Robert Fletcher (AUS) won the British GC Open Championship
The 2023 British Open followed its normal format of 32 players divided into four blocks of eight with the top four from each proceeding to the KO Stage. All matches were best of 3, 13 points. Sussex County Croquet Club was the venue and the combination of a long, dry spell and Quadway hoops presented challenging conditions until late in the afternoon when the hoops became a little less formidable.
Block A was won comfortably by Reg Bamford (ZAF) with 7 wins and 52 net points, albeit with a game dropped to each of Mark Avery (2nd with 6 wins) and Richard Bilton (4th with 4 wins after a 3-way play-off with Chris Roberts (WAL) (3rd) and Lionel Tibble.
In Block B, Robert Fletcher (AUS) served notice of his intentions by not dropping a game and accumulating 69 net points. Dominic Nunns, fresh from his Doubles triumph in partnership with Robert, was 2nd with 6 wins, followed by Tobi Savage with 5 wins and Dominic Aarvold, a relative newcomer from Bristol, with 3 wins.
Block C did not go with the form book in that top seed Aston Wade and Euan Burridge were 3rd and 2nd to Callum Johnson who was in impressive form and unbeaten in matches with 38 net hoops. Ian Burridge (WAL) at one point was convinced that he had failed to qualify but made the most of his opportunity by beating Stephen Custance-Baker in a play-off to take 4th place.
Block D was won by Stephen Mulliner with 7 wins and 44 net points, with games dropped just to Stuart M Smith and Jenny Clarke who finished 2nd and 3rd with 6 and 5 wins respectively. Simon Carter won a tight play-off game against Ryan Cabble to take 4th place.
The KO draw was conducted using Modified Grade Based Seeding which allocated the four block winners as seeds 1 to 4 and the four block seconds as seeds 5 to 8 with the block thirds being drawn randomly to meet seeds 5 to 8 and the block fourths to meet seeds 1 to 4. All but one of the KO R1 matches went as seeded. The only exception was a very tight 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 win for Aston Wade (3rd in Block C) over Stuart M Smith (2nd in Block D).
Reg Bamford faced a battle to get past Dominic Nunns whose highly individual style combines great accuracy with considerable power. Unsurprisingly, it went the distance but Reg had a clear edge in games 1 and 3 and duly won 7-3, 6-7, 7-4. Euan Burridge and Callum Johnson had met in Block B where Callum won 7-3, 4-7, 7-3. However, this time, Euan prevailed by 7-3, 2-7, 7-4.
Stephen Mulliner and Mark Avery had met in the East Anglian Championship in May where Stephen had won 7-2, 7-3. Mark's GC tactics are steadily improving and Stephen had to call on his positional experience to overcome Mark's excellent single-ball skills by 7-4, 7-5. Aston Wade fought hard to match Robert Fletcher's clearing and hooping skills but Robert always had the edge and won 7-4, 7-4.
Bamford and Burridge had reached 7-6 (Bamford), 5-7 (Burridge) and 2-2 when Burridge suffered a bad contact caused by a hole in a vital clearance. This misfortune handed Reg a great chance which he did not squander and he soon ran out a 7-2 winner. The other semi-final was a hard-fought and lengthy affair in which Fletcher's excellent clearing was finally enough to get him past Mulliner by 7-5, 7-5.
On to the final which, given the challenging conditions, was kept as best-of-3. The opening game was simply extraordinary. Fletcher hit 88% of all his clearances with the result that Bamford never had a hoop opportunity and lost 7-0 for the first time in his career. A 6-yard jump over two balls to make hoop 4 was a particular high point.
Game 2 was much closer with Fletcher's clearing percentage falling to a more human 73%. Bamford fell 0-2 behind but recovered to reach 2-3 before Fletcher produced an 8-yard jump to score hoop 6 and lead 4-2 and then 5-3. Bamford fought back to 5-6 but Fletcher clinched game, match and title with a 4 yard angled hoop 12. A truly impressive performance and one that will no doubt give him confidence for his AC campaign over the next few weeks.