A few years ago, croquet player Don Jacobson persuaded the owners of International Polo Club Palm Beach to install a croquet court in the heart of the club complex in Wellington, Florida, a few miles west of West Palm Beach: horse country. The croquet court is nearly perfect and perfectly situated overlooking the polo fields as an added amenity for members of the Polo Club, who also have tennis, swimming, gourmet dining, and other attractions in the central area of the club, adjacent to the polo stadium.
Lord & Lady Laidlaw’s home, Noordhoek Manor, in a suburb of Cape Town, is the venue for his bi-annual croquet event, the Laidlaw International Invitation Tournament. Lord Laidlaw and Lady Christine spend about three months of the northern hemisphere winter at the manor house. The croquet court is slightly undersized but has a spectacular view overlooking Noordhoek and the surrounding mountains, which are also owned by Lord Laidlaw.
Why does Lord Irvine Laidlaw provide such lavish support to a small sport? In Jackson's view, "I can only think that it is because he enjoys the sport very much himself. As to what he intends to accomplish through these events: Absolutely nothing! He just enjoys watching and playing the game. He doesn’t need to accomplish anything, and he has no purpose other than that he is just a very, very wealthy man who has decided to lavish support on croquet in this particular way. I do all the organising, inviting of players, etc., and between us we have decided on the formats of the events he sponsors."
In Florida, on the other hand, croquet pro Rick Landry is aiming for commercial sponsorship and lots of publicity for his five-day event with top-ranked players - including the current world champion, other world champions wanting to regain the title, and the number one players in several other countries to grace the lead paragraphs of his press releases. Landry represents the interests of the club clearly and succinctly: "We intend to produce and host the most prestigious annual invitational in the sport, right here at International Polo Club Palm Beach."
International Polo Club players and purses
At this writing, seven of the eight players have been determined, with the American player to be invited on the basis of December's USCA National Championship in Golf Croquet, to be played at Mission Hills, California:
Mark McInerney, Ireland
The precise composition of the Ireland-US team event in mid-March is yet to be finalized; however, Mark McInerney will definitely play for Ireland, as well as David Bent on the American team. Bent is the croquet pro at the nearby St. Andrews club and a semi-finalist in the 2011 invitational.
The year 2012 is the second year for the South Florida Golf Croquet event. The first year - 2011 - was intended to be equally prestigious, but then the Arab Spring happened, and the two world champion players from Egypt had to cancel. As a croquet competition, the 2011 event was superb, but without the world champion it didn't fully achieve the planners' original purpose.
At the time - February 2011 - Egypt had never lost a world championship. But that changed in midsummer when at the World Championship in England, Mark McInerney of Ireland convincingly defeated the one Egyptian among many Egyptians who made it to the end of the knockout round. The Egyptians are eager to reclaim their position of dominance, and they're sending three-time world champion Khaled Younis to do the deed at International Polo.
But neither player will have a walk to the finals. Stephen Mulliner of England, the 2011 winner, has made the semi-finals and finals many times in top Golf Croquet events; Australia and New Zealand are sending their number one players, and the winner of the US national championship in November will also have a shot at the top purse in the February invitational. The $8,000 purse is small compared to those in major sports, but it's bigger than any other currently offered in the Americas. Polo's follow-up team competition in mid-March is part of an annual INTERNATIONAL WEEKEND pitting three-person American teams against similar teams from other countries. This year, the US opponent is Ireland, with world champion Mark McInerney anchoring the Irish team. The purse for that event is $6,000, for the top three players.
According to Chris Clarke, a New Zealand Golf Croquet event is being organized for January 2012 with prize money likely to be in the region of US $55,000. Ten players from various countries are expected to compete, but at this writing there are no details as to their identities.
The Laidlaw International Invitational: Players and Purses
Lord Laidlaw is offering one of the biggest purses ever proposed in the sport - almost $30,000 in US dollars - to be divided among his eight players. However, his event in Cape Town, where he lives in the South Africa high season, is planned to happen only every other year, as opposed to the Polo events, which are annuals. So when you add it up over two years, the cash infusion is about the same on an annual basis, with Lord Laidlaw's tournament slightly ahead on the numbers.
Every one of Lord Laidlaw's guests will be given a generous purse, headed by the first place winner with around $12,000 - surely the biggest single-player cash purse in croquet history - with the smallest amount, for eighth place, set at about $1200.
The big favorite among the eight-player field in Lord Laidlaw's events is Reg Bamford, a nominal South African who lives and works in England who has placed near the top of several past world championship and for many years has been widely considered the player from the West most likely to unseat the Egyptians at the top of the Golf Croquet worldwide rankings. He won the 2010 Laidlaw invitational and will face the strongest challenge in 2011 from Stephen Mulliner, a remarkably steady competitor who is also the holder of the International Polo Invitational 2011. The entire Laidlaw field is:
Reg Bamford, South Africa
All these prestigious purse events will be given prominent banner coverage in Croquet World Online in January, February and March, 2012.
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