by Tony Jackman
The Gold Coast Congress was born in 1962 when, following a suggestion from Tim Seres, Queensland Bridge pioneer Dr George McCutcheon organized the week long congress at Surfers Paradise, already a popular holiday resort. The field of 15 tables played in the underground conference room in the Chevron Hotel. Everyone loved it and bookings were immediately made for the following years. The congress moved into the Chevron Hotel’s new convention centre in 1964 where it stayed until 1988.
The format, effectively a five session (two qualifying, three final) pairs followed by three days of teams culminating in a final, and closing with a social walk-in event and presentation dinner, has scarcely been changed over the life of the congress. Minor changes include an extra mid week walk-in event and rescheduling the Thursday sessions for an earlier start to allow everyone a “free night”.
The move to the ANA Hotel for the 1989 congress was triggered when the Chevron management advised that their site was going to be redeveloped. This move added considerable prestige to the congress. Numbers continued to increase and it became an annual struggle to find much needed additional space in the ANA Hotel. Separate Senior (over 55) and Restricted (under 150mps) Teams events were first held in 2001, and were played in the nearby Gold Coast International Hotel.
Vu Graph was first used to show the Teams final in 1968.
The Congress is pleased to welcome an increasing number of overseas visitors, from countries including the US, UK, Japan, Indonesia and Poland. These visitors include leading players, directors and teachers who have made valued contributions to the congress, as well as winning a number of titles.
Many people contribute to the Gold Coast Congress continued success. The QBA Management Team, Congress Convenor, Directors, Scorers, Caddies, Board Dealers, ANA Management and staff, and the players who return year after year.
Update - February 2011
Recent Times - Over to Therese and the Convention Centre
After the 2004 Congress it was obvious that our venues - two conference floors at both ANA and GCI - were almost at capacity and a site move had to be planned. Time for a 'hospital pass', as footballers say. I had decided to step down and this seemed the right time. We were fortunate to find Therese Tully willing to take over. She has been in charge since then and has done magnificently. With her team, spearheaded by QBA manager Kim Ellaway and CTD Laurie Kelso, she coped with the last two crowded years at the existing venues, and managed the negotiations and planning for the impending move to the new Gold Coast Convention Centre at Broadbeach. There was some terror - Would the players like it? Would they be happy with the available accommodation and eating places. Above all - Would they come? And then - Would they return? The answer to all these questions was a resounding 'Yes'. 2007 was the first year there. The site proved superb. In one great room it has space for well over 400 team along with terrific aircon and acoustics. Parking is easy and, close at hand, there's a wide variety of places to stay and places to eat.
On the playing front it's now obvious that the GCC has become a true international event with great players from all over the world finding their way here. Therese, for many years a regular in Australian women's team, has long been a driving force in popularizing our event overseas. A recent masterstroke was bringing the Yeh Bros Cup to the Gold Coast. Played just before our tournament, it brought many of the world's best players here with most staying for the GCC. This influx is a little embarrassing for our own players - the visitors are often winners - but should also be an inspiration The list of Open Teams winners and Open Pairs winners demonstrates how internationals have dominated in recent years.
On most grounds, the Gold Coast (Surfers to the older folk) is an evident success. Outside bodies are aware of our event's value. Queensland premier Anna Bligh has accepted the role of patron and Gold Coast's mayor, Ron Clark has been a loyal supporter. Proof that the players love it is the ongoing growth. Much of the credit is due, throughout its long history, to being able to maintain an efficient, stable and happy working team with only slow change and then with skills passed on. Recently Matthew McManus and Ed Barnes took over the scoring and David Stern became Bulletin Editor - no problems in either case. We have a definite policy towards retaining the basic format. Changes are introduced, but slowly. In recent years, for example, we have moved to a longer finals series for the teams - now with six teams making playoffs. This has freed some time at the end of the week for extra events for those not in the finals. Most prestigious of these are the Ivy Dahler Butler Pairs and the Seres/McMahon Mixed Teams (the 'Tim and Mary') - both named in honour of long time Congress stalwarts. Specific events for novices, Pairs and Teams, were introduced in 2008. They went well and similar competitions for intermediates are now included. Other add-ons include 'You ask, we answer' sessions hosted by volunteer experts and extra walk-in pairs late in the congress.
In early days the ABF seemed unsure of how to view the Gold Coast Congress and was reluctant to accord it similar status to national events under its direct control. The reasons are now historical - the GCC was well underway before the ABF existed in its present form. Most of the apparent problems were resolved in John Brockwell's term as ABF president. The GCC it is now Gold Pointed, has Play Off Qualifying Points and is run totally in accordance with ABF regulations. The GCC usually returns a good profit, and this goes to the Queensland Bridge Association, who own and run the event. As well though, I note that payments (for Masterpoints and the Playoff Qualifying Points sanction fees) to the national body are close to $20,000 a year. My own belief is that our Congress has a different - I believe better - flavour to it than the other Nationals, and should continue in its distinct style. By the end of this week I will have played in all fifty congresses. I dearly hope to play many more and enjoy those to come as much as those past - along with an ever increasing number of great fellow players from around Australia and the world. May I close with a special welcome to World Bridge Federation President Gianarrigo Rona and his wife Cippi, who are valued guests at this Gold Coast Congress - our fiftieth.
(An expanded history will be published in the Congress Daily Bulletin.)