Mission Hills Invitational
February 21-25, 2023
Mission Hills Country Club - Rancho Mirage, CA
The 2023 Mission Hills Invitational tournament was played in Rancho Mirage, CA, February 21-25, using American 6-wicket USCA sanctioned rules. We had players join us from as far as Barring, AK, Denver, CO, Portland, OR and Oklahoma City, OK. Many of the players had returned from tournaments played in Palm Beach, FL and some plan on returning there again in a few weeks.
Croquet is particularly active in the southern states during these winter months. While the weather was very fine during the practice day on Monday, it all turned progressively grim day by day. Cold blistery wind, followed by light drizzle, followed by colder wind and light drizzle. I had a feeling that some of this weather was brought by the players from their trip in Florida, but as a pilot, I know that the weather patterns do not follow that scientific principle. The players, seemingly oblivious to the conditions, marched on through a full schedule of games each day starting at 8 AM ending before sunset at 5 PM.
Following last year’s director instructions by Mike Orgill, I decided to set all game times to 1:45. I think Mike used this time for Championship games only, but I wanted both flights to enjoy the same time standard. I got good feedback from the first flight players and several games saw rover play as well as some pegged out games which is uncommon in the American rules game when played with shorter times.
We started the tournament with a day dedicated to Doubles. With a limited number of entries, it was decided by the tournament committee to combine both Championship and First Flight players together; some teams having picked their partners. Handicap Doubles is the solution!
Handicap doubles is interesting in American rules. Each team averages their handicaps, then the team with the higher average receives extra shots, either continuation or do-over bisques. These rules are all covered under Part 15 of the rulebook.
Only the higher handicap player on the team receiving the bisques may use the extra shots (unless both players have matching handicaps) unless the tournament regulations state otherwise.
At the end of Tuesday’s cross-block play, the semi-finals were played in the afternoon leaving the final to be played Thursday afternoon between two championship players, Conner Helms and Donna Dixon (-0.5 average), against two First Flight players, Nick Gray and Bill Sullivan (7.0 average). Lots of spectators watched this game with interest and in the end, Bill Sullivan dominated the match by getting his ball to rover to help his partner ball.
Near the end of the game, Conner and Donna got going and had a winning break to take the lead. Bill could have used his “half-bisque” defensively to take that break setup away but all the teams I watched seemed to struggle with any strategy to use those “half-bisques”. The problem being with them, is that a player may not score a point during that turn after using one (so a player cannot play a half bisque followed by a full bisque and score a point during that turn). Bill and Nick took the final game to victory, 19-16.
Several of the Championship players found themselves battling back from difficult positions. The American game is a good mix of deadness rules, in-game/out-game, rotation play, and tight boundaries. Peter Bach found his form after block play staying in the winner’s bracket of the double elimination format until being defeated by Paul Bennett on Friday. This put Peter down in the loser’s bracket waiting to see which of four remaining players he would play next: Patrick Sweeney, Conner Helms, Donna Dixon or Steve Scalpone.
After defeating Patrick Sweeney, Conner Helms defeated Steve Scalpone (the first place seed after block play) in the next round, leading to a matchup Saturday morning between Conner and Peter Bach. This game was pretty good. Connor was able to get two breaks most of the way around before Peter found a way to get his black ball into the game. Peter cut through to take the match 20-19.
Peter, then having advanced to last man standing in the loser’s bracket, played Paul Bennett. Another game back and forth, found Paul running an all-around break to rover with a leave for his yellow ball at six. Peter shot at the open ball at six, missed it, but ended up through the jaws of 6 and just on the north side of six. Yellow, still 3-ball dead, tried a half jump but failed leaving blue a short shot and a break for his ball at 1-back. Blue went around, pegged out red and left a nice leave for black. Black made 4, then 5, but missed blue at 6 leaving the court 1 point down and 45 seconds to play. Paul shot at and missed blue near the peg. Blue went to black and black tied the score by making 6 then sent blue out by the peg to win in next rotation. Yellow failed again to hit and blue won the first game, 19-18.
We then took a break from the match for an English lunch inside Tommy Tucker’s café (inside the tennis pro-shop). The soup and chicken taco salad were a perfect selection on that cold blistery day. Trophies were awarded after the lunch for First Flight Singles and Handicap Doubles and we resumed play shortly thereafter.
In the last game, Peter took the early jump on Paul when he failed to make hoop 1 with his red ball by drag jumping red into the game with black. This led to two early break attempts before Paul could know what was happening. The game did finally get a bit more even when Paul attacked over and over again to try to claw his way back into the match.
Good luck, bad luck, tight hoops, slower lawn conditions due to the rain, deadness, etc made for yet another exciting last game. Spectators, despite the weather, could not leave the game and persisted in watching it. It was tied hoop for hoop near the end and Peter managed to continue to play brilliantly defeating Paul, 19-16.
It all came down to two plays, where Paul ran a break around to peg and tried to get his partner ball in front of 4 after the break failed, and Peter ran a similar break around to the peg but managed to get his partner ball in front of 4 to seal the deal (red and black were both 3 ball dead).
Be sure to mark your calendar to join us next year for the Mission Hills American Rules 6-wicket tournament. We would love to have you play in our tournament and promise to give notice earlier next year. We can accommodate at least 32 players.
1. Bill Sullivan & Nick Gray
2. Donna Dixon & Conner Helms
3. Jane Helms & Patrick Sweeney
Ron Eccles & Mary Rodeberg
5. Bess Hayes & Richard Hayes
Championship Flight Singles
1. Peter Bach
2. Paul Bennett
3. Conner Helms
4. Steve Scalpone
5. Donna Dixon
7. Mary Rodeberg
First Flight Singles
1. Ron Eccles
2. Nick Gray
3. Bill Sullivan
4. Jane Helms
5. Myron McCumber
7. Bess Hayes