Mission Hills Country Club hosted 23 players from its illustrious croquet club for a rare Association Laws handicap tournament November 16-20, 2010. Most Association tournaments in North America are advanced play with lifts but no bisques to help newer players. As one of the founding members of the Mission Hills Croquet Club, Pat Apple decided to make this competition an opportunity for beginner players to get into the more complicated versions of croquet. There were 8 doubles games to decide the champions in each of the two groups (high and low) and there were 8 singles games before the semi-finals began on Saturday.
The doubles format was high-low waterford, in which the weaker players get one bisque per game and the weaker team receives extra bisques based on the handicaps of the players involved. With 16 competitors, each high-handicapper was able to play with every one of the low-handicappers and vice versa. No games went to the peg despite 2 hour time limits. The drawn out battles were thanks to defensive tactics necessary when the opposition has a bisque. In Association Laws, bisques may be exchanged for a brand new turn with the ball that just played. This allows for a player to hit all three of the other balls, position them, and then use a bisque to begin a new turn in which they are live and hit each ball again and hopefully make a few hoops. A conniving tactician may also use a bisque after missing a long roquet to hit the nearby ball that they just missed. In this way a bisque can act as a hit in; thus justifying extremely defensive tactics. Players may use multiple bisques in a row to gain an impressive lead without letting the opponents on court at all.
The beautifully crafted prizes were awarded to the top finishers in the high and low groups. The top finishing high handicappers exhibited great shooting and control while being coached by their varying partners. Phyllis Butts and Herb Mills tied with five wins, but Herb snuck into the number two spot by two gross points. The top finisher was Toni Kemp with six wins, five of which were within two points! Toni's clutch play in both singles and doubles proved her handicap was higher than it should be (despite her pre-tournament pleading that it was too low).
The competitors in the low handicap group thrived when they accurately assessed their partners' skills and coached appropriate bisque use. On the other hand, running to the peg whenever possible did not hurt their cause. After breaking into the top flight, Mary Rodeberg found herself playing with her old peer group. The same familiarity that allowed Mary to defeat the high handicappers proved paramount when playing with them in doubles. Mary's five wins put her on the podium, but she fell just shy on net points. Tying Mary's five wins was Bob Riddell despite his distaste for using bisques (he had no problem with his partners using them). The doubles crown went to the top ranked “Sandy” Bob Van Tassell. Bob effectively coached his partners and managed to run to the peg in critical moments and remained ahead of the pack with six wins.
In the bisque heavy Britemac singles block handicaps ranged from 5 to 10 with each player starting with two bisques in every game. Top seeded Donna Dixon, a travelling Mission Hills member based out of Houston, outlasted her opponents' extra turns and emerged with six wins. Former first lady of Mission Hills, Phyllis Butts, followed her doubles success with strong block play but her six wins only earned her the second spot against a resourceful Toni Kemp. Toni managed to qualify in third place as the highest handicap in the singles tournament, using her bisques to thwart her adversaries. The last spot in the playoffs was claimed by Bob Kays with five wins and his work cut out for him against Donna. Phyllis and Bob had their fates intertwined as they made three points each in their semi-final losses. Phyllis graciously let Bob keep the bronze apple award for third place.
In the final, Donna took control at the coin flip. On the fifth turn Donna made hoop one but had trouble at two. Toni chose to join her partner ball near corner two but left the appropriate amount of space to parallel park a stretch limo between the two. Donna managed to build a break on seventh turn and took it for 10 hoops! After three very difficult angled hoops, Donna stuffed rover and used her only bisque to remedy the situation. Toni began the second act with a 14 yard hit in and ran 11 hoops (albeit with the help of three of her bisques) but chose to not make rover. Later Toni remarked that she did not want to be pegged out by Donna and that pegging out Donna's ball did not occur to her. Toni set a leave but failed to make any hoops off of it. Donna eventually hit in and added to her lead, but Toni got the innings, had control of all four balls and used her final bisque with only 15 minutes left and amazing break potential to... set a leave. Donna hit the leave again and pushed the lead to six points before she missed a difficult hoop six. With the balls spread all over the court and time running low, a few missed roquets left Toni in control in last turns with nothing close to her hoop. Toni took off to the attack and got a rush which she took 70 feet to hoop one. Donna began to worry. Could a six hoop lead last? Toni lined up an easy shot at hoop one with lots of work ahead of her, but it was not meant to be. The friendly stanchions collected their toll and brought the final to a close. Donna Dixon took her first Association Laws tournament victory 18-11 with a big smile.
