These notions will be dealt with, and mostly dashed.
The 2016 World Croquet Championship starts April 16th and we youngins, middlings, and old fogeys can enjoy this sport because – and this conception is true - we can play it, sometimes well, until we, well, pass. Australia, England, and the USA will have the biggest teams, but they and 12 other regions, 80 players in all, will congregate in West Palm Beach, Florida, to hit corner, carom, cannon and stop-shots, to name but four strokes.
Croquet – and there are many variations of this game – is confusing. You’ve got association croquet versus golf croquet. You’ve got your “Easy Nine” the “Thrap”, the “Frap” the “Handicap Limiter” or the “Three Hoop Bisques” – you can see the problem in permutation possibilities. Looking at the rule changes adopted in 2007, led the writer to surmise the variation for the 2016 WCC, will be nine-wicket croquet. Or six-wicket croquet.
But no matter the brand of croquet, for those really good at it, they take it seriously, frowning on a flubbed shot, concentrating (usually accompanied by a swing back and forth, between the legs, of the three-pound mallet many, MANY times before contact is made, all in the quest to visualize the target while watching the direct contact point) smiling every once in a while...
Perhaps the players should smile more because, hey, let’s face it; this activity appears to be a stark departure from life’s onerous chores. It seems to be an overture to free time, free of the daily grind, rid of constraints of the clock, showing a proof-of-life of one’s athletic actualities, knowing to partake would seem to risk neither life nor limb to hurt or harm. Moreover, it looks like fun, looks like a kind of bucolic-tonic - of take this, try that, take that...
You think it a slow sport? That’s Ok; it is still something octogenarians can get passionate about. Perhaps they don’t trash talk, but it gives them a reason to get out of the house. And surely the colliding of croquet clubs (our aforementioned mallets) to balls (usually made of plastic nowadays) rocks. And the roquet, where you hit an opponent’s ball you are “alive on” has got to be the cock-of-the-walk.
Yet the terminology and tactics are as mind boggling as are the types of croquet. Tony Hall was president of the World Croquet Federation. Now in his eighties he still loves to play. Here’s how he describes playing Association Croquet world champion, Robert Fletcher, in the 2015 Australian Open. Oh, by the way, Robert was 22 at the time.
“The next morning Robert won the toss and put his first ball a yard West and three yards North of hoop 5, a super-shot opening. I went to just South of corner 2. To my surprise he missed my ball, leaving me a juicy double. Again to my surprise, I hit the double, rushed a ball South of his first ball, loaded hoop 2 accurately, rushed his ball to a couple of feet in front of hoop 1 and approached that hoop to just a few inches, dead in front. I had won the opening!
Alas, my senior's moment arrived and I stuck in the hoop. He made nine, I missed the lift shot and he finished that first game 26tp-0, as expected.”
Clearly, the game is quite complicated if one is not familiar with its intricacies.
As for Fletcher, he sheds light on the game’s finer points. He says the game resembles snooker, with its requirement to know angles and shot making. It also, like golf, calls for a reading of undulations as the grass grounds are not flat. And like chess, it requires superior strategic planning to be a better player. He could have added mental stamina too. It takes a lot of brainy endurance to stay focused and in the moment when winning a game can take one to three hours plus.
In the end, naturally, the idea is to win. Losing gracefully, while being a winning trait, can’t be as much fun as vanquishing the enemy, especially if that conquest involves making a jump shot. These are super cool to execute, and look like the kind of shot that can deflate an opponent and balloon one’s own confidence. But no matter what shots you use to amass wicket (hoop) and stake (peg) points, the ultimate object of the game is...
To give it a try sometime, if you haven’t done so already, or, at least, follow Robert Fletcher’s mallet machinations at the 2016 World Croquet Championship.