Bowls round-up: International Open makes return at venue that was home to elephants
At the start of a new year, it’s nice to have some good news – and last week’s announcement that next month’s Welsh Grand Prix, that had to be cancelled because BBC Wales pulled the plug, will be re-born as the International Open, will warm the hearts of bowls fans.
Sponsored by Co-operative Funeralcare, the World Bowls Tour International Open will be staged from February 3 to 8 at the Blackpool Newton Hall club, which occupies the building that was once the elephant house in the winter quarters of the famous Blackpool Circus.
The International Open was last played in 2008, when Darren Burnett won the title in Burgess Hill, but the BBC decided it could no longer afford to cover it on network TV, and it is good to see it make a return – even without network coverage.
A new agreement between the World Bowls Tour and the English Indoor Bowling Association, who have signed up with Premier TV, means that coverage of the Open, among other things, will be available online and as a pay-per-view package on Sky TV.
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Horizon TV, who operate under the name 247.tv, aim to provide blanket coverage of bowls at all levels every week of the year, one of their first ventures being the national men’s and women’s under 25 championships in Bristol, on 26 and 27 of this month.
First, however, we have the professional sport’s flagship event – the world indoor bowls championships – which will be played, as ever, at Potters Leisure Resort near Lowestoft from January 10 to 27.
Can Anglo-Scot Andy Thomson, who has just been handed an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List, retain the title, just as he did in 1995?
Or can world number one Paul Foster follow up his Scottish International Open triumph with his fifth world indoor singles title? – Or can Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall consummate his love affair with Potters by winning the crown for a record sixth time?
There’s a lot at stake this year, because Potters have raised the first prize to £45,000 – perhaps a less-than-staggering figure when compared with what’s on offer in darts and snooker, but a world record for the sport of bowls.
As well as the world ‘open’ singles, there’s the pairs, the mixed pairs and the women’s singles to be decided before the month is over – and WBT officials are delighted to confirm that the BBC will be transmitting coverage of the final stages of all four events.
At this time of year, it is traditional to look back on the highlights of the previous year, and forward to our expectations of the next 12 months.
Last winter, Somerset reached the Liberty Trophy final for the second year running, and, glory be, they are still in the frame for a place in this year’s final, though they will find Essex a hard nut to crack at Loddon Vale (Basingstoke) in next week’s quarter- finals.
Westlecot’s Neil Smith qualified for the world indoor singles championship in Potters, and put up a spirited display – but had to give best to world number 13 Jason Greenslade in the first round.
Smith was also in the Wootton Bassett trio, along with James Nobbs and Gary Morphett, that reached the final of the national outdoor triples championship at Worthing in August, while Wiltshire, under new team manager Dave Snell, finished runners up in the Middleton Cup.
In February, Yeovil’s Edna Bessell paid a visit to Buckingham Palace to be installed a Member of the British Empire for services to bowls, but the Yate indoor bowls club, near Bristol, were facing eviction from the Yate Sports Centre.
Later, the Prattens club green that was badly damaged when an air balloon tragically crashed on New Year’s Day, 2011, was pronounced fit for play, but the Isle of Wedmore indoor green was seriously damaged by floods, and had to be replaced.
One club that will never be the same again is the historic Bridgwater club in Durleigh Road, which has opened its doors to women members for the first time, while the Clarence club in Weston-super-Mare received the Club of the Year award from Bowls England.
Louis Ridout, who divides his time between Ilminster in the summer and Torquay United in the winter, had a fantastic 2012. He received the England Young Male Bowler of the Year award, and played for his country indoors and out at junior and senior level.
He was also named as reserve for the England team to compete in the world outdoor championships in Adelaide, where Graham Shadwell bagged a bronze medal in the pairs with Ridout’s Torquay United clubmate Jamie Chestney.
Shadwell also hit the headlines when he won the Clarrie Dunbar men’s fours title, which you might think was no big deal for an international star – but it was a very special victory, because his sons, James, nine, and Kenzie, who is only five, were part of the team.
Last April, Shadwell had reached the semi-finals of the national men’s indoor singles championship in Nottingham, while Clevedon’s Stef Branfield was pipped in the semi- finals of the equivalent women’s event.
During the year, Branfield played for England at junior level indoors and out, and made her senior international debut in the series in Bangor, where she was ‘promoted’ to play third to star skip Amy Gowshall.
Branfield’s Clevedon clubmate Laura Holden made a highly successful junior outdoor international debut in the under 25 series in Llanelli, and the two will line up with Somerset county colleague Kirsty Hembrow in the indoor series in Bromsgrove next month.
Another former Somerset star, Amy Stanton, who now plays out of Malvern Hills, is highly regarded on the international scene, and created a remarkable record in October, when she won the women’s world indoor singles title for the third year running.
