeated with 4 wins. Immediately following the break Kevin lost a golden hoop game to Nick England (Ryde) bringing him also to 4 whilst Jim took the lead on 5 wins. Kevin and Nick both won their remaining afternoon games with Jim falling back so that at close of play (8 rounds all completed by 7pm) we had a close race on our hands.
I am greatly indebted to our small but super-efficient catering team and also to the three non-playing referees who managed time limits for me on all games in addition to refereeing duties as needed. Without their help management would have been considerably compromised.
An evening BBQ enabled the players to relax on the patio after a demanding day on the lawns in the pleasant autumn sunshine. Overnight Kevin and Nick led the field on 7 wins, Jim was on 6 and a chasing pack of Frank Sharps and daughter Sandra Cornes (both Crake Valley), Mark Green (Roehampton), Sue England (Ryde) and John Armer (Westmorland) all on 5.
Sunday began overcast with a passing front bringing a spell of light but annoying rain for an hour or so during the morning. Nick started by beating Jim at hoop 13 whilst Kevin began an impressive run of four victories before lunch whilst conceding just 7 hoops in total and was beginning to look unassailable. At lunch Kevin was on 11 wins, Nick 10 (having lost a second game to a Ryde player, this time his wife Sue), Jim on 8 and Sandra and Mark both with late runs also on 8.
The sunshine returned to welcome a growing band of spectators, both home and away supporters, and most making use of drinks from the bar, or tea and cake for the players.
Three afternoon rounds remained but most players had paced themselves well, including those in their eighties who gave the "youngsters" plenty to think about. Kevin was undeterred and finished with a flourish to remain unbeaten on day two and a most worthy winner of the tournament (14 wins out of 15 and with an average score of better than 7-4 per game). Nick England, in only his second tournament finished as runner-up (12 wins) with Sandra Cornes third (10 wins).
Many players at this level have more to learn in respect of common infringements such as wrong ball and playing jawsed balls. Ball swaps were not well understood and one of my colleagues reported seeing more crushes over the two days than in an orange squash factory!
Events such as these certainly help to educate and prepare players for the more challenging competition to which they aspire.