Palm Beach Croquet Club Invitational Won by Ben Rothman
Archie Peck looked confused. Perhaps the word ‘mesmerized’ would be more appropriate. No, that’s just not quite right either. He was in his office staring at poster boards, his eyes glued to them somewhat like the photos about to be attached. And there were hundreds of photos. “Look at this,” he said, his hands embracing a picture showing four decades of wear and tear. “And this,” he continued, his fingers now reaching for a more recent moment captured in time. No, he was not confused, but reflective. With only two days left before the start of the Palm Beach Croquet Club Invitational, celebrating the Club’s 40th year, Archie was seeing quite clearly, even through the misty eyes now visible as he moved from shot to shot. And with ‘the party’ so close at hand, there was still much work to be done.
As with croquet in general, the PBCC has indeed come a long way in forty years. The matches in the beginning were of the nine-wicket version and ‘ball-in-hand’ was a thing of the future. Play was held at the court of Lillian Phipps and at The Colony Hotel, upon which a palm tree stood between wickets three and four. Colored clothing was the rage and, as rumor has it, sometimes optional. The bar, of course, always seemed to be open.
The Club, and the Invitational, moved to The Breakers Hotel in the mid-seventies. In the mid-eighties, Singles was introduced to the event and aggressive Calcuttas brought interest to those even not within the actual competition. Courts were used throughout the entire Palm Beach area. And while the Calcuttas have gone by the wayside, the high level of play certainly has not, the Invitational always proving to be one of the most competitive throughout the country.
The numbers that accompany these forty years are beyond impressive. Should you glance down a list of the people inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame, note the number that either were or are a PBCC member. The same goes for National Championships. And if you want the exactly figures, talk to Archie Peck; he has not only been here since the beginning, but has served as the PBCC President for more than half of the duration. If you have the time for a story or a hundred, catch him in his office, the photos still scattered about in a random collage of forty fantastic years.
This year, with the renovation of the Breaker’s court just completed, all matches occurred at the National Croquet Center. Seventy-two participants within four Flights migrated about the ten lawns in use. Games lasted one hour and twenty minutes and, as is always the case, the seven days allowed for plenty of play. Block matches led to double-elimination ladders in singles and single-elimination ladders in doubles. And, as if on cue, the weather was fantastic.
In the Championship Flight Singles, in which 24 of the 32 players advanced, Rich Curtis (–.5), John Osborn (–2.5) and Doug Grimsley (–1.5) survived block play with 6-0 records, all receiving one of the coveted eight byes. Of course, a bye is not always what it is cracked up to be, Curtis and Grimsley both losing their first Playoff game to Missy Ramey (1) and Mike Gibbons (.5) respectively. Linda Huxtable (3!) made some noise with initial Playoff victories over Johnny Mitchell (–1) and Norris Settlemyre (–1) before finally losing to Osborn. It was Peter Just (–.5) and Ben Rothman (–.5) who would eventually reach the semi-final portion within the winner’s bracket. Rothman would then defeat (26-5) Ted Knopf (–1 and a semi-finalist for the second straight year) and Osborn would twice defeat the much-improved Peter Just. In the Finals it was all Rothman, playing aggressively and being rewarded for it with a 26-2 victory.
Ruth Summers (2.5) began block play poorly in the First Flight Singles but came to life when it counted with an 11-7 Finals’ victory over Bill Hamilton (3). Jim Saunders (5) overcame Sandy Walsh (7) in the Second Flight with a 16-11 win and newly married Conrad Rugart (9) defeated Gisa Wagner (10) to claim Third Flight honors.
In Doubles action, where teams were loosely set up in a high-low fashion, Doug Grimsley & Larry Moore captured the Championship Flight with a 17-7 exhibition over Rich Curtis & Missy Ramey. Ron Huxtable & Betty Whitlow looked much the best in defeating David McCoy & Bill Taft (16-6) in the First Flight. Carl Myer & Eileen Holberg captured the Second Flight (13-11) over Jerry Luecke & Sally Winmill while Gisa Wagner & Jodie Rugart just overcame Tibbi Johnson & Rich Watson (13-12) for the Third Flight Title.
The Ruthie Award, presented to the participant who demonstrates both sportsmanship and the willingness to assist in the smooth running of such a large event, went to Doug Grimsley. And who said he was crazy pounding wickets on ten courts each morning?
While darkness did fall upon the lawns each day, some of the most memorable action during every PBCC Invitational has always occurred at night. Aside from the regular Opening Ceremony and Final’s Luncheon, the Participant’s Dinner, held at the NCC, was obviously special this year. Stories were shared, jokes were abundant and the wine never stopped flowing. Another highlight of the week was the four cocktail/dinner parties held at individual homes. Thanks go out to Ruth Summers, Patricia Duncan, Lauren Hammond and Stewart & Josie Jackson for their great hospitality. Let it also be said that the lunches throughout the week were wonderful and kept everyone’s energy level high, energy that was certainly needed!
Reflecting back upon the long history of the PBCC, a glance at the perpetual trophies tells but a piece of the story. The Tankoos Trophy, the Supper Cup, the Lawford Trophy, the Clayton Trophy, the Harold Brown Trophy and the Ruthie (Summers) give homage to but a few of those who have made the Club so memorable. This year a new trophy (for the Third Flight Singles) was introduced in the honor of Digby Bridges. For years, Digby has worked tirelessly to collect, import (from South Africa) and construct the amazing Verdite awards handed out to the lucky winners. Hard it is to find a tournament where third place trophies are so valued, and few know the incredible effort it takes to offer such wonderful prizes.Likewise, general thanks go out to all of the Club members instrumental in making every PBCC Invitational so enjoyable. Special mention goes out to Ruth Summers, Stewart and Josie Jackson and, of course, Archie Peck for putting everything together … poster boards and all. The PBCC looks forward to next year and ten years from now, when another decade of great memories will be on display!