ANDREW REGENSBURG: Croquet Tourneys on Tap at Pinehurst
Winter has ended, and the Pinehurst Croquet Club did not miss a single week of play.
The courts have been beautifully maintained and well used throughout the normal winter doldrums, and the club pro, Ron Lloyd, has set up a very busy 2007 tournament season.
In addition, the club kicked off its social season with a fabulous "Brouhaha" party on one of the rare days when it was cold and rainy on the lawns, so virtually everybody showed up for drinks, hot soup and fun at the Doral home of Isabel and David Oppen.
Also, Lloyd went to Florida in January to compete in the Palm Beach Invitational tournament at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach.
He, along with his partner Chuck Whitlow, won the doubles championship, and he tied for third place in the singles, a fabulous performance against some of the top players in the country. Lloyd also won a most coveted trophy, the "Ruthie," awarded to the leading croquet sportsperson of the year.
Bob Cherry, club president and champion, went to Australia for the MacRobertson Shield World Croquet Championships in 2006 as a member of the U.S. six-man team (four from North Carolina) that took third place, ahead of New Zealand for the first time in the Shield's history. All this is putting Pinehurst more and more on the map as one of the hottest croquet venues in the country.
The 2007 season kicked off with a two-day clinic for players at all levels. The clinic started Saturday and continues through today, teaching the fine points of International (Association) Rules Croquet. The clinic was attended by a dozen or so junior players from Watauga County.
That clinic will be followed on March 22-25 with the N.C. Open qualifying matches for all flights. The N.C. Open Championship Round will be held at Pinehurst beginning on April 12. There will also be several club events, in addition to the regular (open) daily games at 1 p.m. The first will be the Pinehurst Club Sextuple Tournament April 3-5, to be played on three lawns at the Pinehurst Country Club. Sort of like a three-ring circus with mallets -- mostly fun, especially to watch.
Croquet is, believe it or not, the nation's fastest growing participation sport, per the U.S. Croquet Association.
However, a nice thing about this fast growing sport is that it's possible for a player, after a short time, to travel around from one resort to another, and to most private croquet clubs around the country and be able to find a game and someone he or she knows. Although the sport is growing quickly, there are only about 4,000 USCA members in the country, and it doesn't take a long time playing (and socializing afterwards, of course) to recognize someone that you have played with before.
Speaking of meeting people, Pinehurst will be hosting its premier annual event, the Pinehurst 18th Annual Croquet Invitational Tournament Sept. 25-30.
Last year players from all over the country and several from overseas competed. This year it is hoped the event will attract more than 100 attendees. If you're not playing, come and watch -- it's exciting, fun and free. More about that later.
Another neat thing about croquet, both social and tournament play, is the fact that it is very egalitarian.
There is no difference in play between men and women, boys and girls, seniors and novices. The USCA provides a national handicap system that enables anyone at any level to play with anyone.
Tournament play is usually divided into flights depending on handicap levels. For example, the PCC Invitational will have three flights plus a championship flight, but in social play here in Pinehurst higher handicap players and novices can be seen playing with champions, who are unfailingly helpful and courteous to the less experienced or talented players.
Must be something about the fact that we dress alike, all in white. No matter how we play, we all look like champions.
Andrew Regensburg lives in Pinehurst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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