Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mission Hills Invitational 2010

The sun smiled upon the field in an Invitational with nearly perfect weather and a perfect finish to the 2010 Mission Hills Invitational. The annual American Rules contest showcased the best in the west and many welcome visitors escaping blizzards and general wintery weather. The diverse field came from all over the country including Washington, New Hampshire, Florida, and a large contingent from Pinehurst, North Carolina. All players were wowed with the fabulous croquet facility and wonderful hospitality at the Mission Hills Country Club.
The Club provided two scrumptious tournament dinners where tournament hosts, Jim and Phyllis Butts, honored visiting hall of famers Bob Chilton as well as Bill and Margie Campbell. The finals courtside luncheon was complete with a bloody mary and mimosa bar which possibly led to spectators asking themselves one timely question: How can you sandbag the championship flight?

Saturday, March 6th, “Sandy” Bob Van Tassell won the event with a "perfect game" according to opponent and tournament director, Ben Rothman. All marveled as Bob took an error-free game by Rothman and turned it into a convincing 26-3 victory.

The best kept secret in the California desert is out: Bob Van Tassell has arrived. Jerry Stark knew it when he nick-named Bob Van Tassell the "Sandbagger" or "Sandy Bob"at the US Open. The handle is no longer appropriate as Bob will never again be allowed in the other flights, but it proved true time and time again as “Sandy” Bob escalated his game and made a home out of the winner's circle.

Mimosa connoisseurs and croquet fans alike then turned their attention to the presidential shootout on the next lawn. Club President, Jim Butts, was in a tight game with VP, Ron Hendry, for third place. After trading blows for 90 minutes, the board was smeared with deadness and the players worse for wear. In last turns each faced a daunting hoop shot for the lead. With nine feet and a slight angle in front of him, Jim missed the go ahead wicket. A hush fell as Ron approached his severely angled and four foot long shot. It was so quiet, you could hear a glass clink. And then, BANG! The ball sailed through and the game was won with authority. Hendry yelled a jubilant "Hooo-wuh!" as the feast was served.

The first flight of this years invitational featured a tight field of ten players in the narrow handicap range of 4-5. In the two blocks Peter Bach and Rich Schiller showed great form by going undefeated into the playoff ladder. Unfortunately, the single elimination ladder got the best of them as they were eliminated in the first round! The flight was up for grabs! With a return to form, Steve Mossbrook showed that he is back. Steve recovered from a mediocre block performance (3-2) and started to destroy playoff opponents. On the other side of the ladder Chris Christian was the only player winning by a larger margin than Mossbrook, until they met. After a long deadness battle, Mossbrook took the championship convincingly 17-9.
The second flight included many players with 6 or 7 handicaps; hardly deserving of the self inflicted “pond scum” label. Rising to the top of the pond were two locals who exhibited their break running skill despite their 9 handicaps. Dick Engebretson made the #1 seed in his block with a 4-1 record only falling to the #2 seed Cindy Bagby by one point. A similar situation evolved in the other block as Mary Rodeberg went undefeated including a one point victory over young Jonathan Andrews who took the #2 seed. The end game and overtime were all too important in this flight as six out of the eight playoff games were decided by three or less points. Marvin Salles' clutch play won him the top prize. Time and time again Marvin came back from a deficit against Mary Rodeberg in the semi-final and won by one point in the final over Dick Engebretson. Have no fear second flighters, Marvin and Dick will be tearing up the first flight from now on. Which they got a taste of in the doubles.
The waterford doubles gave locals a chance to get to know the many visitors as a single serving partner. The doubles went seven rounds allowing for many interesting match-ups. The well balanced opposition gave anyone a chance to win if they played above their handicap. Having won last years first flight doubles, Donna Dixon was ready for the challenge of Championship flight, but her opponents were not ready for her. Donna defended her doubles dominance with a 6-1 record; securing the championship without any tie breakers. In the first flight Dick and Marvin did very well. In fact Dick was first in wins and net points, but he wasn't alone. Idaho based pilot, Peter Bach, managed to equal Dick Engebretson with 6 wins and 34 net points. In the final game, Peter Bach's team accrued enough gross points for Peter to claim the top prize in doubles.

In the end it was close games and perfect performances that highlighted this year's tournament. Perfect weather and great food helped to make a memorable tournament for any spectator. It's a shame that they only have this tournament once a year.

All Photos courtesy of Richard Nuffer

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