It’s Not Your Great, Great, Great Grandfather’s Croquet: Well actually, it mostly is.
Especially after a certain age, the urge to be weekend warrior may decline for many of us. No flag football, softball or kickball for you? Maybe what you need is a splendid game of croquet.
That’s right—croquet. I’m not talking about your childhood backyard game where you make up the rules as you go. I’m talking about the genteel game made popular by the Edwardian sophisticates of Great Britain in the nineteenth century.
The game offers everything for the participant—the outdoors, sunshine, greenery, movement (not strenuous), intelligence. Think “chess on grass.” And it is a game for doers, not watchers. Even the most ardent fan of croquet admits that watching a croquet match is about as exciting as watching the grass it’s played upon grow.
So if you want to be active, but not strenuously so, perhaps croquet is the sport for you. The question is where does one engage in a ripping match of croquet?
Back in Edwardian times, families tended to be large and fathers could simply order their children to play. But, times have changed and your sons and daughters are no longer yours to command and families are a lot smaller. Fear not—the Red Stick Croquet Club is at your service.
Yes, it’s a fancy name, but don’t let that scare you off. The Red Stick Croquet Club welcomes everyone into the fold. Don’t worry if you don’t have any gear. All equipment—mallets, wickets, balls, stakes—is provided by the club. The only thing that is required of you is your gleeful participation.
The group, which formed in 1999, meets every Tuesday and Saturday morning at nine on the croquet court at Baton Rouge City Park. It’s the beautiful, closely-cropped green grass in front of the Baton Rouge Gallery. It looks a lot like a putting green, in fact, it was a putting green. Croquet parlance also identifies a court as a lawn. The Red Stick’s court is not quite as large as a 105 x 84 foot official lawn, but pretty close. There is also a slope on the grass as well, but that can be used to one’s strategic advantage if you’re that kind of player.
Standing on the lawn, you’ll find local croquet aficionados, Carl Jarratt and George Cochran. Jarratt will most likely be dressed in white. Atop his head will be a cowboy hat. He is probably best described as the patriarch of Baton Rouge croquet. By his own words he is “older than anybody.”
Cochran is a national champion, winning the 9-wicket national tournament twice. As croquet champions go, he doesn’t look too formidable. He looks more like a mathematics professor, which he is. He swears his mathematical prowess doesn’t enter the game.
“There is some geometry in the game,” Cochran said. “But it’s more a matter of skill, the grass and the ball.”
In addition to Jarratt and Cochran, the club’s membership is about seventeen and several members belong to the United States Croquet Association. Across the country, there are more than two hundred croquet clubs.
Jarratt said the club plays backyard croquet sometimes but they favor the nine wicket and six wicket varieties, which are sanctioned for official play.
“Backyard wickets is a lot of fun,” George said. “The wickets are set in a diamond pattern but six-wicket croquet, with one stake in the middle, is a little more challenging.”
About the wickets. Serious croquet wickets are not shaped like the wire wickets of the family backyard croquet sets of yore. Official play wickets or “hoops” are heavy-duty iron U-shaped pieces three and three-quarters inches wide. The six wicket hoop is narrower and the gap between the ball and wicket is only 1/16th of an inch.
In the backyard game, there is the diabolical tradition of “sending” your opponent’s ball across the court and out of position. In official play, when your ball strikes an opponent’s ball (termed a roquet), you merely get an opportunity to hit your ball again. But there is also an element of strategy in this. Not only do you get another stroke, but, with careful planning, an opportunity to knock your opponent’s ball out of contention can be had.
That’s why the game is sometimes called “chess on grass,” Cochran said.
“If you’re really good at it, you can run the wickets in a single turn just like you run the table in pool.”
The game is played with four balls—blue, red, black and yellow. They are 3 5/8 inches in diameter. Size does matter in croquet. If the ball does not pass perfectly through the wicket, well, things can get pretty sticky.
The great thing about croquet in Baton Rouge is that no one is left out. Two games can occur simultaneously on the lawn—one game moving north and another going south, depending on your compass points. “You can have eight players on the court,” Jarratt said.
Other terminologies used to describe the game include dead board, aliveness, mallet, split roll, clearing deadness and jump shot.
My favorite is “Croquet Heaven,” which, according to the U.S. Croquet Association glossary, is the “mythical state or region where all attempted roquets are successful and all wicket strokes are achieved on the first try and all rushes are executed with perfect precision; the place where good croquet players are said to go after their final peg-out.”
You too can learn all about these arcane terms and wear your dress whites and have something to do that’s semi-active. Imagine how you’ll be able to counter when someone says, “I just finished playing three sets of tennis.”
You’ll follow up smartly with “I had three bonus shots with two roquets and rolled into Croquet Heaven after I visited the hoop doc.”
Details Details Details
Visitors and guests are welcome at all times at the Red Stick Croquet Club which meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at BREC’s City Park. Contact Carl Jarratt by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. More information on the sport at croquetamerica.com
Sam Irwin is a bon vivant who loves the thought of croquet. His LaNote blog is found at www.LaNote.org.