According to Nicky Smith , in the book The History of Croquet there are two theories of the origin of Croquet before it took England by storm in the 1860s. The first theory is that the game was French, and was introduced to England during the reign of Charles II, when it was played under the name of Pall Mall or Paille Maille, perhaps suggesting ball and mallet. This was the explanation given in the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, dated 1877. Many writers have accepted this theory but there seems to be little evidence that the game either resembled croquet or influenced its rules; indeed, there is apparently a publication by one Dr Richard Prior dated 1872 that concludes that the two games are very different.
The second theory, which seems to have stronger credentials, is that croquet arrived from Ireland during the 1850s, perhaps after being brought there from Brittany where a similar game was played on the beaches. John Jaques, of the manufacturer Jaques that still supplies a significant share of croquet equipment used today, apparently claimed in a letter to Arthur Lillie in 1873 that he had himself seen the game played there and "I made the implements and published directions (such as they were) before Mr Spratt [who is also claimed to have first written down the rules] introduced the subject to me". Whatever the truth of the matter, Jaques certainly played an important role in popularising the game, producing editions of the laws in 1857, 1860, and 1864.
The game became highly popular as a social pastime in England during the 1860s; by 1867, Jaques had printed 65,000 copies of his Laws and Regulations. It quickly spread to other Anglophile countries, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. No doubt one of the attractions was that the game could be played by both sexes; this also ensured a certain amount of adverse comment.
By the late 1870s, however, croquet had been eclipsed by another fashionable game, tennis, and many of the newly-created croquet clubs, including the All-England club at Wimbledon, converted some or all of their lawns into tennis courts. There was a revival in the 1890s, but from then onwards, croquet was always a minority sport, with national individual membership amounting to a few thousand players.
Croquet was an event at the 1900 Summer Olympics and roque, a variation on croquet (see below), an event at the 1904 Summer Olympics. One of the best known croquet clubs is the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, originally the All England Croquet Club, which hosts the annual Wimbledon tennis championships.
There are several variations of croquet currently played, differing in the scoring systems, order of shots, and layout (particularly in social games where play must be adapted to smaller-than-standard playing courts). Two forms of the game, Association Croquet and Golf Croquet, have rules that are agreed internationally and are played in many countries around the world. More unusual variations of the game include Mondo Croquet, eXtreme Croquet, and Bicycle Croquet. Gateball, played mainly in the Far East, can also be regarded as a croquet variant.
As well as club-level games, there are regular world championships and international matches between croquet-playing countries. The sport has particularly strong followings in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia; every four years, these countries play the MacRobertson Shield tournament. Many other countries also play.
Croquet is popularly believed to be viciously competitive. This may derive from the fact that (unlike golf) players will often attempt to move their opponents' balls to unfavourable positions. However, purely negative play is rarely a winning strategy: successful players (in all versions other than Golf Croquet) will use all four balls to set up a break for themselves, rather than simply making life as difficult as possible for their opponents. At championship standard Association Croquet, players can often make all 26 points (13 for each ball) in two turns.
Unlike most sports, men and women compete and are ranked together. Three women have won the British Open Championship: Lily Gower in 1905, Dorothy Steel in 1925, 1933, 1935 and 1936, and Hope Rotherham in 1960. While male players are in the majority at club level in England, the opposite is the case in Australia and New Zealand. The highest-ranked female player in the world is currently (August 2008) Jenny Clarke of New Zealand
Association Croquet is the proper name of the game of croquet that is most widely played throughout the world and at international level. In Association Croquet one player (or in doubles, one team) takes the black and blue balls, the other takes red and yellow. On each turn, the player can choose to play either of his balls, and must continue to play that ball for the rest of the turn. Each turn initially consists of one stroke, but the turn continues if the player either hits the ball through the correct hoop ("runs" a hoop), or hits another ball (a "roquet"). Upon hitting another ball, the player must pick up their own ball and play their next shot with the two balls touching: this is the "croquet stroke" from which the game takes its name. After the croquet stroke, the player is allowed a further "continuation" stroke, during which the player must again attempt to make a roquet or run a hoop. Each of the other three balls may be roqueted at most once until a hoop is run, at which point they become available again. The winner is the first player who, with both balls, completes a prescribed circuit of twelve hoops and then strikes the centre peg (making a total of 13 points per ball).
Good players will often make "breaks" of several hoops in a single turn, and the best players routinely take a ball round the full circuit in one turn. As long breaks became more common, "Advanced Play" (a variant of Association play for expert players) was introduced. This gives penalties to a player who runs certain hoops in the same turn. In response, feats of skill such as triple peels and even sextuple peels, in which the partner ball (or occasionally an opponent ball) is caused to run a number of hoops in a turn by the striker's ball, became more common in order to avoid the penalties.
