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AMERICA'S PREMIERE CROQUET SHOWCASE EVENT KICKS OFF AT SONOMA-CUTRER ON MAY 25

by Mike Orgill

The 12th edition of America's most prestigious croquet tournament, the World Croquet Championship at Sonoma-Cutrer, will commence on Sunday, May 25, with a one-day "warm-up" tournament in the abbreviated 14-point format, followed the next day with block play in the tournament proper, culminating with the finals on Saturday, June 1.

Although some American tournaments have had longer runs (the USCA Nationals, for example), none have both persisted and grown in international prestige as the WCC has. From its beginnings in 1986 as the first major international rules tournament in the United States the WCC has become a fixure on the international croquet circuit and a charitable event that raises close to $400,000 for its charities.

The tournament is played on two lovingly designed courts in a picture post card setting admidst vineyards and in front of Sonoma-Cutrer Winery in Sonoma County, California, one of the state's premium wine growing areas.

THE WCC'S UNIQUE FORMAT: THE PATMOR DRAW

The World Croquet Championship has always been played under a unique format, the Patmor Draw. Four blocks of seven play a round robin, and the winner of each block advances to a round robin block called "the Medalist Block". The Medalist winner - dubbed "the Holder" - is guaranteed second place, and the other three players drop down into a "Challenge Round," a single-elimination ladder which is seeded by the results of initial block play. The Challenge Round winner then faces the Holder in the final.

AMERICANS DOMINATED 1996 WORLD CROQUET CHAMPIONSHIP

American players surprised the internationals in the 1996 WCC. Californians won three of the four blocks and advanced to the Medalist Round: Phil Arnold, Michael Mehas and Wayne Rodoni. They and other American players have since been subdued rather thoroughly in the MacRobertson Shield and Solomon Cup and will be motivated to lash back with powerful play on familiar home turf.

THREE FORMER CHAMPIONS WILL COMPETE

Aaron Westerby, 1996 champion, will be making the trip from Great Britain to defend his title (he is a New Zealander studying in England). This is his fourth appearance at the WCC. Westerby has won most of the major New Zealand titles including the Open, Doubles and Men's Championship, as well as the Mixed Doubles with his grandmother on two occasions.

Stephen Mulliner, the winner of the first three WCC's from 1986 to 1988, will be making his second appearance in a row this year. Mulliner set the standard for this event in his first three wins and could well win again in 1997, his twenty-first competitive croquet season. He represented Great Britain in the MacRobertson Shield in 1982, 1986 and 1990, won the President's Cup five times between 1981 and 1992, and the British Open Championship in 1988 and 1990. In his spare time Mulliner is an investment banker with Tokai Bank.

Steve Jones won the 1990 WCC. Since emigrating to New Zealand from Great Britain in 1982 he has also won the New Zealand Open. This is Jones's fifth appearance at Sonoma-Cutrer; he has also competed in four WCF World Championships and three MacRobertson Shields. Jones has recently published a book on croquet entitled "Peel Appeal."

THE MOST LIKELY CHALLENGERS

Last year the Americans stunned everybody with their play, and the British surprised with their fall from the heights. Look for the British players to roar back, especially after their overwhelming victories in the MacRobertson Shield and the Solomon Trophy. Robert Fulford and David Maugham will not be playing, but Chris Clarke is more than due to win this event, being the four-time winner of the President's Cup (1988-1991).

Steve Comish is a tough competitor, and Debbie Cornelius will be motivated to do well after a disappointing 1996 performance. She has finished as high as sixth in previous WCC's.

THE SHORT LIST OF OTHER FAVORITES TO WIN IN 1997

* Shane Davis of New Zealand, the only non-American Medalist in 1996.

* Wayne Rodoni of San Mateo, California (a few miles south of San Francisco) always dangerous, finished second in 1996.

* Phil Arnold of Santa Rosa, California (the big town closest to the Sonoma-Cutrer Winery) last year's giant killer. He knocked off Fulford and other top players last year and finished third.

* Mik Mehas of Palm Springs and Hollywood knocked off Fulford in a memorable rain-soaked game last year and as one of the steadiest top performers in American croquet is well-equipped to go all the way.

* New Zealander Tony Stephens has played in all eleven WCC's and turned in his best performance last year.

* Jerry Stark, formerly of Arizona and now for many years the croquet pro at Meadowood, a resort in the adjacent Napa Valley, was 1995's second placer.

* Colin Pickering, an Australian powerhouse, is always there when almost all the other players have fallen away.

THE WCC - CROQUET'S GREATEST SPECTACLE

The World Croquet Championship boasts, without a doubt, the most elaborate finals day spectacle in the croquet world. The charity wine auction on final day is the tournament's raison d'etre and will surely surpass itself again, as it has done every year. For the rabid croquet fan, however, nothing matches the variety, intensity and drama of the WCC over its full six days.

THE IN-CROWD KNOW THAT FRIDAY'S THE DAY

If you plan to spectate during tournament week, the play from Monday through Thursday will provide you with a chance to watch all the competitors in action during block play. But for sheer excitement, nothing beats Friday, when the block winners square off in the Medalist Round and the other players making the cut battle to survive the single-elimination challenge round.

Of course, finals day on Saturday provides the croquet fan with the opportunity to sample fine wines, sup with Sonoma County's movers and shakers, bid for rare vintages at the charity wine auction, witness the last three games of the tournament, and view the crowning of the champion.

FINAL LINEUP OF 1997 SONOMA-CUTRER PLAYERS

Australia
Brett Hewitt
John Newcombe
Colin Pickering
Harley Watts
New Zealand
Shane Davis
Toby Garrison
Steve Jones
Tony Stephens
Aaron Westerby
Canada
Leo McBride
Jersey
Tony Le Moignan
Egypt
Mohammed Kamal
Scotland
Rod Williams
England
Chris Clarke
Steve Comish
Debbie Cornelius
Jeff Dawson
Stephen Mulliner
United States of America
Phil Arnold
Ren Kraft
Mick Mehas
Erv Peterson
Bob Rebuschatis
Wayne Rodoni
Jerry Stark
Rhys Thomas
Ireland
Simon Williams
Wales
Lewis Palmer


Mike Orgill is the tournament director of the WCC as well as co-editor of CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE, which will provide frequent reports throughout the week-long event. Photo by Ann Simms.



 
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