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2020 Ponte Vedra Invitational

April 24–26, Ponte Vedra Croquet Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL

For complete scores see the croquetscores.com listing for the tournament.

THE FIRST USCA-SANCTIONED GC TOURNAMENT IN NORTHEAST FLORIDA COMES TO PONTE VEDRA BEACH

The first USCA-sanctioned Golf Croquet tournament held in Northeast Florida was off to a good start with 35 players scheduled to play, hosted by the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club. Then COVID-19 struck. Despite the obstacles COVID-19 raised and a smaller field, good social distancing and disinfection techniques allowed play to go on safely.

The players competed in two rounds of play and the top players went on to the quarter-finals. Helen Covington and John Curington dominated the early rounds and continued to do so in the playoffs. They faced off in a best-of-three-games match for the title. Curington won the first game on a tie-breaker 7-6. Covington came back to win the second game in a tie-breaker 7-6. The final game was close, with the players trading wickets. Covington scored the #9 and #10 on a single shot to take a 6-4 lead. Curington scored #11 to make it 5-6, but Covington closed out the match 7-5.

Helen Covington

Covington is a member of the Florida Yacht Club, Jacksonville, where she has played for several years. Last July she entered the Western Regional Championship while visiting her sister and finished first is first flight singles and second in doubles winning 18 of 23 games in the event. She entered the USCA National Championship for Golf Croquet Tournament last October and finished 2nd in first flight singles and won 7 of 11 games singles and doubles. In her third USCA sanctioned tournament appearance she won the title winning 14 of 17 games. Helen is ranked 4th among US women in 2020 after 17 games.

Curington is a 2006 Hall of Fame inductee and the founder of Ponte Vedra Croquet Club, Ponte Vedra Beach. He was the contractor for the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach which is considered one of the finest croquet facilities in the world. John, a Jacksonville native, in his first USCA golf croquet tournament appearance, placed second winning 13 of his 16 games. John has won many regional and club events in American Six-Wicket Croquet. His opening performance in Golf Croquet ranks him 43rd amongst all players in 2020 after 17 games.

Bill Simmons finished first in the Plate. He began tournament play in January of 2019 playing 68 singles games in 7 tournaments finishing in the top 100 golf croquet players in the US. He is ranked 75th in the US after 24 games in 2020.

The tournament director and manager was Bill Simmons. The event was sponsored by NE Florida Croquet Club and hosted by Ponte Vedra Croquet Club. NE Florida Croquet Club was founded in 2020 to promote USCA sanctioned tournament play in northeast Florida for the benefit of area croquet players. In the past our local croquet players had to travel to south Florida or North Carolina to compete. The mission of the organization is to develop national champions right here in northeast Florida.

COVID-19 IMPACT ON TOURNAMENT PLAY

Social distancing

The tournament sponsor, NE Florida Croquet Club LLC, looked to the state of Florida’s “Stay at Home Order”, CDC guidelines, and the National Task Force to determine next steps or if to run a tournament in the pandemic environment. The state of Florida recognized that being outdoors and physical activity is essential to physical and mental health. On the last page of the state order, outdoor activities, with proper social distancing, where deemed Essential Activities much like Essential Businesses. Examples are walking, running, fishing, golf, etc. Croquet meets those requirements. Any event would have to follow these recommendations.

We began monitoring new case rates in the areas players were coming from, as well as in Ponte Vedra Beach the event location, before deciding to continue to offer the event. About 10 days before the event we shared how the state and national guidelines would be followed and the new case data with the players and asked if they wanted to play or reschedule. A smaller tournament was held for those that wanted to play. As of April 24th there had not been a new case in of COVID-19 in Ponte Vedra Beach for 11 days and the new case rate had been declining since April 2nd. This was well within the emerging national guideline of a two-week decline in new cases.

Disinfection station

We wanted to provide a safe environment for tournament players. In the clubhouse and on the lawn we provided seating for players and spectators spaced 6 feet or more. We kept player groups to only four on the lawn at a time. We played as many games as possible single banked with just two players on the lawn. At the starting point on each lawn we had an orange bucket of commercial Zep disinfectant that kills viruses to use with balls and clips.

We asked players to wear masks and use gloves. Given the spacing on the lawn most players only wore masks in the clubhouse. Tables and chairs were disinfected by spraying them down with denatured ethanol. Each person ordered food from a fixed menu and it was prepared and individually wrapped be player name for delivery to the player. Commercially sealed drinks and snacks were also provided. We had on-site bathrooms with soap and running water. Hand sanitizer was also available.

The group had a great event, though smaller, and felt very safe because of the precautions taken. Based on this experience we feel croquet can be setup and played safely by limiting the size of the event and using as many lawns as available without double banking. We plan to run three more events on this model this summer and early fall.

—Bill Simmons, Tournament Director

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