Success in Association Croquet depends on a combination of physical skill and careful strategy, and perhaps most of all on cool assessment of risks and probabilities. A handicap system ensures that less experienced players always have a chance of winning even against formidable opponents. Players of all ages and both sexes compete on level terms.
The current (February 10 2008) Association Croquet World Champion is Chris Clarke (GB). The world championships are organised by the WCF (World Croquet Federation) and usually take place every 2 or 3 years. The next world championships are to take place in May 2009 in Palm Beach, Florida. The Great Britain team won the last MacRobertson International Croquet Shield tournament, which is the major international test tour trophy in Association Croquet. It is contested every 3 to 4 years between Australia, GB, USA and New Zealand. Historically England/GB have been the dominant force winning 13 times out of the 19 times it has been held.
The world's top 10 Association Croquet players as of 7 October 2007 were Reg Bamford (South Africa), Robert Fulford (croquet player) (England), Chris Clarke (England), David Maugham (England), Keith Aiton (Scotland), Stephen Mulliner (England), Rutger Beijderwellen (Netherlands), James Death (England), Aaron Westerby (New Zealand), and Bruce Fleming (Australia).
The governing body in Britain is The Croquet Association, which has been the driving force of the development of the game. The laws and tournament regulations are now maintained by the International Laws Committee, established by the croquet associations of England and Wales (CA), Australia (ACA), New Zealand (CNZ) and the United States (USCA).
In Golf Croquet each player takes turns trying to hit a ball through the same hoop, the winner being the player who manages to hit the ball through the most hoops first. Golf Croquet has the advantage of being easier to learn and play, but its critics claim that the lack of croquet strokes in the game means that it is less intellectually demanding. There are other variations popular in other croquet-playing nations.
Golf Croquet is the fastest-growing version of the game, owing largely to its simplicity and fierce competitiveness. Egyptian players overwhelmingly dominate the game. In comparison with Association Croquet, play is faster and balls are much more likely to be lifted off the ground, as seen in this video footage.
The current (March 6, 2008) Golf Croquet World Champion is Mohammed Nasr (Egypt).
The "American rules" version of croquet -- another six-wicket-layout game -- is the dominant version of the game in the United States and is also widely played in Canada. Its genesis is mostly in Association Croquet, but it differs in a number of important ways that reflect the home-grown traditions of American "backyard" croquet. Two of the most notable differences are that the balls are always played in the same sequence (blue, red, black, yellow) throughout the game, and that a ball's "deadness" on other balls is carried over from turn to turn until the ball has been "cleared" by scoring its next hoop. Tactics are simplified on the one hand by the strict sequence of play, and complicated on the other hand by the continuation of deadness. A further difference is the more restrictive boundary line rules of American-rules croquet. In the American-rules game, roqueting a ball out of bounds or running a hoop out of bounds causes the turn to end, and balls that go out of bounds are replaced only nine inches from the boundary rather than a yard as in Association Croquet. "Attacking" balls on the boundary line to bring them into play is thus far more challenging than in Association Croquet. Together, these features of the American-rules game lead to complicated strategic and tactical situations in which defensive plays are frequently preferred.
American-rules croquet emphasizes strategy and tactics over pure shot-making ability. Because the American rules can severely punish unsuccessful offensive plays and reward a more cautious, defensive approach, shot-making ability is relatively less important in the American game than in Association Croquet, and top-level Association Croquet players are, almost invariably, vastly superior shot makers.
American-rules enthusiasts enjoy what many regard as the greater mental challenge of their game, along with the reduction in importance of shot-making skill. It is a maxim of the game that good strategy will beat pure physical skill more often than not, and this allows players with fewer physical gifts to be competitive in the sport.
In American-rules croquet, hoops are referred to as "wickets" and the peg is referred to as the "stake."
American-rules croquet is a distant cousin of Kentucky croquet, a variant played with nine wickets on clay courts. The best-known star of Kentucky croquet was Archie Burchfield, who discovered American six-wicket croquet in the early 1980s, quickly became one of its best players, and introduced new strategies and tactics that enlivened the game. Burchfield died in February, 2005.
The governing body of the American-rules game is the United States Croquet Association.
Top American-rules players as of late 2007 include 2007 USCA National Singles Championship winner Paul Scott, 2007 USCA National Doubles Championship winners Brian Cumming and Lionel S. (Stewart) Jackson, John C. Osborn (son of USCA founder Jack Osborn), Leo McBride, Bob Cherry, Ron Lloyd, Jeff Soo, Danny Huneycutt, Freeman A. (Bill) Berne, Kenster Rosenberry, Rich Lamm, Matt Baird, Johnny Mitchell, Ted Knopf, Doug Grimsley, and Paul T. Bennett.
