Only once before have the WCF World Championship and British Opens been combined - and that was in 1989, for the first WCF world event. Now, 12 years later, this "killer combo" has produced such a strong event that entry to the popular Sonoma-Cutrer world championship in May was affected adversely. New Zealand players with limited vacation time chose the official WCF championship instead.
Everything favors the Brits this year. Although the Jacques Fournier is on hand as an American dark horse, his strong compatriots - Taves and Stark - are at home and boosting American odds. The American Solomon Trophy team players are competing in the World Championship, but they’re a rookie-heavy team, way down in the rankings.
Some of the Australian and New Zealand players, on the other hand, place high in the rankings, but historically their performance numbers in England don’t match their ranking numbers. Also, they’re out of their playing season and on unfamiliar lawns.
That leaves England. You have to look at Fulford, Bamford, and Mulliner to find the likely winner. They are the three top-ranked players.
In his welcome to players in the official program, Event Director David Openshaw explains just how the 80 players were selected: "One of our aims was to provide places for any of the top fifty players in the world who wanted to play. This we have achieved. We also wanted to provide additional places for both British players and overseas players. That is why we planned for a tournament with 80 players. In fact there was a very high demand for places. The CA responded to this by providing a qualifying competition with four places in the main event available. This enabled over ninety-five players to compete..."
Four venues in the South West of London
All the venues for the World Championships are in the South West of London, with the main events and the largest share of play at Hurlingham. The Solomon Trophy matches immediately following the World Championships will all be at Surbiton, about a half hour from Hurlingham, July 9-14.
HURLINGHAM is an independent club, but is known as the "home" of the croquet, because the English Croquet Association’s offices are there. It is on a bend of the river Thames - which sometimes is a noisy problem when helicopters "cut the corner" of the bend in the river and fly right over the courts.
Hurlingham is a large park-like country club, and croquet is only a part of it’s many activities. Of some 5000 members, about 100 play croquet a bit. Hurlingham puts into action a maximum of 10 croquet lawns - six permanent and four converted from the cricket outfield which are of surprisingly good quality. The grass is sometimes over-green, but in the best conditions the lawns can be very good.
The major sport at Hurlingham is tennis. Hurlingham has more grass courts than Wimbleton.
There is a five-year waiting list for joining the club - but less if you know the right people. Fans of the Nottingham Board will recall that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were denied membership when they were still together and in London doing film a couple of years ago - a situation that outraged publicity-wise players who maintained that croquet’s popularity would have immediately zoomed if only pictures of Tom and Nicole with mallets appeared in the press.
Hurlingham is not quite as posh as some London clubs that are more receptive to new money and foreigners. The dress code is strict, and the rules of decorum are many: No flashes on your tennis shorts; no sitting on the grass in front of the main building; no mobile phones to be used except in the car park (English for "parking lot").
Inside dining tip: The food is expensive, but the best bargains are the baked potatoes and the the children’s menu - which they will sell to adults. Hurlingham’s reputation for beer is no good, so the experts go elsewhere for their serious drinking. For offsite dining, there is the riverside café near Putney Bridge station - a classic greasy spoon that serves chips (deep-fried potatoes) with everything.
Some players are uncomfortable in the exceptionally upper-class environment of Hurlingham; word has it that members treat the staff like 19th Century servants.
PARSONS GREEN is a medium sized multi-sports club, with principally tennis, bowls and squash. Their two croquet lawns are of reasonable standard. With few members, the club is said to be slowly dying. It lies east of Hurlingham and is a haven for heavy smokers. Because there is no dedicated parking and limited metered parking on the street, some players will park in Hurlingham and enter Parsons Green through the back gate. There is no serious dining at Parsons Green, just some nibblies at the bar.
ROEHAMPTON is another multi-sports club, popular with the Japanese. The main sport is golf, with a full 18-hole course, but there is also tennis, squash, and croquet, of course. Roehampton was at one time the headquarters of the Croquet Association. Today it has three lawns, considered slow but of reasonable quality. Roehampton is the home of the legendary Nigel Aspinall, who will act as Richard Hilditch’s deputy and referee for five days at the Roehampton courts during the World Championship. Roehampton’s food is generally considered the best of the large clubs. There is a no-nonsense canteen above their large changing rooms.
SURBITON is a relatively new club, built about 15 years ago on old tennis courts in a public park. Surbiton’s appeal is to a cross-section of the community, even though it’s in a relatively well-off London suburb. Surbiton boasts seven lawns, but one is out of service for resurfacing and two others are in substandard condition after excessive rain this winter. It is possible that only four of the lawns will be deemed useable. All the Solomon Trophy matches are scheduled to be played at Surbiton. The Solomon is the annual week-long team competition between England and the United States.
The lawns at Surbiton look pretty good, but not as nice as a standard green US style Lawn, as they are not feed and watered every day.
The club, run by George Noble, boasts fine beer with hand-drawn pumps from a cellar. The homemade food can be pretentious and pricey but is considered very good.
The playing schedule
Thursday, June 28
Friday, June 29
Saturday, June 30
Sunday, July 1
Mon-Wed, July 2-4
Wed eve/Thurs am, July 4-5
Thursday, July 5
Friday, July 6
Saturday, July 7
Sunday, July 8
[We are much indebted to Richard Hilditch, tournament manager for the World Championship, for the information in this preview story. Come back to www.CroquetWorld throughout these major events for comprehensive continuing coverage all the way through to the end of the Solomon Trophy Matches on July 9 on our Events Board.]
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