In the Braeburn block, the bisques were necessary to take out the top dogs. Four very strong players: Van Tassell, Butts, Nikora and Hendry had their hands full as they gave up bisques across the board and only got to use one or two themselves. Making the most out of the opportunity, Arthur Bagby, Mick Greagsby, and Mary Rodeberg gave the big four a run for their money. Arthur Managed to defeat two of his most frequent foes in Nikora and Hendry while coming within one point of “Sandy” Bob. The do-over deficit proved too much to handle for one of the best players in Mission Hills. Bob Van Tassell had an amazing 2010 season, but he could not stay on top with the target on his back. The five contenders for the playoffs set themselves apart by beating the big, bad Bob. Leo, Ron and Jim managed to allow Bob only two points in three games while Jim slammed the door shut with a double peel to boot. The lone Briton in the field, Mick managed a two point victory over Bob but his loss to Mary opened the door to the newest championship player in Mission Hills. Mary scored several upsets and managed to will her way into the playoffs with 4 wins and the critical 19-4 victory over Mick Greagsby.
The playoff match-ups pitted the officers of the club against each other with the new kids on the block fighting for a final spot. Ron made the administration change permanent with a 26-0 thrashing. Mary came close, but fell short of the mark 16-15 to Leo Nikora in last turns. Her last minute woes continued against Jim Butts 20-19 in the third place game. In block play, Mary lost to Ron 16-14 in another barn-burner. While just two points kept Mary off of the podium, her incredibly close games against the best in the desert will raise some eyebrows this season.
The new croquet club President, Ron Hendry, was inaugurated at the pre-tournament party and he used his new title to intimidate and dominate. With three wins by 25 or more points, including the semi-final drubbing of the former president, Ron was ready to compete. Having placed third and second in the last two Pat Apple tournaments, he felt his time was at hand. The difference this year – Leo Nikora.
Leo and his wife Beverly moved to Mission Hills last season to get closer to family and more involved in croquet. Leo has served as the president and all around life force behind the Maui Croquet Club as well as webmastering for the USCA website (croquetamerica.com) for many years. When asked about his arrival in the desert after moving from a tropical paradise Leo said, “this is heaven.” With his croquet scores, who can argue? Leo had six block wins (four by 20 or more points) and qualified first in the playoff ladder. One of his few defeats was, however, at the capable hands of Ron Hendry. After a scare from Mary Rodeberg 16-15, Leo readied himself for a rematch against the new President.
No bisques were involved in the final match, but basic handicap rules still played a part. There were no lifts in the match and players were limited as to when they could peg out the striker ball. Both players started out shakily and no hoops were made until the 9th turn. Ron struck first, but jawsed hoop three leaving Leo control of the balls. Leo took advantage of the lift-less game and ran 11 hoops with a very nice leave. Ron's balls were at hoops one and two with Leo far away on the East boundary. Ron trusted Leo to finish after a miss, so he calmed his nerves, took the 60 foot shot at Leo, and HIT! The crowd delighted in the triumphant grunt familiar to Ron's victims. Most expected that this would even the game, but Ron's triumph turned to terror as he just missed position at hoop one. Knowing that the Mission Hills hoops err on the side of generosity, Ron took a chance and stuffed it. Leo was forced to play his ball that had already run a break, so he set a familiar leave. Looking at slightly longer shots than the last hit in, Ron gulped as he still faced elimination if this shot missed.
“The death shot” is Reg Bamford's term for a final hit in that, if missed, will result in a game ending turn by the opponent. Looking at his second death shot in a row, Ron chose to shoot at his partner ball 65 feet away. Thinking he was out of miracles the crowd went silent until the crack of the ball put them on edge. Two in a row! Leo was squirming. What more could he do but wait? Ron's work was not over. Proving luck has two sides, Ron tried to take-off close to Leo's position. The adrenaline was rushing; he felt that he could not miss. Alas, while his accuracy was unfailing, the excitement may have gotten the better of Ron's touch. The elated fans watched helplessly as Ron's ball got closer and closer to Leo's, but it would not stop. Leo took control and built a break out of very difficult circumstances. Precise rushes and a clutch peel through the rover hoop confirmed Ron's desperation.
With 14 points on his final turn, Leo took the Pat Apple Championship. The difference proved to be Ron's big hits against Leo's crafty leaves. The final game was Leo's fifth win of 20 or more points in just his first Pat Apple tournament. Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to Pat Apple, without whom there would be no Mission Hills Croquet Club.