|RON’S SPORT – The World of Croquet
Other than F1. Grand Prix racing, which I have followed since the 1950’s (I watched Sterling Moss and Fangio race at Silverstone) Other than the Olympics and snooker, I have not been very interested in the other sports. However, after retirement in 1992, I became very interested in the game of croquet.
The game came to this country about 1840 and was joined by Lawn Tennis, the governing body being The Croquet & Lawn Tennis Association at Hurlingham in London. As the game of tennis became more popular, being a more visual sport to understand by the public, it broke away and moved to Wimbledon. Croquet has always remained a minority sport, having an affinity to snooker and chess, this is probably why most players like it. I am not thinking of ‘garden croquet’ which is just a social pastime, but of association or tournament croquet, where you join a club and compete with other clubs and county leagues, also overseas. It is a true sport, where the word sportsmanship means what it says. There are no player’s fees or money involved, or umpire to watch your play (unless your opponent calls for one)
Most countries have clubs, although some play slightly different games. The U.K. has nearly 200 clubs, and affiliated organisations, that come under the governing body. The Croquet Association, (C.A. – founded 1897) Most newcomers to the game find it very intimidating, with it’s very extensive rule book and weird terms such as roquets, croquets, take-offs, bisques and triple peels. It is because of this mystery that non-players have invented the myths that the game is played only by victorian vicars with a ferocious appetite to bash the balls into the rhododendrons followed by tea and cucumber sandwiches. Nothing is further from the truth. The world champion, yes there are league championships, is a young man who started playing while at grammar school. The major event in the calendar is the World Test Tournament, which is played every four years, with the cream of the players of each country, between U.K., Australia and New Zealand. (other countries are now taking part) The trophy, is The MacRobertson Shield, first presented in 1925 by the late Sir Macpherson Robertson, KBE, incidentally England beat Australia 3.0
I was a founder member of the Bury St. Edmunds club and also later joined Colchester, one of the oldest clubs in the country. Whilst at Bury I became a committee member in 1988 and made all the playing equipment; hoops, flags, markers and six mallets. The mallets were for the use of new members, until they were able to purchase their own, this being the only piece of equipment a player needs to buy. I also made and presented to the club, The Rawden Trophy to be competed each year in a Doubles Match
At Bury, the chairman: Bryn Lewis and myself started discussing the possibility of making an artificial lawn. The croquet season lasts from April until October, weather permitting. The advantages of an artificial lawn mean play can be continued throughout the winter, rain, snow or shine. There is no grass cutting, a laborious twice weekly task as hoops have to be withdrawn and reset, and no chance of standing water. A further task is the remarking of the boundary lines after each cutting. As the club is on Council land, plans had to be prepared and an approach for finance from both Council and CA. From the time of presenting drawings, to the go-ahead took nine years.
On February 1998 the bulldozers moved in to start levelling the site. Drainage pipes and soak-away were installed, followed by a hardcore base with a coarse porous asphalt layer. The final layer of smooth asphalt was spread and levelled by machine with a laser, to a level tolerance of ¼ inch over the whole area, this being 28yards by 35 yards. The artificial grass carpet was then stuck down with special glue. The carpet was woven in 4 metre wide rolls and I was able to get the manufacturers to weave a one inch wide white boundary line, saving the task of continual remarking.
While all this was going on, I was making the equipment for the lawn. I decided that as no grass cutting would be required, there was no need for the removal of all the equipment every time the grass needed cutting. So I made everything in stainless steel that could stay out in all weathers, without corrosion. I made two sets, and we made provision for the lawn to be split in half, so that two games could be played together. I also made special jigs to hold the ground sockets in correct position. as the contractors cemented them in. There was a total of 28 sockets. Finally, we laid a metre wide asphalt path around the lawn with wooden ‘ball barrier’ boards.Various club members contributed wooden garden double seaters, with engraved acknowledgements, which were place around the lawn.
The chairman of the St Edmundsbury Leisure Services officially opened the lawn on 17th March 1999. In attendance was Croquet Association officials, BBC TV, East Anglian Daily Times and members of various clubs. At the time, we were the only club in the UK with an artificial lawn. On the Fourteeth. October 2000, I had the honour of being presented with a Diploma of Services to Croquet by the Croquet Association. Twelve diplomas are awarded by the CA each year and cover the whole country.
For further information and where to join a club near you, the following will help:
The Croquet Association
Ronald. H. Rawden 1920-2011