What does an English Croquet Club look like?

by Macey White · 14 July 2019

Picture of a croquet clubhouse outside London
This is a picture of the Surbiton's clubhouse and parts of lawns 1-7 located southwest of London, England. Notice that during the British Open, they erect two tents next to the clubhouse for hosting dinner and posting scores. Photo by Macey White

Hello from the 2019 British Open

This year the British Open is in Surbiton, a suburb southwest of London (one train stop past Wimbledon). The club has been around since 1984 and has 7 courts and a nearby lawn bowl that it can borrow for an eighth.

The Surbiton Croquet Club has a single clubhouse (25’ x 60’) with bathrooms, a small kitchen a small bar and open area. Two tents are set up for the championship. A large white one 25’x40’ with tables and chairs for meals and gathering and a small 12’x12’ for scoring and scheduling. This club is great! It is all about croquet. There’s no weddings, bar mitzvah’s or dinner parties to contend with. At Surbiton, croquet is king.

The courts are faster than almost all US courts and the hoops are tight. A team of 3 or 4 volunteers set the hoops every morning with a feeler gauge with 0.3 to 0.8 mm of clearance. The courts are not perfectly flat but play very nice. The courts are not watered during the tournament and the dry courts play faster and the hoops set firmer. The ground here is not sand based and when the soil is dry, carrot hoops set as if potted in concrete. The lines are painted with a very impressive laser guided painting machine.

Barbara and I are staying in Hounslow, just 10 miles away (as the crow flies). That’s 35 minutes on the weekend and 1.75 hours during the week. It looked so close on the map when we booked it online. We’ve taken several different routes and they all send us up one-lane roads used for two-way traffic, swarming with pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, embedded with lots of zebra crossings, and roundabouts every quarter mile or so. I don’t think I could make the trip without the nice little lady in the GPS telling what to do.

The players at the British open are some of the best in the world. Reggie Bamford has been the odds on favorite but he was beaten two straight in the finals by James Death. James Death won the doubles also with partner Samir Patel. I’m not wot winning a lot of games but I’m learning a lot and had a good game against Samir Patel. Samir is a 2400 something grade. I had the first hit in and scored one hoop. Then I got the first break with the other ball and scored 8 before going belly up with all the balls Christmas gifted to Samir. He went to rover and QPO’d my first ball (quadruple peel of opponent). This is usually a death sentence. He left his brown in corner 4 and his green in corner 3. I had a lift to contact with my pink ball. Pink was for hoop 2. I did a big split out of the 4th corner leaving brown next to 3 and getting close enough to green to roquet it. I did a full roll out of three and got set up 12 ft in front of 2 which I scored. Now I had an “easy” three ball break to win the game. About hoop 8 or so, nerves got the better of me and a not so good setup followed by a less than perfect hoop shot gave Samir all three balls. He scored 1 and then put my pink on the boundary near corner 4 and put his balls behind hoop 2. I hit in and ran a few more hoops and got to penault where nerves got me again. Samir hit in, ran a break and won, 26-23.

The British Open experience is quite different from most American tournaments, even American Association Croquet tournaments. Play is super =advanced rules. Games are paired by Swiss format in the play-in and then best two of three in the knock-out. If you don’t make the knock-out or get bumped out of the knock-out in the early rounds you go to the Plate and play double elimination (draw and process). For losers there are zed games right into the last day. This year’s open started on June 29 and finished on July 7. Nine days of great croquet and plenty of chances to play, even for those who don’t win a lot of games.

What does this cost? Entry to the British Open is £95 which is about $125. Most tournaments here cost about £25 or less. That only includes the play and meals and tea etc. are pay as you go.

Most clubs here have a bar and Surbiton’s bar is stocked with beer, wine and soft drinks. One of the great traditions here is that when you win a game you offer to buy your opponent a drink. One of the lessons that I learned is that British players generally can drink better than me. So if I win a drink, I make it a lemonade.



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