I had been aware of the Polo purse tournaments and reported the 2010 event in some detail in Croquet World. The field was always an excellent one, but why wasn't this event recognized as the very best, at the summit of the sport? I wasn't the only one asking that question, and there were some simple explanations, beginning with this one: This prestigious tournament was essentially an "open," with general announcements being made inviting top players to apply; obviously, the event should be a true invitational, still seeking the top players, but mindful of the way they'll relate to each other and to their environment.
Casual conversation with local croquet pro David Bent and David McCoy, acting general manager of the National Croquet Center and also a Polo member, generated an agreement that this event should be a true invitational, and that the game should be Golf Croquet.
Jacobson didn't actually say "show me," but as host, he needed the assurance that Golf Croquet was the winning ticket for his event. In the course of consulting with some of the big players in the sport, we tried to offer that assurance.
One of those "big players" is David Openshaw, who made the surprising suggestion that the event should use Egyptian balls. David Openshaw had played in two major events in Egypt in the fall, and he'd done well in both of them (which put him on our short list), reporting with his typical cheerful confidence that the Egyptian balls - incredibly hard and resilient - actually made for a better game: better for the sound they made when colliding, but especially better for the spectacular transfer of energy that took place on most direct ball-to-ball hits.
As editor of CROQUET WORLD, I was attracted to the idea of using Egyptian balls, because it would be something new, something never done in a major event outside Egypt. So with the support of the two Davids (Bent and McCoy) and with the tacit support of Egyptian-trained Mohammad Kamal, whom I'd enlisted as tournament director, knowing that he could communicate well with the Egyptians, I suggested it to Don Jacobson, who at first said he'd prefer using an American-made ball. We said that the only American-made ball approved by the World Croquet Federation is livelier than the Dawson and the Sunshiny (currently the top two), but not in the same class as the Egyptian balls for their reactivity.
David Bent borrowed some balls from croquet pro Len Canavan, based in Florida and long-time head of the USCA's Golf Croquet Committee. With McCoy, we went out to the Polo lawn and did a hit-and-compare session with Dawsons and the Egyptian balls. Wow! What a difference!
Don agreed that the Egyptian balls would make a splash. So it was a go. We'd have to construct special barriers around the lawn to make sure no one would be injured by hard-hit balls (especially by the Egyptian players), but that would be great publicity for the event.
By that time, most of the field was confirmed, and I sent out an email to all the invitees warning they that we would be using Egyptian balls, and that they could withdraw without prejudice if that made a difference to them on the negative side. No one withdrew.
This event is produced in the middle of South Florida's high season, when everyone in most other croquet countries wants to visit here to get away from their own winters. The amenities include a bounteous breakfast and lunch for the players poolside - including an excessive gourmet feast on the final day - and all the polo you could stand watching on your off-time.
It's true that the Egyptian champions didn't come this year, but was that really a bad thing for the tournament? Probably not. Our big worry was that the Egyptians would wipe out the field and take everything away. As it turned out, any one of the eight could have won this tournament, and the top players around the world are improving almost daily to meet the standard of the Egyptians. We'll see in February of 2012 how well they've succeeded.
Award-winning British photographer Stacey Hetherington resides in two equine capitals - Wellington, Florida, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although she is best known in exhibits and photography publications for her photographs of thoroughbred racing and polo in the Americans, her work covers many subjects reflecting her extensive travels around the globe, most recently in Outer Mongolia. She maintains a portrait studio in Wellington and teaches photographic workshops. As a member of the International Polo Club Palm Beach, she was ideally positioned to photograph the croquet invitational. You can link directly to all 97 of her photos of the event.
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