Croquet in America: From Backyard Game to Worldclass Sport
The sport of croquet was born in the British isles in the mid 19th century and soon migrated to most other English-speaking countries. In the United States, manufacturers popularized a version of the sport that could be played on rough turf with lightweight, inexpensive equipment. It is this lightweight, scaled-down, toy version of croquet which most Americans have either seen or played.
Croquet as a public sport suffered a setback in the 1890's when the Boston clergy spoke out against the drinking, gambling, and licentious behavior associated with it on the Common.
The game of Backyard Croquet has maintained its popularity in America for more than a hundred years as the ideal complement of garden parties, family gatherings, outdoor fund-raisers, and social events both raucous and elegant.
The sport resurfaced in the 20's, 30's, and 40's as a favorite pastime of famous entertainment and literary figures, including the Algonquin Roundtable.
The more sophisticated sport of 6-wicket croquet, requiring heavier equipment, good lawns, and a more intense sporting attitude, though widely played in England and most Commonwealth countries, was rarely seen by Americans until the late 1970's.
A much-publicized challenge match between the Westhampton Mallet Club on Long Island and London's Hurlingham Club in 1960 is credited with sparking the resurgence of the sport of croquet in America.
The United States Croquet Association was organized by Jack Osborn in 1977 with a nucleus of six east coast clubs. Osborn hammered out a codified set of rules for a uniquely American variety of 6-wicket croquet and tirelessly promoted formation of local clubs and tournaments throughout the country. Today, as many as 10,000 men and women play this elegant and exacting sport on more than 600 greens in the U.S. and Canada.
As a new generation of players have learned to play 6-wicket croquet with good equipment and on properly manicured greens, the standards of American play have risen to near the level of the traditional masters of the game in the British Commonwealth countries of Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The top American players have become adept not just in the American Rules sport but in International Rules as well. Americans are now competing successfully internationally, having finished as high as second and third in recent years in the World Croquet Federation Championship and in the equally prestigious World Croquet Championship at Sonoma-Cutrer.
The American Croquet Association was organized in 1987 in Phoenix to promote interest in "Association" or International Rules croquet, currently sanctioning four or five tournaments a year, mostly in the West. Most of the several hundred members are high-ranking players who also have membership in the USCA. The USCA itself now promotes and sanctions most of the International Rules events in this country, many of which serve to qualify American teams to compete overseas.
Croquet Canada, with about 100 members, sanctions tournaments at a growing number of Canadian clubs, many of which share space with lawn bowlers. The USCA is active in Canada as well, and many Canadians belong to both associations. The game most often played at Canadian clubs is USCA American Rules 6-wicket croquet.
The USCA American Rules version of croquet, though no more difficult to master than any other sport, is probably the most misunderstood of them all. Perhaps the biggest reason USCA croquet is still a small sport is that most people can't follow the game at first exposure in the way that one can quickly figure out the basics of golf, tennis, and bowling. Playing it well calls for the kind of physical skills developed in billiards and golf and the tactical thinking of board games like chess and Parcheesi. Although the rules are simple enough — as are the rules of chess — mastering the tactics and strategy require, for most people, diligent practice and study.
In recent years, however, a number of excellent books and tapes have been produced by the USCA and the Croquet Foundation of America, and some of the larger clubs have organized instruction programs to help new players. Also, some clubs are encouraging the play of easy-to-learn varieties of croquet, such as Golf Croquet and traditional varieties of 9-wicket Backyard Croquet.
Recently two sets of revised rules for Backyard Croquet have been developed and recommended by the USCA to the manufacturers of backyard equipment: BASIC RULES, reflecting the traditional values of the 9-wicket game, and BACKYARD TOURNAMENT RULES, a simplified form of the USCA American Rules croquet adapted for a 9-wicket setting. These new rules portend a new cycle of growth in croquet's popularity, by encouraging people to play the forms of the game most appropriate to their interests and skill levels on the playing surfaces and with the equipment available to them.
In the PUBLICATIONS section of this GUIDE are listed books which, taken together, cover the entire variety of croquet rules variations.
The new USCA-approved BASIC RULES for Backyard Croquet are the best all-purpose rules available for casual social play, as it is suitable for people at all skill levels and does not require expensive equipment, precise boundary settings and lawns of putting green quality, and winning tactics are fairly easy to understand.
GOLF CROQUET is the best game for beginning players at big events, such as charity fund-raisers, where many people are encouraged to play croquet in a short period of time.
For those who are truly captured by the sport, USCA 6-WICKET CROQUET is well worth the commitment required to master the shot-making skills and to gain an understanding of winning strategy. For those elite few, finding an existing croquet lawn or building one is the key to embarking on the sporting adventure of a lifetime — USCA Croquet.