26th Annual Berkshire invitational
June 9-13th 2021
The town of Lenox, Massachusetts, nestled in the Berkshire Hills, is charming on steroids. Historic architecture’s mixed with gourmet restaurants, antique shopping, boutiques and art galleries. Half a mile from the Town Center is the Lenox Croquet Club, located at the bottom of the hill from the Lenox Club, a private club founded in 1864.
The planning for this 26th Invitational began months ago and involved every member of this small club. COVID considerations played a great part, although by the time of the event, 100% of the participants were vaccinated. Invitations were sent and the response was overwhelming and a waiting list was created. Tents and tables were ordered to expand the hospitality of the club pavilion. Menus were created. Rooms in the historic Lenox Club were reserved for tournament participants, effectively transforming it into a croquet frat house; minus the kegs but including the laughter and practical jokes. The lucky guests had the best commute ever.
In the end, Lenox hosted their largest ever roster of 34 participants. Of particular pride is that almost 50% of the participants had a double-digit handicap, and many were playing in their first tournament. Lenox chose to have a singles only tournament in order to accommodate the most games for the most players. The format was 2 days of block play, into a seeded ladder. Blocks were seeded and named Blue, Red, Black, and Yellow.
The weather was croquet perfect – not too hot or cold with only the threat of precipitation. Players arriving for Wednesday practice were welcomed with a gift bag and checked for vaccines. The Lenox (members only!) Culinary Crew served up hand-crafted artisan appetizers and libation. On Thursday, The Lenox Croquet Club pavilion was a hub of activity for the Blue, Red and Black flights. Breakfast and lunch again presented by the Culinary Crew (how did they find the time?) as they enjoyed their breakfast buffet and battled their way through 2 days of tightly-seeded blocks. Did I mention that most of the Culinary Crew was also playing?! And the same for the greens keeper, custodian, tournament manager and club muscle, new member, George Claffey, who is not only young and strong, but also the added benefit of a truck.
It was the first tournament ever for almost every player in the Yellow Flight. They
were delighted to find themselves on the Lenox Club lawn, well away from observation!
They were also able to enjoy the charms of the porch and gardens. A serene setting punctuated with cries of surprise and dismay and much laughter.
Every afternoon concluded with Toast & Tally at the pavilion, hosted by the
Energizer Bunnies of the Lenox Croquet Club. It seems to be the cost of membership.
Everyone pitching in, from top to bottom. All outdoing each other in effort.
Each person nicer than the next. From the greenskeeper (just one of our national champions…) to the ‘grill man’ and ‘custodian’ (who came in second in the Black flight) to the culinary crew who fed us while challenging us on the greens.
Then the evenings were free to explore the town of Lenox and its amazing selection of wonderful restaurants.
Friday night revealed the block results. Some obvious: Stuart Lawrence won the Blue block. But of course, against a champion like Stuart, the story is really the quiet fellow, Calvert Chaney, who managed the only defeat Stuart experienced in the tournament. Calvert now has a story forever. Richard Carlson was moved up into this block, and he had a wonderful time, swimming with the sharks in the deep end.
Courtney Green was a human buzz saw in the Red block. He went 6-0, with the competition in a tight pack at his heels, led by Pat Spratt, Martie Ekstrom, Bill Miller and Sally McGrath.
The “Green Machine” continued in the Black block. Just moved up from the Yellow block, newcomer Kathleen Green was virtually tied with veteran Anne Licursi in the block. Although Kathleen did not ultimately win the flight, she did drop her handicap by 2 points! She also earned the Most Improved Player award. Another player on the move was Lester Taufen, also up from Yellow. He is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” masked a superb tactician and shooter who secured 4 wins in the blocks.
The Yellow block had its own buzz saw, Michael Jeary, who was the only other undefeated player in the blocks. His gentlemanly demeanor made it somewhat bearable. Clint Holland, who has severely impaired vision and a handicap in the bottom of the block, did not let that stop him from winning 3 out of 5 games! Honorable mention, Mary Ann Taufen, who was the bottom seed and very nervous about being ‘good enough’ to play ended up with 2 wins, and 16 + tracking points. Sounds good enough to me!
The Blue, Red and Black flights featured a best 2 out of 3 seeded playoff.
Those rounds were cut-throat, especially the few that went all 3 rounds.
The Semi-Finals were sudden death and equally hard fought. Combatants who fell in the semis included the two undefeated in the blocks. Croquet gives, and it takes. And again, those fortunate victors can lay claim to ‘slaying the dragon’. Just ask ‘Captain’ John Welch, who proudly takes credit for assuring victory in Yellow to a member of the Sandwich Club. In addition to Courtney Green and Michael Jeary, this group of 3rd place finishers includes David Ekstrom, David McCoy, Pat Spratt, Lester Taufen, Kathleen Green and Jean Lynch. David Ekstrom’s victory is his story of only falling to Stuart Lawrence by 1 wicket in overtime. Epic. So close, and yet.
The Finals featured Stuart Lawrence versus Webster Bull in Blue, Sally McGrath versus Bill Miller in Red, Anne Licursi versus Denys Shorthouse in Black and Karen Kay versus John Welch in Yellow. The victors are listed first. And proving that nice guys do sometimes finish first, Karen Kay not only won her flight, coming up from near the bottom of the seed, but she also won the Sportsmanship Award. As is so often the case, going into the tournament, her goal was to win one game. And no tournament is complete without mentioning all the friends and family who support the participants. Yellow had an entire cheering section for most of the play, who took great care of the players, especially with board-keeping.
The players and guests were treated to an old fashioned New England cookout. Tournament Manger David Ekstrom presided over the award ceremony, with the assistance of Tournament Directors, Tom & Loretta Cooper. As the crystal awards were distributed, we realized that women had won 3 out of 4 flights, a great achievement for women in croquet!
It was a wonderful invitational, from days of old, before COVID changed everything. A terrific example of the little engine that could, as the members of the Lenox Club all pitched into to create an event that was a real pleasure to attend. Everyone left with that lovely feeling of wanting to return, work on their game, keep playing croquet and reunite at future tournaments with the many new friends made and old acquaintances renewed at Lenox. The Berkshire Invitational featured a picturesque venue, gracious hospitality, a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and good competitive croquet. Put this one on your bucket list.
David Ekstrom, Tournament Manager
Tom and Loretta Cooper, Tournament Directors
1. Stuart Lawrence
2. Webster Bull
3. David Ekstrom
3. David McCoy
5. Richard Carlson
5. Calvert Chaney
5. Lloyd Hadden
5. Preston Stuart
First Flight Singles
1. Sally McGrath
2. Bill Miller
3. Courtney Green
3. Pat Spratt
5. Martie Ekstrom
5. David Kepner
5. Ed Gardella
5. Rita McNamara
Second Flight Singles
1. Anne Licursi
2. Denys Shorthouse
3. Lester Taufen
3. Kathleen Green
5. John McGrath
5. Hilary Michaels
5. Katie Bull
5. Liddy Chaney
Third Flight Singles
1. Karen Kay
2, John Welch
3. Michael Jeary
3. Jean lynch
5. Douglas Greeff
5. Clint Holland
5. John Morgan
5. Mary Anne Taufen
5. Carol Stuart
5. George Claffey