Croquet


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Croquet: You might like it

This week I am taking part in The Beach Club Invitational Croquet Tournament 2012.  This is a five-day event with games held at both the Beach Club in Palm Beach and at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Contestants enter from around the country.

Beach Club courts

Beach Club courts

Naturally with this competition underway my focus is on croquet. It occurred to me that the game might be an interesting topic for my Musing.  So here we go.

Have you played croquet?  Most of us have played backyard croquet.  But to equate that to   the modern game is like comparing miniature golf to golf.  They are not the same animal.

Early popularity

vintage-croquet

vintage-croquet

Croquet was very popular in America in the late 1800’s.  My understanding is that it was the most popular amateur sport, much more popular than golf or tennis at the time. Unfortunately for Croquet, the sport was deemed licentious (you could occasionally see a lady’s ankles) by the Catholic Diocese in Boston and it was banned.  This rejection of the game spread to other areas in the country and in a relatively short period it nearly disappeared, except for back yard games.

In the 1920’s and 30’s it became popular with the Hollywood set and certain groups in the north-eastern part of the United States and Croquet Clubs began to be established again.  Today they are found countrywide and internationally, with the greatest number in the North East and Florida. In 1977  six Eastern clubs (including the Westhampton Mallet Club, Croquet Club of Bermuda, Green Gables Croquet Club, New York Croquet Club and Palm Beach Croquet Club) organized into the United States Croquet Association (USCA) , and adopted a new rule book for an American version of the six-wicket sport called American Rules croquet.  Prior to that time there were many local variations.

The rules have been standardized but there can still be variations in the physical nature of the game.  Court size can be an issue.   Many clubs must make due with the space they have available.  Our courts at the Beach Club are about 80% of the regulation size.  I have played on courts which are smaller than ours.

Golf vs. Croquet

Sometimes people compare croquet to golf, but they are very different games.

In golf a player is essentially playing against himself or herself trying to better his/her score.  And, they are playing against topography with water hazards, sand pits, rough areas, trees and uneven and often hidden terrain.  They use up to fourteen clubs, each angled to send the ball in a specific manner, whether distance or loft.

Croquet is very different.  The courts are expected to be perfectly level.  There are no hazards.  I have never heard of someone losing a ball .  The wickets are laid out in a uniform symmetrical pattern and the sequence of play is standard.

6-wicket court

6-wicket court

Croquet mallet

Croquet mallet

The player has one club, called a mallet.  He must know how to hold it and where to strike the ball to accomplish the various shots used in the game: drive shot, stop shot, half roll, 2/3 roll, 3/4 roll, full roll, pass roll and jump shot.  The player must also  understand how to place the ball and where to strike the ball in order to send two balls at the same time to different court locations.

So the game is very different from golf.  But the paramount difference is the fact that in croquet one does not play against himself; one plays against an opponent.  It is very competitive.  The objective is to defeat the opponent.

That may sound strident, but it is done in a most genteel way.

Strength is not a telling advantage in croquet.  Skill is the defining issue.  Many of the people I play against are in their 80’s, a couple in their 90’s, and they play much better than I.   I’m a relatively new player and my skill level is not nearly as advanced as theirs. Men do not have an advantage over women because of size or strength.  Skill and strategy are what counts.  As a result many couples enjoy the game on an equal footing.

croquet lesson

croquet lesson

The Game

So how is the game played?

It is played as a game of Singles in which two players compete and each plays two balls in a turn.  Or, it is played as a game of Doubles in which two teams of two players compete, each player using one ball.

croquet balls

croquet balls

The balls are colored:   Blue, Red, Black and Yellow;  and,  are played in that order, Blue going first, Red second and so on.  In Singles, one player will play Blue and Black and the other player Red and Yellow.  In Doubles, each player plays a specific color and players playing Blue and Black make up one team and those playing Red and Yellow the other.

The objective is to send one’s ball(s) through more wickets, thus scoring the wickets,  than your opponent is able to do.  The wicket is rectangular and normally has an opening 1/16 of an inch wider than the ball.  Here is a picture of the equipment used in play, including a wicket.

Modern_croquet_equipment

Modern_croquet_equipment

In the course of play, when a player sends his ball through a wicket he earns a second shot, a continuation shot.  If the player causes his ball to strike another ball, he earns two more shots.  By skillful play, it is possible to send your ball through a wicket, earning a second shot.  Using the extra shot you may cause your ball to strike another ball, earning two more shots.  You may use these extra shots to put your ball through your next wicket.  In that case you get an extra shot.  Your turn continues until you no longer have extra shots, because you either did not strike another ball or you did not make your next wicket.

Good players are able to use the combination of earned extra shots to move around the court, scoring a series of wickets.  It is similar to billiards in this way, though played on a lawn.  The game ends when one person or team has gone through all the wickets or when a pre-set time limit is reached.  In the latter case, whoever has scored the most wickets is the winner.

Complicating the play is the issue of deadness.  It is possible to earn extra shots by sending your ball into another ball, for example Blue into Red.  But, Blue may not strike Red again before Blue goes through its next wicket.  It is said to be “Dead on Red”.  If you are at a game you will see a board revealing different colors.  This is called a Deadness Board and it is used to keep track of which balls are not allowed to come into contact until their next wicket is scored.

spectator area at croquet

spectator area at croquet

Notice to the left of the chairs the Deadness Board.  Since no game is in play it is blank.  Now examine this board.

deadness board

deadness board

This board would indicate that the Red ball has hit the Yellow ball and the Black ball has hit the Red ball.  Red is dead on yellow and black is dead on red.  They may not hit the ball they are dead on again before they pass through their next wicket.  Occasionally a player will be “Three Ball Dead”.   This means that his ball has hit each of the other balls in play and still not gone through his wicket.  That player is distinctly handicapped.  The opponent can roll his/her ball right out in the open and know the Three Ball Dead cannot do a thing.

So that is a short overview of Croquet.  I started playing two years ago.  I play about twice a week and I am now better than a beginner, but not much.  But I find it a lot of fun and I have met a whole new society of people.  They are welcoming and social.

National Croquet Center

National Croquet Center

I encourage you to look into the game.  In my neck of the woods we are lucky to have the National Croquet Center, 700 Florida Mango Road  West Palm Beach, FL 33406-4461            (561) 478-2300       www.croquetnational.com .  They offer free introductory lessons on the weekends.  Give them a call.  If you are not in this area, I would recommend you contact a local Croquet Club and inquire if they provide instructions.  Its a game you can play for years.

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About Thomas L. Tribby

Professional artist: painter, sculptor, print maker. Maintains a studio in West Palm Beach, Florida
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