Gone Outdoors

How to Play Croquet

by Benna Crawford

Croquet got its start in the mid-19th century, when residents of the British Isles began whacking little wooden balls through hoops with wood mallets. This was such a pleasant way to spend a social and competitive afternoon that the game migrated to North America, where it was first played on the commons and later in backyards. Today croquet is an officially recognized sport, regulated by the World Croquet Association, the United States Croquet Association, and the Croquet Association of England. But most Americans are familiar with backyard croquet played on a recently-mowed lawn.

The Set-Up

A 100- by 50-foot rectangle of closely-mown, level lawn is the court for a backyard game. Adjust standard court measurements and wicket placement to accommodate a more modest lawn. A flag or marker at each point of the rectangle designates the court, within which nine wickets and two stakes form a double-diamond pattern for play. The center court wicket is dead center; two wickets and one stake are at either end of the length of the court in a straight line from the center wicket. Four single wickets, each 16 feet from the center wicket and a mallet's length in from the court boundary, complete the nine. The course is played through all nine wickets in the correct order and direction, then reverses back to the starting stake, with a point scored for each wicket and stake. The first player or team to complete the course wins.

Wickets, Mallets, Strikers and Roquets

Croquet is played with nine metal wickets or hoops, two wood stakes, four balls -- a blue, red, black and yellow, a wood mallet with a flat striking "face" on either end, and optional colored clips or clothespins to mark which wicket is to be played next. Two players or two teams may play with four balls. A toss determines playing order and ball color. The order of play is blue, red, black, yellow. A player or team may choose first and third to play with blue and black, or second and fourth to play with yellow and red. For six players, green and orange balls are added to the court. A striker is both the player and the ball in play -- a ball that hits another player's ball is called a striker. The hit ball is called a roquet.

A Few Basic Moves

A ball is put in play midway between the final stake and the first wicket. The striker uses the blunt end of the mallet to hit the ball completely through the wicket, scoring a point. The ball must progress through the wickets in order and in the right direction. Each scored point earns a bonus shot. Hitting the turning stake at one end of the court also scores a point and earns a bonus shot. Hitting another ball on the court earns two bonus shots. The striker takes the first bonus, the croquet shot, with the striker ball and the roquet next to each other so the shot moves both balls. Alternatively, the striker may take the first shot from where the striker ball rolled to a stop. The second bonus, the continuation shot, is a normal shot, an attempt to clear a wicket or hit a stake.

Hedgehogs and Flamingos

The Red Queen in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" had her own chaotic rules for croquet and Alice found the wriggly flamingo mallets and curled-up hedgehog balls, who were apt to wander away, too capricious for a proper game. But croquet is a game of strategy; the shots, the rules and the order of play are not tame and predictable in the heat of battle. Variations on hitting a roquet, earning bonus and continuation shots, limits on scoring and bonuses, the role of the rover -- a ball that has scored every point but hitting the final stake -- are challenges that can make a backyard game as complicated as a chess match. The United States Croquet Association created "Rules of 9-Wicket Croquet" to clarify the basic rules and exceptions for amateur enthusiasts. You are free to invent your own variations and clarify them before start of play.

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