Purse play reported in 1997 totalled $18,577 in the U.S., representing the second year of a creeping rebound from 1995's dismal $5,453. In fact, last year's total was actually the third best since the big-buck salad days of the Masters tournaments, when tournament managers worked hard to raise coffers from corporate backers and local companies who were infected with the upscale image the game was promoting and with visions of riches accompanying sponsorship.
The upscale image has managed to hold, somewhat, but those blinding visions of unrestrained wealth that affected corporate greed have faded to a more realistic view: sponsors who are interested in becoming involved in tournaments should do so because of the caliber of the game itself and the players who participate. It's still a wide open field, and the first major corporation that is smart enough to put up big bucks as purses for American pro tourneys will, in effect, have bought themselves a major nationwide sport, its accompanying incomparable image, and the realization that they will dominate the only outdoor game in the world where thinking and strategy are more important than shotmaking ability.
That last fact alone should make the game attractive to the public-at-large if only they were given the chance to discover it.
With darts and snooker being the largest television draws in England, it is not unwarranted to assume that croquet could possibly become a spectator sport for boob tube viewers: just look at what happened after money pool tournaments first aired on the small screen. But if croquet ever does reach television, it will be the American game, not Association croquet, that will have the best chance of success in winning the public.
Association croquet is a shotmaker's and technician's game, a game of incessant attacking where consequences are minimal for overly aggressive play. American croquet is a thinker's game, and it is the complicated strategy, the endless safety plays, and the gambits and cat-and-mouse adjustments that will be of most interest to television audiences.
Comparing the TV Appeal of American and International Rules
Just imagine the narration of an Association break setting up a triple or quadruple peel. Then imagine the narration of an American game with two balls battling at #1 and two more balls battling at #2. In the Association game the viewers might first be amazed at the technical proficiency of the top players, then bored by the horrendous monotony and unfathomable leaves; but in the American game they will be told the consequences for rash acts, will appreciate the subtleties, and will understand.
Competition for players in an increasingly crowded schedule of local, regional, and national tournaments makes prize money more of an attraction to participation. With the cost of each out-of-area tournament ranging from $1000 to $2000 by the time off-court meals, entry fees, transportation, and lodging are tallied, the possibility of grabbing a little extra cash is definitely an added incentive to play in one tournament rather than another. Naturally, the larger the purse and the further down it goes, the more it will attract potential players of varying abilities, particularly those not quite at the top who would still like a chance to catch some cash.
Sonoma-Cutrer and Resort at the Mountain Gave Biggest Prizes
Major purse tourneys reported to the Calendar in 1997 were the West Coast Classic on February 1-2 with $675 in prize money; Delaware Invitational on May 23-26, with a $1700 purse; the flashy Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championship May 26-31, paying $6500 for first and second places; the Resort at the Mountain's exhibition tournament on June 5-7, paying $3750 to the winners; and the Canadian Open June 19-22, paying $1650 to its top players.
Other more local tournaments were the Downtown Invitational in Phoenix, February 1-2, with $675; Riverwood Invitational, February 7-9, offering $240; Twin City International Rules, June 18-21, offering $500; Delaware's International Rules Invitational, August 23-24, paying out $900; the local All-Comers at Sonoma-Cutrer, August 29-31, with $200 in the kitty; Boston's Association Rules tournament, October 3-5, paying $375; Dallas' Turkey tournament, November 29, paying $287; and the annual Country Boys Invitational, December 4-7, offering $450.
If the purse totals continue to grow next year (the San Francisco Open might add prize money in 1998 and others could follow suit), an American "pro circuit" will definitely be in the making.
In the following tables, players' names are followed by their USCA handicaps, when known. Following the purse amounts in parentheses are the number of tournaments used to determine each purse total. Asterisks indicate nine-wicket play.
Annual Purse Totals in North America
1997 Purse Winners in American Tournaments
Eleven-year Overall Purse Standings, Top 50
[The preceding article is republished by permission from the January/February 1998 issue of the NATIONAL CROQUET CALENDAR, edited by Garth Eliassen. The National Croquet Calendar, published six times a year, is the world's longest-lived continuously published independent croquet journal.]
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