Robert Fulford wins AC World Championship for the sixth time
The 2023 WCF AC World Championship was held across 7 clubs in London, England between 15th and 23rd July 2023. The event was sponsored by Rockwell Hurlingham Waterfront developments, Howard Sosin and the Hurlingham Club. 18 countries were represented, coincidentally matching the 18th time this event has been held. There were 9 competitors who had played in the first Championship in 1989, also based at Hurlingham, a testament to the evergreen qualities of croquet players.
The 80 players were divided into 8 blocks of 10, and block play started on the Saturday morning. To the delight of the players, the forecast rain never materialised. Players spent the first 3 days at one of the 7 clubs around London, and the WCF would like to thank all the clubs and their members for not only giving up their lawns during the event, but for the huge volunteer effort preparing beforehand and looking after the players during the event. All the lawns were in excellent repair, many prepared to a much higher quality than previously seen. So, a huge thank you to the Hurlingham Club, Surbiton Croquet Club, Dulwich Croquet Club, Ealing Croquet Club, the Roehampton Club, Woking Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club and a ‘new’ club for the English AC tournament circuit, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club at Wimbledon. Many players were delighted to be able to play at this historic venue.
The blocks proceeded and resulted in just 4 play-offs needed on the Tuesday, fitting nicely onto Hurlingham’s front lawns. To the Manager's delight these were all completed by late afternoon and the draw for the 32 player KO completed on schedule. After the draw, there was an evening BBQ, which was sponsored by Howard Sosin, during which players were treated to a demonstration of Colour Order AC.
Congratulations should go to three of the qualifiers who made it through to the knock-out, despite being ranked 9th in their respective blocks - well done Mark Ormerod, Rob Wilkinson and Euan Burridge. Euan, a recent convert from GC, did extremely well to get through, especially given he hasn’t yet had a Triple Peel. I’m sure he will rectify this very soon! Also of note was the excellent performance of the USCA team, with 8 of their players making it into the knock-out, a quarter of the field. This included 16 year-old Blake Fields, a wild card entry, who looked very impressive at his first AC World Championship. Over half of the knock-out were English, reflecting the strength in depth that England continues to demonstrate.
The first surprise result was the departure of Reg Bamford, beaten in the second round by Alain Giraud. The results show the high quality of play with a TP in all five games. The proliferation of TPs in all the results was remarkable, and reflected the high quality of play throughout, aided by excellent lawn conditions.
However, Alain went out in the next round to an on-fire Tom Balding from the USA. Tom made it into the semi-finals where he lost to Robert Fulford, but he came away with a well earnt bronze medal.
The other semi-final was Matthew Essick, runner up in 2020, versus Robert Fletcher, the 2013 Champion. Matthew came through in 3 straight games, with 3 solid triple peels.
For the finals we were greeted to a mild, sunny day with little wind, ensuring that the spectators and players alike had an enjoyable day. The Hurlingham front lawns were kept full all day with the final stages of the various consolation events, as well as the Main Championship final.
The Manager's Invitational
This event was arranged by Mike Town, the Tournament Manager, to provide more games for players and featured those ranked 9th and 10th in their blocks. It was won by Sandy Greig, representing Ireland, who beat Joakim Norback from Sweden +4.
Players who did not make it into the knock-out compete for the WCF Plate.
This year’s finalists were both from England, featuring Robin Brown and Nick Parish. Robin had beaten Jenny Clarke from New Zealand in his semi, the third game finishing in the morning, whilst Nick beat Callum Hyland from Australia, also in three games, the evening before. Well done to Robin Brown who beat Nick in two games, the first a close +4, the second +26TP.
This event is for the 16 players who lose in the first round of the knock-out. Debbie Lines, England, who did well in her block to win 8 of her 9 games, continued to play well and reached the final against Kyle Maloof from the USA. Kyle has only been playing AC for about 3 years and the quality of his play is impressive. It was unclear who was favourite on paper, both having had a string of TPs to get to the final, however, on the day Debbie won the opening in both games, Kyle’s shooting was not quite working, and Debbie won with two delayed triple peels, +26TP, +26TP.
