Updated Rules to Backyard Croquet

by Michael Rumbin · 07/24/2012

Opening strategy. Photo by Michael Rumbin
Opening strategy. Photo by Michael Rumbin

by Michael Rumbin

By the 1950s owning a house outside the city was a reality for a generation of people. Along with the house came a family, a lawn in the front and back, and in the summer an endless parade of weekend gatherings of family, friends and neighbors. Of all the lawn games, croquet seemed to catch on the best. It was easy to set up, didn’t hurt the new lawn, and most everybody could play. The court setup and rules were loosely based on instructions that came with the sets but were freely modified to suit the whims and home court advantage of the “croquet bully” in the group.

Backyard croquet has been passed on from generation to generation. The spirit of the game coming alive again in young players, new croquet sets, and new places called home. Every year the annual crop of new sets are sold, hundreds of thousands of them and, along with the sets sold last year and the year before, they make up the arms for the legions of back yard players eager to whack an opponent’s ball to Kingdom Come.

So what’s new? How do we make the game more fun, more challenging or exciting for everyone, including the croquet bully? Well, for one thing, cutting down on the constant dickering over the basic rules of play could make the game a bit more enjoyable. But no one wants to sit down to study a twelve page booklet, especially at a picnic. Having a Quick Reference Guide tailored to typical conditions of backyard play would be a real improvement.

Wired at the turnaround stake. Photo by Michael Rumbin

Typical conditions of backyard play start with the area available. Few back yards are large enough to set up the official 50 by 100 foot and even if the game were set up in a park, playing on a lawn limits the distance a ball will travel. So something less in size is normal. The only measurement that is worth “standardizing” is the distance between the stake and wicket #1 and #2 and the same for #6, #7 and the turnaround stake. Setting a minimum of 3 feet provides enough challenge to make the start of the game exciting. Second, most sets don’t come with boundary markers or string so rules on OB play are not needed. Last, most sets do not come with Deadness Boards so the notion of Carryover Deadness is difficult to apply. Only deadness within a players turn is manageable.

With this understanding, the Quick Reference Guide found on the www.9wicketcroquet.com web site provides a simple five point/rules of play: Object of the Game, Sequence of Play, Extra Strokes Hitting Ball, Extra Strokes Wickets and Stakes and Rover Ball Play. Backyard Croquet: Basic Rules and Challenging Options are there as well for more detailed investigation given the interest and time. And last, there are the Official Rules of the USCA American Nine Wicket Game on the USCA web site.

Next steps? Well, do take the time to play some backyard croquet this summer. And keep the QRG in mind. A game of cutthroat may be your favorite, but try partner ball play could bring a new dimension to the game and forge a new friendship. Make up teams: Bruins- blue & yellow; Washington-red & green; and Oklahoma- black & orange. Demonstrating some croquet strokes- a half or full roll and split shots will add to their appreciation of the game and move them a couple of steps closer to competitive croquet. Plenty of time to consider boundaries, carryover deadness and equipment upgrades later.

Let the games begin!

Michael Rumbin is the Chairman of the US Croquet Association’s 9-Wicket Committee