PROLONGED heavy rain on Bank Holiday Monday welcomed just 10 players for the traditional start of Scarborough Council’s Gambart Baines Challenge Cup competition on the Alexandra Gardens greens.
And P Vayro (Leeds) became the first qualifier for the 2011 October finals when he defeated S Laycock (Doncaster) 21-18.
The Gambart, as it is affectionately known, is named after its founder, Ernest Gambart Baines, and was first competed for in 1919.
Throughout the summer for many years the competition attracted to the Alexandra greens thousands of players to take part in qualifying rounds in attempts to gain a place in the September grand finals and progress to the big money prizes.
Many made it part of their annual holiday in the town and, having been accompanied by their families, this gave a boost to the local economy.
Forty or more years ago - when interest in the sport soared because of regular TV coverage of crown green events - there were about 1,500 entries a year for the Gambart.
In recent years, however, entries have been falling, and since the turn of the century entries have never topped 1,000. In 2001 there were 946 and in 2002 there were 973, by 2009 entries had dropped to 548 but in 2010 there was a slight rise to 572.
Scarborough Council, which promotes the competition, has neither the staff nor the finances to operate the weekly and bank holiday qualifying rounds, and that is where volunteer helpers are essential.
For many years a handful of local bowls enthusiasts have been working to save the competition from extinction.
Some volunteers make themselves available throughout the summer from 9.30am until finishing time, which can be around 5pm, every Thursday and each Bank Holiday Monday until late September. And again on finals day.
In return for their services and dedication to the sport the council makes a donation to the game’s local governing body, Scarborough & District Crown Green Bowling Association.
The association then makes a proportionate donation to the volunteers’ clubs.
Qualification for the finals presents an opportunity to win a top prize of £1,000, with £500 for the runner-up, and varying amounts from £30 upwards depending on how far players progress.
Although competitors come from all parts of the country there have been several local winners of the cash prize and the magnificent Gambart Baines trophy.
Local man FW Vasey carried it off in 1922, North Cliff’s Harry Thorpe in 1945, Eastfield’s Gordon Ashmore in 1978 and 1984. Eastfield’s Wilf Walker, at 70, became the oldest winner in 1988, Whitby’s Mick Jessop won it on his birthday in 1989.
Most recent local winner was Jason Gildroy, of Whitby, in 1998 and 2000.
Although many wrongly regard crown green bowls as being an old man’s sport, Wakefield’s Craig Newton won the Gambart in 1995 when he was only 18 year old. Over the past 20 years Chesterfield’s Andrew Spragg has won it a record six times - in 1991, 1994, 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2010 - the only player to have won it more than twice.
Qualifying rounds this year will run every Thursday until September 28 and on Bank Holiday Monday August 29.
The final will be on Saturday October 8.
Entries are accepted at Scarborough Indoor Bowls Centre, tel (01723) 353992.