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Damon Bidencope

Michael Orgill

Damon has been involved in all aspects of croquet on a national level for 38 years. He has had a tremendous influence on the sport with his positive, can-do attitude. Decades ago, his efforts and contributions to bridge the divides between the USCA and “the West” were especially helpful. Damon knew that supporting a national governing body for croquet in the USA was essential.

He started playing croquet in 1978 when he first attended St. Paul’s College at the University of Sydney in Australia. He established a croquet club there that played on a nearby bowling lawn. This was one of 20 active croquet clubs in the area.

In 1982, the MacRoberston Shield was played in Australia, then a contest between Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. While there, Damon was introduced to top-level play and to some well-known, first-time US visitors to the MacRob, including Jack Osborn, Libby Newell and Jean Arrington. This was his first exposure to croquet in the US and the efforts being made to develop the sport there. Two years later, he traveled to the US where he met Tom McDonnell and Garth Elliasen who published the Western Croquet Newsletter to encourage communication amongst the players in the West. At that time, Brice Jones, founder of Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, started developing his croquet court. Damon became involved there and helped promote the sport by teaching.

During the early 1980s, Damon honed his playing skills and was selected to play for Australia in the 1986 MacRob in England. At that time, there was burgeoning interest in croquet in the West, and Bill Harlan, owner of Meadowood Resort in Saint Helena, Napa Valley, wanted to bring the game to Napa. He brought Damon there to develop a program, which was the genesis of croquet at Meadowood. Following the 1986 MacRob, the first Sonoma Cutrer World Championship was held, and Meadowood co-hosted the event with Sonoma-Cutrer Winery.

Also in the ‘80s, Damon developed a group lesson format for teaching. This allowed a group to learn basic golf croquet and play a small tournament in a two-hour time slot. Previously, most teaching was by private lesson. Damon embraced golf croquet as a way to quickly turn interest into participation. This was the birth of the corporate group-croquet event in a resort setting, the mainstay of most successful croquet programs in the US today.  He always spoke to the groups about the other forms of croquet, and the network of USCA-associated croquet clubs.

During 1987, while Damon was still involved at Meadowood, a partnership with Domaine Mumm was formed to hold a prestigious croquet event. Known as the Domaine Mumm Croquet Classic Tournament, it was the first to offer substantial prize money. The event was doubles only, which increased both the interaction between players and the overall participation. Players came from around the world, setting the benchmark for quality croquet, entertainment, promotion and exposure, all rolled into one. Sonoma Cutrer followed suit in its next event with the luncheon and wine auction at the croquet court. Damon’s brilliant marketing and public relations skills helped the USCA secure sponsorships and press for major croquet events. Jack Osborn, Foxy Carter, Bert Myer and others all appreciated his ability in these areas.

Since California courts are sand-based, hoop firmness was an issue with regular hoops for top-level play. So in 1988, Damon had the first “stainless” hoops made for use on the Meadowood courts. They are still in use today. Later variants have developed including the “super hoop,” a design collaboration between Danny Huneycutt, Jerry Stark and Damon. These provided dimensional stability and rigidity through mass and depth that was missing in normal hoop designs.  These wickets were used for the World Championships held at the NCC in 2009 and 2016.

During the late ‘80s, Damon expanded his efforts to promote the sport. He hired Jerry Stark as his assistant at Meadowood, and shortly thereafter promoted him to head the program that continues to this day. In 1989, Damon and Richard Pearman, of Bermuda, created the First Chattooga Challenge and Pro-Am event at the Chattooga Club in Cashiers, N.C. The event was unique in that it brought international champions and top US players together for a weeklong competition.  It was the first foray for Association (International) Rules into Western North Carolina. It gave top US players exposure to the top international players to increase their knowledge and skills.

In 1991, Damon served as General Manager for the Chattooga Club where he continued to foster interest in croquet. Further pockets developed in Black Mountain, N.C., where Damon and Buzz Lee coaxed that town to establish courts.

During the early ‘90s, Damon helped the USCA select our international team players. He declared himself ineligible for selection to avoid any self-interest conflicts. In 1992, Damon and his wife, Jennie, moved to Charlotte, N.C. He participated in the USCA’s traveling teacher program for clubs in the Midwest: Tulsa, Bourbonnais, St. Louis, Akron, Lewiston, Detroit, Rockford and Minneapolis, reaching isolated pockets of interested players. Damon strongly supported the Toxaway Challenge, designed to bring top-level play to Western North Carolina. This event helped spawn the largest recent growth in croquet in the US. More than 1,300 players now play in the western North Carolina area.

Damon helped the croquet club at Tega Cay, S.C., transition from “backyard” to a true competitive croquet lawn. This vibrant club now has more than 100 members. He often arranges exhibition matches when top players pass through and he encourages inter-club events.

His experience with court construction and maintenance is significant: the McClatchy Court in Pope Valley, Calif.; the Trust Residence in Palm Beach, Fla.; and Tega Cay, among others.

Damon holds three national doubles and four national singles titles. He has maintained a world ranking/grade that places him in the top 10 US players for the last 30 years. He represented the USCA as captain with Jerry Stark in the MacRobertson Shield in 2006. He was the first person to represent two countries in the Shield. Over the last 24 years, while living in Charlotte, N.C., he participated in and fostered a keen interest in croquet in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Many are doing important things for croquet, and they are to be commended and encouraged. Few have done as much for croquet as Damon, however, or over such a long period of time. We are honored to welcome him into the United States Croquet Hall of Fame.

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