Updated: 3 days ago
As sporting horizons narrow with increasing antiquity - too slow for tennis, too vulnerable for skiing, too short of puff for serious cycling and hiking - realistically competition narrows down to bowls and croquet. So it came to pass that the Uffington Three, veterans with varying sporting ambitions, went to Blewbury Croquet Club to sip Prosecco and give the game a try. It was a blazing June day in 2019 unclouded by the spectre of the pandemic just around the corner. Post Covid, we’re all addicted to a game that encourages newcomers like no other I’ve known.
Like all sports, croquet is played best by the young and fearless, but the upright stance and steady pace allow oldies to maximise potential.Forget putting feet on balls to whack them into the bushes, as widely practised on childhood lawns. Modern croquet comes in two forms, Association and Golf. AC is closest to the game’s Victorian roots, a mental battle requiring tactical precision and considerable patience. GC is quicker to learn and to play, one day cricket as opposed to a test match. The wise play both.
In harsh times, croquet is economical and practical. Annual membership for unlimited play at Blewbury is £200 (2024). That covers courts, balls and hoops, plus a range of mallets to try. Like most good clubs, they offer taster sessions, followed by complimentary coaching for beginners and improvers. Twice weekly roll ups in both disciplines year round ensure friendly competition with more experienced members. All you need is a pair of soft soled shoes - the turf is sacred - and casual clothes.
As soon as you’ve grasped the basics, you can enter internal competitions and widen your horizons in friendly matches against local clubs. Cue the purchase of a white shirt, trousers and trainers. Fleece lined white bowling waterproofs cost under £30 online. Sophisticated handicapping allows the less experienced to take on experts on allegedly level terms. In GC, newcomers have to make fewer hoops than their opponents. In AC, free turns - known as bisques - are courteously offered to the unskilled by the skilled. Victorian etiquette is not entirely dead.
As a perennial optimist, I armed myself with a handicap that invites forests of these wooden pegs and set out to conquer the world. In my first post Covid year, I travelled from York to Brighton to Budleigh Salterton to take Academy training courses and play in tournaments. Most welcoming of all was Cheltenham, England’s croquet HQ. Camaraderie, banter and encouragement led by the irrepressible force of nature that is Sarah Hayes ensure that the gain exceeds the pain. As for the cake….
Four years later, , the world remains unconquered, but my spirits are undimmed. Fancy joining me in spirit? Croquetengland.org.uk. Or on the court: email@example.com. If you mention my name, I’ll meet you there and find someone better qualified to show you how it’s done…