Peyton Ballenger Invitational Won by Bob Chilton
I must say (or might that be ‘admit’) that I have never been overly obsessed with the weather. At least not when it comes to reporting tournament results. And yet, almost without fail, the first actual question curious croquet fans offer goes like this: John, you amazing man, how was the weather at that last tournament you so brilliantly directed? My usual response, unless someone was literally hit by lightening, is always positive, this sometimes due to the lack of memory cells but more often because nothing noteworthy occurred. Of course, we do live in a world of exceptions.
The first day of Peyton Ballenger Invitational, held March 3-8 at the beautiful PGA National Golf & Country Club, started off smoothly enough — sunny skies and smiles seen in every direction. And yet by the start of day two, driving ran met the fifty players as they ‘rushed’ to the closest tent for shelter. Amazingly enough, the rain would soon stop, the standing water would recede and all of the day’s matches would be completed (a little late) under the constant threat of disaster.
The threat would linger into day three, most of the worst weather having taken place throughout the night. It was not, though, until late afternoon that the thunder and lightening rolled in. Play was delayed periodically but, once again and amazingly enough, all of the ‘meaningful’ matches were (dangerously) completed just as darkness settled in. Gisa Wagner never did see the lightning strike court one as she summed up her next shot, so perhaps there is such a thing as too much concentration! Al Dilley, who always concentrates on the bigger picture? The only time I have ever see him look more frightened was when he was playing a three-ball break!
By now my obsession with Mr. Dopler Radar was in full bloom. Storms plagued the area each night, yet while showers greeted the players still in contention come the final day, once again the skies cleared in timely fashion. All play was completed as planned, and, in retrospect, it is just short of a miracle that four days of insane weather did little to dampen either the schedule or the spirits of the players. Simply great timing, I guess. Just don’t let anyone ask me about the weather in the near future.
Beneath the scary skies there was, of course, some good croquet going on. Four Flights of Singles and three of doubles were on the menu. Block play leading to single elimination ladders was the format with all games being timed at one hour and fifteen minute. Six rounds of play were held each day with double banking prevalent throughout all of the Singles and one round of Doubles. While Florida had been (‘had’ being the key word here) experiencing a severe drought, the courts, mowed daily within the raindrops, played beautifully.
In the Championship Flight Singles, the number one seed, Mike Gibbons (0), was on cruise control and undefeated — until he met the likes of Barry Gibson (2) in the Playoff semi-finals. With Mike finding some issues with the wickets, Barry managed a 17-13 victory and now had the pleasure of facing the number two seed, Bob Chilton (0), in what would certainly be an entertaining Finals. And the game was fun, for Bob. With steady shooting, Bob claimed the Peyton Ballenger Trophy with a controlled 18-10 victory. Chuck Whitlow (1.5), for what it’s worth, tied for Third Place.
The First Flight Singles finally proved that women always have the final say. Lucille Maresca (4.5) defeated (15-14) Paula Mol (5) in one semi-final while Liz Huhn (3) overcame (14-13) Betty Whitlow (5) in the other. Yet while both semi-final matches were close, the Final was not, Liz taking control and coasting to a 16-9 victory. And who was it that mentioned that Liz was a basket case upon a croquet lawn? Oh yes, it was Liz herself.
It was long-shot (specialist) Jodie Fusz (8) who made some waves in the Second Flight Singles. After defeating (11-9) Ken Northrop (7) in an exciting semi-final, Jodie now danced her way to a Final’s match against the strong Jerry Luecke (6). And strong he was. After defeating Evan White 18-10, Jerry took control of the Final from the beginning and registered 16-8 as the final score.
Monica Uhlhorn (10) took honors in the Third Flight by defeating (13-9) the tired (four games in a row) Lee Little (10). Gisa “Lightning” Wagner (10) and Bob Holzmacher shared Third Place honors.
In Doubles action, Barry Gibson & Bill Grimsdale overcame Dan Mol & Ray Stoy (13-9) to capture the Championship Flight. The feisty teams of Linda Huxtable & Jo Anne Nappi, along with Chuck (“for what it’s worth”) Whitlow & Lucille Maresca, tied for Third Place. Meanwhile, the First Flight Doubles proved to be incredibly even, most games decided by no more than a point or two. Paula Mol & Ken Northrop finally found themselves in the winner’s circle with a 13-12 victory over Gordon Paul & Conrad Rugart. Bill Taft & Joy Bradford tied with Sandy Walsh & Linda Prickett for Third. And lastly, the always-interesting Second Flight was played under the Waterford system — permanent partners given for the Playoffs. In another 13-12 Final, Ray Swanson & Gaye Turtur defeated Gisa “Lightning” Wagner & Lee Little, Monica Uhlhorn & Mary Ann Paul settling for Third Place. Apparently, thirteen wickets proved to be enough to win any of the three Flights!
Perhaps this tournament is best known for the wonderful social atmosphere it offers — casual and relaxed being the style. Even the opening Reception/Dinner, held at the British Ballroom located within the hotel itself, welcomed the white-clad players straight from the lawns. From then on, all events were held courtside — dinners offered nightly save one. Continental breakfasts, wonderful lunches and a bar that opened daily at 4:00 PM gave players no reason to ever travel beyond the PGA property. All of the Club members, and there are many of them, helped out. Saturday’s Awards Ceremony/Brunch was the perfect end to an exciting and, despite the threatening weather, a joyous week.
Special thanks must go out to both Bob Young and Margo Stinson. Bob, equipment manager, would arrive, rain or shine, at 6:30 each morning to assist with court set-up. Aside from that, and helping out throughout the day, he managed to participate in both the Singles and Doubles … long days. Margo, the tournament manager, did everything! From compiling the entries, to controlling all of the ongoing social events, her efforts, energy and hospitality were simply beyond belief.The Croquet Club at PGA National thanks all of the participants for making these five days into one long and wonderful party. The Club looks forward toward seeing everyone next year and wishes all the best of luck in their future endeavors!