STARK WINS TOP OREGON PURSE IN "RESORT AT THE MOUNTAIN" DEBUT TOURNAMENT
by Tremaine Arkley
On the first weekend in June, at the base of Oregon's Mt. Hood, The Resort at The Mountain celebrated the opening of its two new croquet courts with a purse tournament featuring six world-class players - two each from New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. [See The Resort at The Mountain Web site for more on the venue.]
Five sponsors were involved and a $4500 purse was at stake - a substantial prize in the croquet world.
The competitors were the best their countries could send - the top two places on their 1997 international teams. All of them except Washington state's John Taves had played the previous week in the Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championship. From Australia, there were Harley Watts and Colin Pickering; from New Zealand, Toby Garrison and Tony Stephens; from the U.S., Jerry Stark and John Taves.
The New Zealanders had surpassed the Americans and the Australians in the Sonoma-Cutrer championship, with Tony Stephens coming off a third-place showing and 19-year-old Toby Garrison in sixth place. Jerry Stark, croquet pro at the Meadowood resort in California's Napa Valley, though surpassed by no other American this year, had made it no further than 9th place.
But Stark - who has finished as high as third place in the WCF world championship and second at Sonoma-Cutrer world championship in recent years, was not to be denied the top spot in Oregon, taking the top money of $1500 from New Zealand's Toby Garrison, who settled for second and $1000.
The Australians followed in the third and fourth positions - Watts ($750) and Pickering ($500). Tying for fifth and a $250 prize were John Taves and Tony Stephens, two players unaccustomed to finishing in the bottom ranks - a testament to the strength of this tournament.
Of the 21 games of the tournament, 14 were won by triple peels - a percentage of 67 percent.
GARRISON UNDEFEATED IN THE BLOCK THE BLOCK, STARK SECOND
In the early games the play was good but uneventful, all finishing before the two-hour time limit. Four of the five rounds of games were completed on the first day.
At the end of the first day, for fun, Amy Tabor, a staffer at The Resort, drove a van full of croquet maniacs to the timberline, close to the top of towering Mt. Hood. The sky was blue and the sun bright, creating all kinds of light reflections off the glaciers at the summit. She then drove us to a roadhouse in Gresham with peanut shells on the floor and big tables and lots of room, noise and heat. Stark - who is well known for insisting on a hearty diet - demanded red meat.
With 12 of the 15 games in the round-robin completed, only three remained for Day Two. Two of the three games would determine who got the bye into the Holders round. Garrison was in for certain, going into the final day with a 4-0 record. The two critical games pitted Garrison (4-0) against Taves (3-1); and Stark against Pickering, both 2-2. Watts and Stephens were playing for the cellar. The weather was cloudy and mild with occasional bursts of sunshine.
On Day One, Taves had gotten hot and blazed out in front with three straight TP wins. The second morning he went flat and was thumped by Garrison +17 TP, who was to go undefeated in the round robin. This loss dropped Taves into third place after Stark, under pressure now, blasted Pickering +26 TP to move into second place in the round robin. From my observations, Jerry was getting stronger coming into the final games.
While the four others were then paired in a single knockout to determine places, Jerry beat Toby +17 TP in the Holder's round. The youthful Kiwi had to beat Watts +18 TP to get another shot at Stark.
Stark's second and final game against Garrison started very much like a shut-out, with Stark rolling up a 20-0 advantage. But a mistake allowed the Kiwi to draw within a point of the American. In a back-and-forth struggle that gave both sides plenty of opportunities, Stark took control for the last time on a 25-yard hit-in and never looked back, winning the game 26 - 19 on a rover peel.
But the 19-year-old New Zealander Toby Garrison had proven in his first trip abroad for international play that he is a force to be reckoned with, in impressive back-to-back performances at Sonoma-Cutrer and The Resort at The Mountain that must be equally pleasing to his coach, Kevin Fellows.
Watts, who had to settle for third, told me the lure of money provided him with a strong incentive to win. He also was smacking the golf ball beyond 300 yards during golf breaks at the end of the day on one of The Resort's three 9-hole golf courses.
ON FINALS DAY: LOTS OF MEDIA, A PRO-AM, AND AN ART SHOW
The Resort's first-rate greens for golf and croquet were designed by Tony Lasher, who also managed the tournament along with Tremaine Arkley. Arkley doubled as the tournament director and referee.
Stark and Gene Comfort, Taves and Betty Tudor and Stephens and Don Bajema were team winners in early afternoon 12-team Pro-Am held on the third day along with the semi-finals and finals of the purse tournament.
In between the two courts a round house provided space for box lunches, wines and drinks and a croquet art exhibition. The players and guests were graciously entertained from the opening welcome party for the players and guests to the players' dinner the next night. Ed and Janice Hopper, owners of the Resort, are great friends of the sport and provided full support to the players, friends, guests and the games. All the major metropolitan newspapers and the four major television stations sports departments provided live and taped coverage throughout the three days.
(Thanks to Tremaine Arkley for this report and photos, and to Corinne Bloomfield for supplemental information.)
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