ON Sunday night Port Alfred Croquet Club manager, Roger Darkes, welcomed 84 players and referees from clubs in East London, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Somerset West and Vishoek to the Alan Wilson Classic croquet tournament which takes place at the Port Alfred Bowls Club this week.
Croquet has come a long way since the days of Alice in Wonderland when every well-to-do Victorian family would have a lawn croquet set and play a friendly game with the family on Sundays at home.
In those days Victorian women in long skirts would hit the ball sideways on, but today men and women hit the ballet with the mallet between their legs.
Association croquet, which can go on for hours until one of the players makes a mistake and is replaced by the next player, is rarely played.
Golf croquet consists of short 45 minute (singles) to 50 minute (doubles) games and four matches (or eight people) on a field at a time. It is therefore faster, more exciting and spectator friendly.
“It is not just for old people who don’t play bowls or golf. It is also a young person’s sport,” said Darkes.
Players follow a set course through four hoops on the corners of a square, and two hoops in the centre, then return around the course to one more hoop, for a total of 13 potential points.
Each hoop counts one point and as soon as a player has hit a ball through the hoop, the game moves to the next hoop.
Different coloured balls are used to distinguish between players and players are seeded into A or B divisions depending on their handicap, 0-5 in the A division and 6-10 in the B.
“However, the balls are played from where they lie, which is why strategy is more important in the game than simple eye hand coordination or ball skills,” said referee Jill Pople, who likens golf croquet to a cross between snooker and chess.
“You have to knock your opponent’s ball out at the same time as you try to get through the hoop and you have to consider where your ball will end up,” she said.
Somerset West player Peter Wansell said the croquet competition was better than the nationals because there were about seven Springbok players as well as beginners who were playing for the first time, and there was a lot of camaraderie combined with Eastern Cape hospitality.
Players to look out for include Victor Dlala, the open champ from Johannesburg, Larren McGee from Howick and Jill Pople of Port Alfred.
Janet Thatcher is the coach who is available on Wednesday mornings and who has coached most of the croquet club members.
The finals on Saturday will be followed by a cocktail function and prize giving.