From the pages of Alice in Wonderland to the sprawling greens of Downton Abbey, the British and their multi-hued croquet sets have been entertaining Americans for generations. But how did a genteel game of mallets, wickets and wooden balls capture the imaginations of us folk across the pond, known for a more spirited brand of sportsmanship?
The first recorded game of croquet ever recorded occurred in Gloucestershire, England in the 1860s, around the time the All England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbledon outside London. But it’s believed France may have introduced the game to Britain during the reign of Charles II under the name paille-maille or pall-mall, derived from the Latin words for “ball and mallet.”
In his 1810 book Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, Joseph Strutt describes the way pall-mall was played in England in the early 17th century. His description is not far off from the rules of the modern game.
“Pale-maille is a game wherein a round box ball is struck with a mallet through a high arch of iron, which he that can do at the fewest blows, or at the number agreed upon, wins. It is to be observed, that there are two of these arches, that is one at either end of the alley.”
Others claim croquet to be of Irish origin or possibly derived from a form of ground billiards, played in Western Europe since the 14th century. Regardless its origin, popularity spread rapidly, and soon other Anglophile nations, such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and the United States, took up the fashionable sport. The fact that this relatively amicable sport could be played by both genders no doubt added to its appeal.
Variations on the game exist from region to region, but “association croquet” is the advanced version played on the international level. A golf-style game is gaining popularity due to its simplicity and competitiveness.
Garden croquet remains popular in the U.K., while Americans much prefer the “six-wicket” game. Though it follows rules similar to that of association croquet, this lighter version enjoys a leisurely, “backyard” feel more palatable to us stateside.
Not to say that croquet is not competitive. In fact, a match can get downright nasty. Just ask any player who’s had their ball mercilessly knocked out of play just inches from the wicket.
Even Alice, of Wonderland fame, can tell you a game of croquet could be considered license for losing one’s head. Then again, she played with a flamingo, hedgehog and playing cards, which we do not advise.
You can, however, play croquet the right way at Terranea Resort, with gorgeous lawns and a sprawling ocean view as a backdrop. Just inquire with the team at Pointe Discovery for the proper equipment and a location.