INTERNATIONAL NEWSLINE UPDATE
There hasn't been much "official" news in print from Australia since last December - the last time the AUSTRALIAN CROQUET GAZETTE appeared. The absence of the quarterly has been the subject of much speculation since then, but in August, an explanation appeared in the mail to subscribers from the secretary of the Australian Croquet Association, Peter Tavender. It was called the AUSTRALIAN CROQUET BULLETIN, consisted of a single sheet of folded 11x18 paper, and contained announcements and brief reports of events and a prominent advertisement for a new editor. The new editor has now been selected from a number of applicants. She is Wendy Davidson, formerly of Canberra, now of Adelaide, playing with the Fitzroy Club. Although her publishing credentials are limited to the local club newsletter level, her croquet resume is impressive. Davidson is a former school teacher and sports administrator who has represented the Australian Capital Territory in both croquet and marathon running. A level 2 coach with an Australian handicap of 7 (which translates to 2 or 3 in the rest of the world), she has also successfully implemented a coaching/development program for southern New South Wales. Tavender, announcing the new appointment, has said that he will produce, himself, a "regular" issue of the Gazette before the end of October, and that the new editor would begin her regime with a new quarterly issue in December or January. He also assures subscribers that they will not have lost their subscriptions due to the lapse, and that the missing three issues will be added on to the end of their subscriptions. CONTROVERSIAL EDITOR VOTED OUT BY STATE DELEGATES
Editors of the GAZETTE are subject to re-appointment for each calendar year by vote of Australia's state delegates to the national association. These delegates failed to reappoint the previous editor Mark Senior for the 1996 calendar year. Aggy Read of Queensland volunteered for the job and produced his first - and as it turned out, his only - issue last December. Tavender, in the meantime, took a long trip to England, to follow the MacRobertson Shield event. According to Tavender, "Read accepted the offer to resign when I returned from England to find not just one but two editions had failed to be printed." This reporter first tried to contact Aggy Read, then editor of the GAZETTE, last February, by mail, when CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE was planning its March debut and needed to make contact with overseas associations. Receiving no reply, I began E-Mailing various persons with a supposed lead on Read's whereabouts. By April, I got word via an intermediary that Read had, indeed, received my letter and would answer it. By May, subscribers were beginning to wonder whether their March issue of the quarterly had been lost in the mail. I continued seeking word of Read, and by then June had come and gone, with no sign of the June issue. Read's one issue of the GAZETTE was competent and sensible, with the normal mix of tournament results and upcoming events, letters, harmless debates on rules and customs, articles on technique, and the like - the staple of croquet newsletters everywhere. It was not as interesting as a typical Senior edition - which was the cause of Senior's downfall. EDITORS MUST WALK A FINE LINE AND OFFEND NO ONE
Senior's content was often unusual, controversial, idiosyncratic and, according to some, derived from his own personal agenda. He did not shrink from criticizing the quality of the coaching in his home state of South Australia; and readers were startled to see his wife as one prominent cover subject. Insiders credit the croquet officialdom of South Australia with generating sufficient support to end his editorship. In Australia - unlike Great Britain or the United States, with strong central organizations - the state organizations hold the balance of power, while the central organization coordinates essential functions such as national tournament schedules, rules and standards, and publication of the national newsletter. Editing an association periodical is often a losing game, as the editors are accountable to their association for "getting the business done," and to the readers for producing something they want to read. These roles are sometimes difficult to reconcile. If you're too conservative, you lose your readers. If you're too "interesting," you run afoul of officialdom. The most successful editors appear to be the ones who are wisely given a great deal of latitude - but who are also wise enough to walk the line with grace and humor. The Croquet Association of Great Britain has been notably successful in this regard over the past several decades. Both Read and Senior are fine croquet players, ranked #18 and #17 respectively in Australia. One hopes they can enjoy editorial retirement on the croquet green, where there is surer hope of winning.
story by Bob Alman, with thanks to Peter Tavender, Stephen Meatheringham, and Hartley Slater.
WILY ARCHIE BURCHFIELD TAKES BIG FIRESTONE PURSE
|3.||Don Fournier, Jr.||$750|
Friends and fans of Burchfield have been delighted to hear of his victory, especially because, as one of them commented, "Archie has probably spent more than the first prize money already on his croquet lawn this season." Burchfield, one of the living legends of American croquet, is a tobacco farmer in Kentucky. The frequency of his play each season has often depended on the health of his crop and the price it brings at market.
