Croquet is a popular sport played at backyard garden parties, but it also has a competitive side. The Sarasota County Croquet Club has held competitions in the area for more than 20 years, and the United States Croquet Association's national championship will take place on its lawns this weekend.
Club president Hans Peterson says the organization got started thanks to Venice couple Jackie and Fred Jones, whose passion for the sport helped the club.
“In 2004, we got the Joneses to partner with Wellfield Park in Venice, where we established three croquet lawns,” says Peterson. “Since then, we have steadily grown, and in 2016, added three more lawns to this location.” Peterson has been playing croquet for 40 years, and was once a national collegiate champion when he played at UC Berkley in the 1980s.
This weekend, the U.S. Croquet Association's national championship will take place at Wellfield Park and in Boca Grande. The event will kick off on Saturday with a Q&A session with Croquet Association representatives and the tournament manager, along with this year’s youngest participant, a 14-year-old from California.
Up to 48 participants are then expected to play starting Sunday, April 11, and spectators are allowed to come and watch. The event will feature two nonprofits that support youth through croquet programs: The WareHouse of Venice and Jiminy Wicket. This will be the first tournament the Sarasota club has held since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
“We were able to open our club almost right away after lockdown last year,” says Peterson. “Because croquet is outdoors, socially distanced and we require masks, people were able to still come out and play.” A variety of youth and adult programs are offered five days a week at the Venice club.
Croquet is played on flat, short grass like that you find on the green of a golf course. The playing field boundaries are marked off by stakes. Other equipment includes mallets, balls and wickets—the hoops through which the balls are hit.
A competitive playing field typically measures 105 feet by 84 feet. This is an internationally recognized standard for the type of croquet known as "association croquet."
“Association croquet is a bit more complicated and involves four balls and six wickets,” says Peterson. “All wickets are played through in order twice. You start. Every turn has one shot, and if you make the next wicket in order, then you get one more shot.”
A simpler version taught to beginners is called golf croquet. It involves each player taking one shot at a time, trying to pass a ball through the same wicket. If you’re looking for a more relaxed version of the game, you can also try backyard croquet.
Peterson says a good tip for beginners is to develop a good shot, similar to one good swing in golf. He says to pivot with your shoulders when you swing and keep your head down to watch the ball and follow through.
If you are a beginner, you can borrow mallets from the Sarasota club, or purchase your own for $100-$500 each. Dawson balls, a worldwide sport standard, are also used. They cost more than $100 per ball, but “last a lifetime,” says Peterson.
"We've been partnered with youth programs like WareHouse for 15 years now, offering summer programs to local high schoolers and youth," says Peterson. "So it's a big honor to support them and host the world event they will soon qualify for."
The United States Croquet Association National Championship will begin at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 10, at Wellfield Park, 1400 Lucaya Ave., Venice. For more information about the Sarasota County Croquet Club, click here.