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And Then … The Lawn

by William J. Sullivan, Portland (Oregon) Croquet Club

Where is it written that you have to have a lawn before you organize your croquet club?

The perfect lawn — a flat, fast, green island of USCA regulation dimensions — had been for so long a fantasy of the Portland Croquet Club that we had almost given up hope of finding it. In fact, we didn’t find it. It found us — in the spring of 1992.

It’s hard to say exactly when the lawn fantasy sprouted. Some of us had been playing 9-wicket croquet quite seriously on undistinguished long-grass surfaces in the Northwest, socially and in well-known 9-wicket tournaments in British Columbia and in Portland.

Visitors from Afar

The seed for the fantasy was planted in 1985. A couple of members of the San Francisco Croquet Club, on their way back from a USCA regional in Seattle, had gotten wind of an annual one-day 9-wicket contest in Portland which had been, before their arrival, a rather genteel social fund-raiser. However, these San Franciscans came to play, and they played with a ferocious intensity that annoyed some of the regulars. But for an unassociated few of us, their ruthless break-making strategies, executed with surprising success on the bumpy courts with the toy-scaled equipment provided by the tournament promoters, was a revelation.

These players obviously knew something we didn’t know. We individually introduced ourselves. They enthusiastically told each of us stories of short-cut lawns, heavy, precision-tooled mallets, and something called “6-wicket croquet.”

We mused over this. We played our usual 9-wicket game with out toy equipment for another year. The fantasy began to ferment.

Playing on a Real Croquet Court

The next year, one of the California players, Garth Eliassen, came back to the tournament. He had moved to Monmouth, Oregon, and was contemplating creation of an independent croquet journal, the National Croquet Calendar. With him were two Oregonians who had actually built regulation-sized courts in Oregon — Michael Hanner, whose Forest Lawn Mallet Club sits on a hillside 35 miles south of Portland near Creswell admidst tall fir trees; and Tremaine Arkley (Willamette Croquet Club), who built an equally fine court in his back yard near the agricultural community of Independence, 55 miles southwest of Portland.

Once again, these USCA players excelled in their advanced croquet skills, with the toy equipment on long-grass courts. But they also showed us their serious mallets. They invited us to visit their courts. The fantasy took hold.

Learning to Play Six-Wicket Croquet

Some of us did visit. We learned how to play USCA six-wicket croquet. We watched them do things, on those perfect lawns, that seemed impossible. The fantasy was becoming an obsession.

Arkley, Eliassen, and Hanner were extremely gracious and enthusiastic about sharing their love of the 6-wicket game with the Portlanders who gravitated to taking the step-up in croquet skills and competition. Their tutelage went well beyond the skills required for on-court play. They inspired the development of the Portland Croquet Club, which was formally started in January of 1989 with a total of five people, no equipment, and no playing surface.

The Official Rule Books Arrive

All we had was a fantasy. And now the fantasy had taken on a name: the Portland Croquet Club. The name gave us an identity, proclaimed our mission. We joined the USCA. We were particularly excited when our membership cards arrived, along with information about the association, other organizations and events throughout the country, and our official USCA rule books.

USCA membership somewhat legitimized our “family” relationship — even as a destitute relative — with the other Oregon clubs. The Willamette Croquet Club loaned us equipment, which we used on the same back yards where we had played 9-wicket croquet for so long.

We instituted a monthly club day, one serious tournament each year, and a continuous Challenge Ladder competition to keep the action going between organized events.

Whenver we got together, discussion invariably centered on The Lawn. The Lawn of our Fantasy. The Lawn Real Croquet Players Must Have.

The First Big Tournament

In the meantime, we used Portland’s annual 9-wicket fund-raiser to recruit new members, and by summer’s end, we did what any respectable club must eventually do. We held our first big tournament. We called it the 1989 Portland Long Grass Open, and we invited members from the other two Oregon USCA clubs. The University of Portland let us cut with hand-pushed mowers the lawns we laid out for eight 40' by 50' courts. We prepared press releases. Reporters came to record the event. We even got television coverage, which helped bolster our community image.

During the off-season (November through March, when it rains constantly) we met socially to organize for growth. We found we were one talented bunch of croquet devotees. We had a city planner, a lawyer, and even an inventor. Surely, with all our organizing and all our professional contacts, we would be able to find a lawn — a lawn that we could share, a lawn that we could get built somewhere to USCA standards. Somewhere, somehow, someday.

The Search Expands

We developed a good relationship with the Portland City Parks Bureau, who gave us permission to use downtown’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park for our tournaments. We attempted to make a presentation for shared use of a city-operated lawn bowling facility, but it came to nothing. We looked around for local resorts, country clubs, golf courses. It all came to nothing. All our work, all our networking, all our searching came to nothing.

The club had grown to 16 members, most of them by now in possession of their own personal mallet. We had a full store of club-purchased or donated equipment that included deadness boards, boundary string, push lawn mowers, wickets and stakes. Still no lawn. Not a trace of a lawn. Just a fantasy that we would one day have a lawn.

A Match Made in Croquet Heaven

Then, out of the blue, something came back to us through the network. It was a call from the Portland City Parks Bureau. A developer named George Marshall had called to ask if anyone in the Bureau knew anything about croquet. Marshall was the lead developer of a large residence complex called the Claremont Adult Living Community, and he had already sketched into the landscape design a full-sized green. Now he needed help in promoting this unique property feature.

Portland Croquet Club President Bruce Chisholm called Marshall with all the answers. It wasn’t hard to establish a mutually rewarding relationship. This was a match made in Croquet Heaven. In exchange for club court privileges, the Portland Croquet Club members would provide regular demonstrations and teaching clinics for Claremont residents discovering the intricacies and pleasures of 6-wicket croquet.

People wonder which comes first — the lawn or the players. For Mr. George Marshall, the developer, the lawn came first. For us, it was the game….and then the fantasy…and then the organization…and then the annual tournament…and then networking with the City and other organizations…and then, the lawn.

(This article is reprinted by permission from Volume One of the Croquet Foundation of America’s MONOGRAPH SERIES ON CLUB BUILDING, ORGANIZATION, AND MANAGEMENT.)

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