Two important American croquet publications are Croquet World Online, the USCA Croquet News and the National Croquet Calendar.
This version of the rules is also not-uncommonly used in home and college lawn games in England, sometimes with minor variations, probably because it doesn't overemphasise shot-making ability.
Croquet has become a popular backyard game in Canada and America, where croquet sets are commonplace in most department stores and sports shops. Such sets typically consist of 6 wooden mallets with plastic bumpers on both striking surfaces. The mallet head and handle usually come unassembled and are joined by screwing the handle into the head. The 6 balls are either of wood or, more commonly, plastic. They are colored blue, red, black, yellow, green and orange. Also included are 9 wire wickets and two wooden stakes. There is often a carrying case or stand with the set.
Setup is just as in standard 9-wicket rules. It is a double-diamond pattern formed by 7 wickets, with the middle wicket serving as a shared point for both diamonds. Beyond the wickets at either end are one additional wicket and one stake. The diagram included with the set indicates that there is to be a 6-foot distance separating the wickets at the outer end of each diamond, and 6 more feet between the outermost wickets and the starting and turning stakes. In practice, however, this part of the diagram is typically disregarded, and a mere "mallets-head-length" (about 10 inches) separates one wicket from the other, and the outermost wicket from the stake. This allows the ball to more easily be hit through both wickets in one stroke.
The standard game is "cut-throat," with each player trying to beat all the others through the course to the final stake. A player's score is disregarded. Instead, the game is considered a race. The game is sometimes considered over as soon as the first player strikes the final stake. Alternatively, players continue playing for second place, third place, etc., until only one player's ball remains.
Play order is determined by the order of the stripes painted from top to bottom on the stakes. The mallets are sometimes also painted in multicolored stripes to remind players of the playing order. The usual order is blue, red, black, yellow, green, and finally orange. After orange is done, play continues with blue again. This order sometimes varies, depending on the set being used.
The first player begins by setting his or her ball beside or in front of the first stake. The player then attempts to strike the ball through the first two wickets. Though disallowed in some yards, players might sometimes use the technique of striking the ball not with the end of the mallet, but with the side, or even shoving it with the side, rather than striking it. Another technique disallowed in some yards, but tolerated in others, is to set the ball in direct contact with the stake, and to propel it by striking the stake, rather than the ball itself.
A bonus stroke is granted for each wicket the ball goes through. At the starting and turning stakes, two bonus strokes would be granted for getting the ball through both wickets in one stroke.
Two bonus strokes are also granted for hitting another ball. Hitting a ball cancels out all bonus strokes accumulated from wickets, and going through a wicket cancels all bonus strokes accumulated from hitting a ball. A player can therefore acquire no more than 2 bonus strokes at a time.
If a player hits another ball, that player is considered "dead" on that ball, and can acquire no more bonus strokes from hitting that ball until he or she has gone through the next wicket (or struck the next stake) in the course.
After hitting another ball and gaining bonus strokes from it, a player has three choices as to ball placement. The player may play the ball where it lies, pick up the ball and place it right next to the struck ball, or pick up the ball and place it one mallets-head-length away from the struck ball.
If the ball is placed right next to the struck ball, the player may "send" the other ball by placing a foot on his or her own ball and then striking it so as to send the other ball away. Care must be taken not to unintentionally send one's own ball during this manoeuvre, and not to injure one's own foot with an overzealous and poorly aimed swing. Holding the ball in place with a hand, rather than a foot, is also acceptable in some yards. A "send" counts as one stroke, and the player has one more stroke after performing it.
Players must play their balls through the wickets in a certain order. From the starting stake and the first two wickets, they proceed forward and right to the third wicket, then forward and left to the fourth, middle wicket, then forward and right to the fifth wicket, then forward and left to the sixth and seventh wickets, and then to the turning stake. After striking the turning stake, the player may pick up the ball and place it again in the same manner as with the starting stake, or else play it where it lies. The player then proceeds back through wickets 7 and 6, in that order, then forward and right to the eighth wicket, then forward and left to the fourth, middle wicket (going through the other direction, this time), then forward and right through the ninth wicket, then forward and left through wickets 2 and 1 in that order, and finally striking the starting stake to win the game. Players do not get bonus strokes for going through a wicket backwards, or out of the proper order.
There are as many variations on these rules as there are yards in which the game is played, and care must be taken to make the "house rules" clear before the start of the game.