Somerset’s women did well to reach the semi-finals of the Johns trophy, but were well beaten by eventual champions Lincolnshire, while octogenarian Margaret Dyer and 23-year-old Stef Branfield qualified for the nationals in ten events between them.
But they were upstaged at Leamington by Joan Walmsley and Judith Staunton, who walked off with the all-England over 55 pairs title. Gloucestershire girls made their first appearance in the Amy Rose Bowl, and did well to beat Middlesex before bowing out to Somerset.
Three ‘local’ officials were seen in action all over the world, with Gloucestershire’s Andy Ewens appearing regularly on television, Burnham butcher Mike Davies officiating at the World Champion of Champions in Cyprus, and Angie Watkins, from Ilminster, wielding her measure at the world outdoor championships in Adelaide.
KEY DATES IN 2013
Jan 10-27 WBT World Indoor Championships at Potters Leisure Resort (Hopton-on-Sea, Norfolk)
Jan 26-27 English men’s and women’s indoor under 25 singles championships at Bristol.
Feb 2-3 British Isles women’s indoor under 25 international series at Bromsgrove.
Feb 3-5 English men’s and women’s indoor Champion of Champions singles at Lakeside (Hayling Island).
Feb 9-10 British Isles men’s indoor under 25 international series at Newport.
Feb 3-8 World Bowls Tour Co-operative Funeralcare International Open in Blackpool.
Feb 12-16 English national indoor championships (Phase One) at Northampton.
Feb 21 English women’s indoor inter-club championship (Yetton Trophy) final at Melton Mowbray.
Feb 21-Mar 2 English national indoor championships (Phase Two) at Melton Mowbray.
Mar 3 English indoor mixed inter-club championship (Egham Trophy) final at Egham.
Mar 8-10 British Isles women’s indoor international series at Stanley.
Mar 11-13 British Isles men’s and women’s championships at Stanley.
Mar 14-16 British Isles men’s indoor international series at Stanley.
Mar 22-24 TLH national mixed Top Club championship finals at Torquay.
Mar 28-Apr 7 English national indoor championships (Phase Three) at Nottingham.
Apr 1 English men’s indoor over-60 inter-county final at Nottingham.
Apr 6 English women’s inter-county (Atherley Trophy) final at Nottingham.
Apr 7 English men’s indoor inter-county (Liberty Trophy) final at Nottingham.
Apr 9-17 World Bowls World Cup at Warilla (NSW).
Apr 13 English men’s indoor inter-club championship (Denny Cup) – semi-finals and final at Chelmsford.
Jun 16-20 British women’s outdoor championships & international series in Glasgow.
Jun 27-30 British men’s outdoor championships & international series in Dublin.
July 21-22 British women’s outdoor under 25 international series at Ballymena.
July 27-Aug 11 English women’s national championships at Royal Leamington Spa.
Aug 10-25 English men’s national outdoor championships at Worthing.
Aug 24 English men’s national outdoor inter-county final (Middleton Cup) at Worthing.
Sep 7/8 British men’s outdoor under 25 international series at Llandrindod Wells, Mid- Wales.
Sep 14/15 English women’s Top Club championship finals at Royal Leamington Spa.
Sep 29-Oct 4 European team championships in Alicante
Nov 2-9 World Bowls Tour Co-operative Funeralcare Scottish International Open in Perth.
Nov 9-17 Hong Kong International Classic in Kowloon.
Nov 24-Dec 1 World Outdoor Champion of Champions singles in Christchurch (NZ).
Planetbowls.com Open Singles tournament in Bournemouth – Quarter-finals: S Edwards bt M Sykes 9-4, 8-2; B Paulley bt M Puckett 9-3, 1-7, 2-1; S Holland bt L Ridout 3-7, 7-5, 2-0; B J Byles bt N Coad 9-5, 6-5. Semi-finals: Byles bt Paulley 6-3, 7-3; Holland bt Edwards 5-5, 6-5. Final: Byles bt Holland 9-3, 7-5.
Planetbowls-com Open Singles tournament in Spalding – Quarter- finals: M Spencer bt E Elmore 6-2, 8-3; G Smith bt J Needham 10-1, 7-3; S Dunham bt W Willgress 7-1, 6-7, 2-0; N Brett bt J Walker 7-5, 7-7. Semi-finals: Smith bt Spencer 9-3, 8-4; Brett bt Dunham 7-1, 7-3. Final: Smith bt Brett 7-2, 8-4.
County teams – Somerset under 25 v Ilminster (20 January, 2pm) – Rink 1: C Francis (Yeovil), L Townsend (Watchet), T Adams (Taunton Deane), L Hembrow (Taunton Deane). Rink 2: E Dando (Purnell), E Bruce (Purnell), J Sully (Minehead), C Harrod (Watchet). Rink 3: J Goodland (Yeovil), R White (Bristol), G Aldridge (Taunton Deane), T Shattock (Taunton Deane). Reserve: B Francis (Yeovil).