The National Croquet Center in Palm Beach is the largest croquet center in the world.
National Croquet Center, Palm Beach
The grass is perfect; the weather sunny yet crisp. The players are in white, but the game is neither tennis nor cricket. Contestants and spectators have come to Palm Beach from around the world, and the crowd is eager for play to begin.
The atmosphere is golf-green quiet until ... thwack, as a wooden mallet smashes into a ball, followed by another thwack as that ball cracks into another.
Archie Peck, director of croquet, National Croquet Center [Photo: Brett Tyler Studios]
This month, tournaments are scheduled in Venice, West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and Palm Coast. The National Croquet Center in Palm Beach, the epicenter of the game, hosts tournaments throughout the year. With a dozen lawns and a vast clubhouse, it is the largest croquet facility in the world.
Year-round memberships in some clubs can cost $500 or more, but most clubs offer free days and lessons to entice new fans and players.
Classic croquet involves four balls — red, yellow, blue and black — and six wickets instead of nine. The best croquet lawns are maintained like golf greens and laser-leveled for consistent speeds and control. There's a lot more to strategy than the backyard staple of thwacking the opponent's ball into the next county — winning depends on getting balls in the right place without hitting them out of bounds.
Another distinction is a Mondrian affair of colored squares called the "deadness board," which tracks the balls each contestant has struck with his own ball and is "dead" on — in the classic game, a player can benefit only once on each opponent between hoops.
Played properly, croquet most resembles billiards played outdoors. Archie Peck, a veteran pro, coach and director of croquet at the National Croquet Center, notes and demonstrates how a skilled player can "run the table" in a single turn.
All forms of croquet are growing in Florida at a properly genteel pace, largely among older residents, but also among some college students. A modern version of the game that's popular with both recreational and competitive players is a faster and much more vigorous affair called golf croquet. In it, players contest each hoop at the same time, guaranteeing constant collisions and a faster pace.