Walk Softly And Carry A Big Mallet
The Brits aren't the only ones enjoying the wicketest of games.
Thursday, May 25, 2000
Those who don''t follow professional croquet may be surprised to learn that the genteel game of wickets and mallets has a "bad boy" (Mik Mehas); a boy wunderkind (18-year-old Jacques Fournier); and the croquet equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters (the Cutthroats, in Savannah, Georgia).
Most people who enjoy a casual game of croquet pay scant attention to the comings and goings of professional croquet or its heroes. The hoi polloi play a backyard version in which the rules are bit more flexible than were originally set down in Rutledge''s Handbook of Croquet in 1861.
It was the publication of Rutledge''s book that brought the croquet craze to American shores. The Yanks were smitten with the game, especially because here at last was a game in which both sexes could participate. In 1867, the Newport (R.I.) Croquet Club declared: "Croquet seems to have been evolved by some process of nature, as a crystal forms or a flower grows--perfect, in accordance with eternal laws."
"...bad language and expectorations are strictly prohibited!"
Of course, it''s human nature to tweak natural laws, thus today we have "extreme croquet." One St. Louis club employs snow and a giant slingshot in their play; and a few years back, Sports Illustrated ran an article about a giant, motorized croquet game.
All kinds of people play all kinds of croquet--except perhaps the motorized kind--around the Central Coast. On any kind of lawn at all, with a well-worn set of mallets, balls and wickets, the sport of croquet has the power to unite, conquer and divide the closest of friends.
Croquet requires not just physical skill but strategy, tactics and most especially, imagination. It''s not enough just to get the ball through the wicket, unless you want to be regarded as an "Aunt Emma"--a dull, uninspired player.
"The croquet people that I have met so far take this activity incredibly seriously," says Bruce Cavan, director of spa and activities at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley.
At Bernardus, Cavan teaches basic American croquet to the guests, although he has the skinny on a group in Pacific Grove that plays "gorilla" croquet. Whatever that is. "There are some hardcore players in Pacific Grove," notes Cavan.
Typically, the popular American version of the game uses nine wicket; in-ternational rules use six wickets. What''s the difference bet-ween six wicket and the nine wicket croquet? "Three wickets," deadpans Cavan, going on to describe it as the difference between eight ball and nine ball.
Bernardus has a European standard croquet lawn, put in last summer. The care and feeding of a regulation croquet lawn is comparable to the raising of hothouse orchids. A special variety of turf, called bentgrass, is used, because of its density and fine texture. Bernardus ordered its bentgrass from Oregon last summer. "It was trucked down on a Thursday, installed on a Friday," says Cavan.
But that wasn''t the end of it. "It takes about a year for a croquet lawn to really mature," Cavan says. Bernardus'' lawn is equipped with subterranean irrigation and is also surface watered. The grass is mowed every day, to exactly one-sixteenth of an inch, and regularly rolled flat with a handpushed roller.
Besides making its course available for social play by its guests, the lodge hosts out-of-town tournaments and is in the process of forming a croquet league, which it hopes to have up and running by summer.
Another group of area croakers are the members of the Charles Dickens Fellowship, which will hold its fifth annual Croquet Classic on September 16, at the Park Lane in Monterey.
Last year''s event, says program director Kären Roseman, was a hit. "A dozen and a half members participated," she says. The Fellowship plays traditional, nine-wicket croquet, and since they''re students of Victorian values, they follow (albeit ironically) a list of rules stating that, "altercations, bad language, and expectorations are strictly prohibited!!"
The Fellowship plays first, and the public is invited to join in afterwards as long as they "wear their croquet whites." There''s plenty of comestibles on hand which, as Roseman says, "Charles [Dickens] would be very pleased to see...because he loved to eat."
Roseman has been playing since she was a child, and is a croquet devotee. "It''s a very civilized game," she says. Until the gorillas arrive, that is.
Call Bruce Cavan at Bernardus Lodge, 658-3514, for information about Bernardus'' croquet league. For information about the Dickens Fellowship Croquet Classic in September, call Kären Roseman at 655-8458.