One popular variation is "Poison" (also known as "Snake" or "Zombie"). In this game, a ball that reaches the starting stake again is considered a Poison. (In some versions, it must complete the last hoop but not hit the stake.) This ball "kills" or eliminates other balls (Poison or not) from play if it strikes them, and also gets the usual two-stroke bonus after doing so. If a Poison ball hits a stake or goes through a wicket in any direction, it is killed. If a non-Poison ball strikes a Poison, it may do the same things as if it had hit another ball; this includes the possibility of sending the Poison through a wicket, killing it. (In some versions, a non-Poison ball that strikes a Poison is killed, instead of getting bonus strokes; so the only effective way to kill a Poison ball is to complete the course and become Poison yourself.) The last player on the course wins the game, with other players ranked according to the number of hoops completed.
Similar to Poison, yet another variation is "Stinger," which is popular particularly in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. When a player reaches the starting stake again, that player may place his ball anywhere along or behind an imaginary line that runs through the starting stake and perpendicular to a line drawn between both stakes (the "baseline") and is given one final bonus, or "finishing," stroke to strike his ball past the center wicket or one half the length of the course. If the player fails to pass the "center" line, his turn is over and he must wait until his next turn. At the very instant in which the ball has completely crossed the center line, that player's ball becomes a Stinger and has the ability to kill another ball (if the player happens to pass through the center wicket on the finishing stroke, he is still alive as he does not become a Stinger until after he has completely passed through the wicket). The game is continued according to the Poison rules above with two major exceptions: 1) a non-Stinger who roquets a Stinger is eliminated and 2) once a player has taken his finishing stroke, that player shall not be awarded any further bonus strokes for the remainder of the game. If, during the finishing stroke, the striker roquets a ball on the near side of the center wicket, no kill is awarded; however if a ball on the far side of the center wicket is struck, a kill is recorded.
Another variation is team play, where pairs or trios of players compete against other teams to be the first with all members completing the course. Teams are typically blue, black and green versus red, yellow and orange. In couples play, it is blue and black versus red and yellow, or blue and yellow versus red and green versus black and orange.
Yet another variation is "Obstacle" or "Golf" rules, in which players must go through a unique course of wickets that has been designed to be long and difficult. Wickets are often placed in inconvenient spots, such as under bushes or on the sides of hills. The idea here is to maximize originality and absurdity, and there are often numerous additional rules toward this aim, such as the rule that you may not take a stroke without a drink (preferably alcoholic) in your hand.
The United States Croquet Association (USCA) is the governing body of croquet in the United States. The Official USCA 9 Wicket Croquet Website is http://www.9wicketcroquet.com
Croquet is also played in many private gardens in England, under a wide variety of rules. It appears that many families allow a croquet shot to be taken with one foot resting firmly on the striker's ball, so that the opponent's ball can be dispatched to a distance (perhaps beyond the next hoop, ready to be roqueted again), while keeping the striker's ball well-placed for the next hoop, for instance. This tactic is outlawed in Association Croquet.
Roque is an American variation of croquet played on a 60'x30' hard sand court with raised borders off of which balls may be caromed. It has ten wickets, or "arches," in a figure-8 with double arches in the center facing the sides of the court. In the 1920s, roque had overtaken croquet in popularity and was an event in the 1904 Summer Olympics. The last Nationals for roque were suspended in 2004, and it is practically extinct as an organized sport today.
Mondo Croquet is just like regular croquet only much bigger. Mondo Croquet is played on an enlarged figure 8 course using sledge hammers and bowling balls. Bent rebar is used to create the course. Standard zombie rules apply, with slight modifications. Official rules can be found on the official web site.
Mondo Croquet was created in 1998 by Lord Peters. Annual World Championships are held every summer in Portland, Oregon. Mad Hatter attire is required. In some parts of the US, it goes by the name "Redneck Croquet".
Taking the principles of backyard croquet to the next level results in the phenomenon of eXtreme croquet. This variant shuns the serene settings of traditional croquet for more challenging terrain including those that contain trees, roots, hills, sand, mud, or moving or still water. eXtreme Croquet uses the traditional English figure-eight standard layout, but several additional rules, rules that vary from location to location, are also employed.
On 25 May 2006, the then British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was photographed by the The Mail on Sunday playing croquet at his official residence, Dorneywood. Following shortly after a sexual scandal that had forced Prescott to resign his ministerial responsibilities while retaining his salary and privileges , the incident was portrayed as evidence that Prescott had little real responsibility for running the country during the absence of the Prime Minister. Shortly afterwards, Prescott announced that he would no longer make use of the Dorneywood residence.
It was also reported that the incident led to a 300% increase in sales of croquet equipment at ASDA , while the TV Five announced that they would be running a series featuring croquet matches played at country houses pitting "rich" against "poor" players.
See, for example:
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