by Michael Rumbin · 07/24/2012
by Michael Rumbin
Croquet has had its peaks and valleys in popularity since first introduced in Americas in the 1880s. Considered a pleasant way for men and women to socialize in public, it quickly got out of hand as a gambling sport and was banned in many cities. Movie magnets on the West coast and bluebloods on the East kept the game going for the first half of the 20 century. Then with the post war suburban housing boom, croquet found a new home- the back yard.
Since the 1950s manufactures have been making and selling hundreds of thousands of 9 wicket croquet sets. Today sports equipment companies estimate over 250,000 recreational sets are sold every year. With 6 balls in the set that represents 1.5 million people that will play at least one game this season. Not everyone remains captivated with the act of “ firing” their big brother’s ball into the hedge but a conservative estimate is that there are about 4.5 million backyard players who routinely haul out their set each spring for a backyard barbeque or picnic in the park with relatives and friends.
Unlike 6 wicket or Golf croquet, 9 wicket remains an informal game. It is typically played on an irregular lawn that adds an element of luck to each shot, eliminating the need to handicap a player. Your aunt is just as likely to score a wicket as your uncle or your little niece. Further, most sets are sold without corner markers or boundary string. Without boundaries the rules governing OB play are unnecessary and the tactical value in “firing” an opponent’s ball to Kingdom Come becomes paramount! But every once and a while someone learns the value of sending an opponent’s ball to the other side of a wicket-and a two ball break begins.
From a foot roquet to a simple split shot to Championship American Rules play is not that far. It only requires the desire and the unselfish willingness of the skilled players to help others. Soon the fun of playing on an uneven lawn is gently replaced with the desire to measure skill on a lawn bowling green. Additional rules and Play Options up the ante making the game more exciting for those who want a challenge. Perhaps one in a hundred, one in a thousand who gets that croquet set this year will find that desire. Somewhere amongst the 4.5 million players out there are the champions of the future.
Michael Rumbin is the Chairman of the US Croquet Association’s 9-Wicket Committee