A position between those poles might do the trick. Its proponents say that "Aussie Croquet" is that sort of mid-point: that the game can be a bridge which painlessly invites Golf Croquet players into a richer realm of play, without overwhelming them all at once with the complexities of Association Croquet.
That argument hasn't been proven yet, if only because the Aussie Croquet adventure is so very new. In fact, our newly revised "universal rules" have been used only once in "serious" tournament play, as pictured below from the just-completed club competition in western North Carolina that until this year was played only in Golf Croquet and American Rules. In this case, there was a vote on whether Aussie or American Rules would be played. Aussie got twice as many votes as American Rules. Therefore....
What are "universal rules?"
The core group of revisers of Jim Nicholls' original rules recently published here--which included Nicholls himself--decided to write the Aussie Croquet rules in everyday language to encourage players not affiliated with national sports organizations to try out the game themselves, without being burdened with croquet jargon. Theoretically, garden croquet and nine-wicket advocates could understand our rules sufficiently to play them in any environment.
After publication of the first version, more experience in playing the game, and responding to comments from players in other countries who have tried it out, our "revisers" were surprised by the many improvements and clarifications we could make in the rules without making them any longer. Our core group after much debate settled on the revised rules below, but only after agreeing to allow for event directors' discretion in using some "advanced" variations.
What does "momentum" look like?
The first indication is the instant interest the game draws, especially from Golf Croquet players who know no other form of the game. Frame by frame, it looks exactly like Golf Croquet, and it retains the style of play they already know--with all the players remaining on the lawn because their turn is coming up soon, in regular rotation.
What they haven't seen before, however, is the extra shots the striker wins by roqueting the other balls (no more than once each turn). And spectators can figure out on their own, just by watching, exactly WHY the striker did that--whether to score a hoop, to separate opponent's balls, or to feed partner roquets in his next turn. From their own foundation in Golf Croquet, they're likely to tell themselves, "I can do that!" and want to try it for themselves. There's no question that in this sense--giving Golf Croquet players a more interesting and challenging game--Aussie Croquet works.
Aussie Croquet as a transition strategy?
Jim Nicholls told me he was amazed at how quickly the players at the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club took up the game, which he created as a personal and--he thought-- temporary adaptation of Ricochet to his local needs. Almost all the Golf Croquet players preferred Aussie. "The only game now played at the PVCC's weekly Wicket Women and Thursday Twilight (Pizza and beer) is Aussie," Nancy Avera, the creator of Wicket Women, told me. It was Nancy who then took the game to Toxaway, where she and her husband Les live in the summer, and quickly enrolled George Enochs, a self-confessed "croquet missionary," who had introduced croquet to Toxaway ten years ago as the first mountain club to build croquet lawns.
Most of the residents of these clubs return to warmer climes before the end of October. Before then, George Enochs plans to offer an Aussie Rules clinic at Lake Toxaway for two representatives from each of the other 11 mountain clubs..."so they can take the game back to their own clubs and teach it over the winter."
John Curington, builder, owner, and manager of the seven-lawn Ponte Vedra club, told me he plans to change his introduction program to "one game of Golf Croquet, after which they switch to Aussie." He's also planning a series of lessons in Aussie Croquet at PVCC, with the other clubs nearby invited to attend.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe....
Impressed with his own results in America, Nicholls took the game back to his club in Wagga-Wagga, where a group of players there quickly started regular winter-time play with the game. When people ask about his four-month sojourn in north Florida, one of the big items is Aussie Croquet. He writes from Australia, "I'll be heading to Brisbane next weekend (for the Australian Croquet Association board meeting) and will have the opportunity to discuss the various ways in which clubs are utilising different versions of croquet to attract and build (and retain) club memberships and develop player skills."
Jim Nicholls spontaneously "invented" the Aussie Croquet adaptation of Ricochet during his four-month sojourne in Jacksonville as croquet pro in the 2017 high season. He writes from Australia, "Here in Wagga Wagga a group of new members have taken a shine to Aussie Croquet. They say they enjoy it more than Golf Croquet as it makes them think a bit more. " The winterized lawns aren't pretty, but Jim says they play well enough.
"Given the changes in croquet," Nicholls comment, "with Golf croquet now the more popular entry point, I believe that we need to redesign the pathway for new comers to progress through the various codes to discover which one suits them."
Nicholls had already asked for an "advance copy" of the revised rules below to publish in the ACA's monthly newsletter.
Nicholls recognizes an important aspect of Aussie Croquet is that, like Golf Croquet, it invites competitors to stay on the lawns for the entire game, and stay engaged. He's considering exactly how to use Aussie as a transition to Association Croquet: "I have yet to 'experiment on the lawn' but have given some thought as to how to introduce the croquet shot and still keep the game interactive.
"The obvious answer is to retain the rule of deadness within a turn to limit length of break. I believe this would work well for most beginners, however the more tactical and skillful players could easily learn how shut out an opponent and make the game very one sided, in their favor--making them an excellent candidate for the longer and more complex version of croquet." (Presumably, the losers in the above scenario could keep playing Aussie Croquet!)
Can Aussie Croquet help the sport survive and succeed?
Nicholls noticed right away, at Ponte Vedra, how easy it was to switch from Golf Croquet to the other game: "One of the advantages I had at PVCC is that I could take a group of beginners through the basics and have them playing Golf Croquet at the end of an hour--whilst other members were playing Aussie Croquet on the court next to us. This provided a wonderful demonstration of the different versions and made it easy to explain the natural progression from Golf Croquet to Aussie."
But where do you go from Aussie? Thoughtful readers will notice that the "transition" to American Rules is much simpler than to Association Croquet. American Rules already has rotation as well as deadness. On the other hand, without rotation, break-building will be a more difficult task--which might help to retain the attention of the novices long enough to have them make the longer leap to Association Croquet.
The leap is actually a large one: from constant "pat-and-chat" engagement on the lawns in a social sport, to solitary play alternating with equally solitary out-player rest on the sidelines.
Martin French, former long-time Secretary-General of the World Croquet Federation, has trained himself to have a very long view of the prospects of the sport and hesitates to deliver forecasts himself or to credit the dire critiques of long-time devoted players of Association Croquet fearful of its demise. "The judgement of existing croquet players on the relative merits or dangers of these games doesn't mattter. We have to allow new players of these game variants to show us what works for them. We'll see whether and how many trickle through into Association Croquet."
Give all the human preferences and propensities corresponding to the different styles of croquet, deliberately embracing several games on the same lawns and with the same equipment just might be the correct recipe for the sport's long-term survival.
George Enochs, Jim Nicholls, John Curington, Nancy Avera, Jon Diamond and Bob Alman carried on an intense month-long review of these rules and their revision through a vigorous exchange of viewpoints with an overriding commitment to both clarity and brevity. All of it was done with a joint determination to limit ourselves to "everyday English" understood not just on both sides of the Atlantic, but in gardens, back yards, public parks, and everywhere any form of "croquet" is played.
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