THE "BEVERLY HILLBILLIES" CROQUET RE-RUN
One of the most oft-repeated press stories on croquet in the early eighties was about Burchfield's appearance one day at the Palm Beach Polo Club, wearing a farmer's overalls, disembarking from his pick-up, and inquiring about the croquet he had heard was played there. Imitating a script from the "Beverly Hillbillies," the local denizens raised their eyebrows, but graciously allowed Burchfield in to witness the USCA-brand of game he had heard about in Kentucky. He was advised to buy some whites - which he did - and he proceeded to astonish the Palm Beach natives with the quality of his play, self-taught on his own clay courts in Kentucky.
Burchfield went on to win a national championship in doubles in 1982 with his son, who was said to have no understanding of the game at all - he simply executed whatever Archie wanted him to do. Five years later, the standard of play in America had increased considerably, and Archie won another national doubles championship with partner Damon Bidencope, newly imported from Australia as Meadowood's new croquet pro.
WHERE, OH WHERE HAS THE MONEY GONE?
It was Bidencope who oversaw in the late eighties some of the biggest sponsored purse tournaments the country had ever seen, or has yet to see again, ranging from $25,000 to $40,000. Croquet players around the world marveled at the spectacle of croquet for pay, and many of them started coming over to play.
But the bubble soon burst. The sponsors disappeared, the money vanished, and American croquet became again, with few exceptions, a game to be played only for the fun and the glory.
How does an $8,000 purse happen in these penurious nineties? First, you need a new and relatively enthusiatic croquet club, like the Akron Mallet Club. Secondly, you need to select a worthy charity to attract sponsors who otherwise would not lavish money on so unworthy a cause as croquet players. Thirdly, some sound corporate connections are required from your local croquet players, who can bring their personal clout to bear in dislodging funds from the discretionary charity budgets of local corporations.
PARTNERSHIP OF MANUFACTURERS AND PLAYER PROS
The members of the Akron Mallet Club made all this happen, and more. They invited twelve top players, asking $200 in entry fees from each of them and promising substantial cash prizes. As a warm-up for the tournament, ten local amateurs, funded by their businesses, put up money to play in an exhibition doubles match partnered with the pros.
Most of the financial backing for the tournament, however, came from two local manufacturers - J.R.B. Company and Ohio Spring Wire. These companies provided the bulk of the purse money and backed up the financial gift to the charity, a local YMCA camp for children.
ARTIFICIAL LAWNS AND AUTHENTIC HOSPITALITY
Other unusual features of the tournament must be noted - especially the combination of playing on an excellent grass court at the Firestone Country Club as well as on reduced-sized artificial courts at the nearby farm of one of the club's wealthy members, manufacturer Randy Baird. The unpredictable nature of the fast and uneven artificial surfaces made a harrowing playing experience for some of the players who had never competed in such conditions. Of the small outdoor court, one of them said, "You would hit the ball trying for a set-up and literally have no idea in what direction it would go, or how far." This may help to explain how players accustomed to reaching the final rounds got to watch, instead - including Johnny Osborn, Doug Grimley, and Rory Kelley.
Nevertheless, it was a popular tournament for the players. Tournament director Mack Penwell and other players have reported that Baird and the other hosting members of the Akron Mallet Club treated them royally and "put on a great party."
The American rules tournament began with two blocks of six and proceeded to elimination play-offs. Perhaps the most impressive performer of the tournament was Jacques Fournier, the 15-year-old wunderkind from Arizona who consistently reaches the final rounds of major tournaments but has yet to seize a top prize.
"THE KID" SHOOTS WELL, WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY
Fournier defeated everyone in his block - Peck, Penwell, Osborn, Burchfield, and Grisley - and then proceeded to knock off opponents Penwell, Mehas, and Burchfield in the playoffs. Burchfield emerged as the challenger in the final game which, by all accounts, was an entertaining contrast of styles. Burchfield is known as a wily master of the "one ball out" game, while the young Fournier tends to a more straightforward, technically superior style depending on consistent shot-making ability.
Burchfield kept one of his balls out of the game for the first hour, while Fournier played around the course with one ball to rover. After several attempts, Burchfield succeeded in a 70-foot hit-in, proceeding to set up a break for his out-ball, poised in the jaws of Wicket #1, and finally pegging Jacques out with 15 minutes left in the game. The final minutes were ground out by Archie's rover, repeatedly knocking awey Jacques' chances of further scoring, until the time elapsed and made Archie the biggest cash purse winner of the year.
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