The second-round losers play for the Shield and were scheduled to play at Wimbledon, much to their delight. Only 5 players competed, resulting in a slightly lopsided draw. Gabrielle Higgins from England, who was this Championship's most successful woman player, making it into the last 16, beat Stephen Morgan, USA, in the quarter-finals +5, +10, but then lost an extremely close semi-final match to James Death, England. Gabrielle won the first with a TP, but in the second finished with clips on Rover and Peg. James hit his ‘last’ shot and proceeded to have a sextuple, then had another in the third game to reach the final.
In the final he met the USA’s Zach Watson who had beaten England’s Harry Fisher +26TP, +10. James failed both his sextuple attempts in the final, but came through to win +21, +17.
The Championship Final
Robert Fulford vs Matthew Essick
Robert won the opening in all 5 games, and went around to 4b, sometimes on the third turn and sometimes on the 4th turn. However, Matthews superb shooting often reclaimed the innings, making this an extremely close and hard fought best of 5 match.
In the first game Matthew hit fourth turn and went round to 4-back. Robert missed the lift and Matthew went round perfectly, completing a sixth turn TP.
In game 2 Matthew missed a 10 yarder third turn and Rob hit and went to 4-back. Matthew again hit the lift but didn’t immediately get going, however, Robert missed a long shot and Matthew went to 4-back. After a few leaves, Matthew had another TP to take a 2–0 lead.
In game 3 Robert again went to 4-back third turn. Matthew hit the long lift shot (again!) and this time made just six hoops before laying for a sextuple. Matthew failed to finish it, ending his turn for penult and peg. Robert didn't try to make a break, but instead had a good defensive leave from which Matthew cornered. Robert finished his triple peel to start his come-back, it’s now 2-1 to Matthew.
Game 4: a supershot opening by Matthew, but his second ball leaves a double which Robert hits and goes to 4-back. Matthew again chooses to take the long lift but misses. Robert completes a solid delayed triple peel to take us into the 5th and deciding game.
In the final game Robert opens with another supershot, Matthew goes to 19 yard position on the East boundary which Robert then misses, but Matthew also misses fourth turn. Robert goes to 4-back and Matthew misses the long lift down the east boundary. Those watching now expect Robert to complete another triple peel to win, however, he gets hoop 1 in the way after making it and can’t get close to his pioneer at hoop 2. He misses the 6 yarder he is left with, and Matthew immediately hits a 12 yarder. Matthew decides to go for a delayed TPO, which he completes extremely well, and he leaves a ball in 1st and 4th corners. Robert takes contact from the ball in 4th corner, splitting it to 3 going to the ball in 1st corner. He then tries to approach hoop 2, but despite getting one yard position, just puts Matthew's ball off the lawn. Some in and out play ensues. Eventually, Matthew two balls it around to hoop 6 and tries to cut his ball to Roberts ball which was hidden in corner 2. If successful, a simple corner canon would ensure him an easy break to the peg and a win, but he misses the cut. Robert hits a 9-10 yard roquet and takes his 3-ball break around to win the championship.
Congratulations to Robert Fulford on winning his 6th World Championship.
Lawn 4 at Hurlingham was filmed every day and the quality of both the camera work and the commentary teams was excellent. Thousands of people from across the World have tuned in to enjoy watching. The WCF would like to thank Steve Allen and his team who were in charge of the streaming. Hurlingham built them a wooden hut to house the equipment and cameras were mounted on posts around the lawn. All the streaming can be watched on the Croquet England YouTube channel, links to which as usual are also to be found on the WCF YouTube AC World Championship Playlist.
For the full results, go to event results on Croquet Scores
Thank you to all the players for coming, to the many officials who worked hard all week to support the players, and the many volunteers working in the background to ensure the event proceeded smoothly. Especial thanks to Mike Town, Tournament Manager, who worked tirelessly to ensure we kept to schedule, to David Openshaw, Tournament Director and to Hugh Carlisle for chairing the Organising Committee.
The next WCF AC World Championship is scheduled for October 2025 in the USA.