Four days of nonstop Association Croquet filled Victoria’s downtown croquet courts from May 19-22.  Twelve competitors from across the US and Canada faced each other in 61 hard-fought singles games lasting around two to two-and-a-half hours each.  At the end of the last game, Portland’s Steve Scalpone was the last man standing.

The field of entrants was one of the strongest ever seen for this annual event, featuring Canada’s top-ranked and third-ranked players — Ontario’s Brian Cumming and Victoria’s Chris Percival-Smith — and highly-ranked Americans Rich Lamm (Colorado), Scalpone, and Michael Albert (Florida).

In the end, the contest came down to games between Cumming and Scalpone.  The championship playoff required all contestants to lose twice to be eliminated, and on the final day, Scalpone had lost once and Cumming not at all.  If Cumming lost the first game, he’d take the trophy.  But Scalpone took him down 26-9, leaving them both with one loss and another game to play.  Again, Scalpone played effectively, hitting 50-foot shots with alarming accuracy, and came from behind in the last turn to win the final game and the tournament 26-23.  Rich Lamm finished third.

Association Croquet is a game played on an 84 x 105-foot grass court set with six unforgiving metal hoops and a central stake.  Each player has two balls and must take both balls through each of the six hoops in one direction, then in the opposite direction before hitting the central stake.  With two balls earning 13 points each, the maximum score is 26 points — the first player to earn 26 wins the game.  In time-limited games like those played in the Victoria Day tournament, the player with the higher score when time is called is the winner.

In addition to the high-powered visitors to our fine, local croquet grounds, the tournament drew several BC players:  Michael Dowling and Pierre Dunn from the Victoria area; Tony Simmonds and James White from Saturna Island; Brian Wasylyk from Campbell River; Russell Uhler from Vancouver; and Michael Kernaghan from Mission.  Some boasted of improving play and looked towards a bright competitive future; others complained of poor performance — but still insisted on looking at the future with hope.

The weather was excellent, though a bit windy on Sunday.  What really made the difference was fine lawns maintained by excellent groundskeepers at both the Victoria Lawn Bowling Club and the Canadian Pacific Lawn Bowling and Croquet Club.  In fact, one of the stronger players remarked that the lawns were almost too good, since they allowed less-experienced players to play well, and didn’t force them to overcome the obstacles that less-well-maintained lawns provided for separating the cream from the milk.

Many of the competitors remarked after the event that the kitchen staff, headed by Victoria’s Annie Boldt, did an outstanding job of providing great food throughout the competition.  Since no time was allocated for sit-down lunches, and players could only grab a few bites here and there between turns on the court, Annie’s crew faced an unusual logistical challenge, and met it effectively.

The support provided by both clubs was excellent, and the efforts of all the volunteers were much appreciated.