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What's next? Golfer's Croquet
by Bob Alman
Posted November 9, 2000


 RELATED LINKS
 • Golf Croquet, Basic American Rules
 • Golfer's Croquet, Bagby's Rules
 • "A Golf Club's Triple Play for Fun and Profit"
 • Baba Bob compares golf and croquet


The National Croquet Center rising on a 10-acre site in West Palm Beach is much more than the world's largest dedicated croquet facility. It is also the visible emblem of the heretofore unplumbed possibilites of the sport. People have been talking about building the sport for 150 years. Many good ideas have been produced. Experiments have been tried. Attempts have been made to "tame" the sport for the mass media. All well-intentioned efforts, all with very little long-term result. The National Center will be a croquet academy and working laboratory for marketing initiatives that are planned and tested, well thought out, and deliberately implemented. One such initiative is tailored specifically for one of the major untapped markets for croquet - the golf club.

Why is this putting green empty? A small investment in balls, mallet, and Foxy wickets are all that is needed to transform it into a fun-filled center of activity...and revenue.
Whenever I am invited to a golf or country club to demonstrate croquet - and it's been happening a lot lately - the demonstation inevitably takes place on a practice putting green. I take my low-impact "Foxy" wickets and set up a small court for golf croquet, explaining that a "real" croquet lawn is 84' x 105' and perfectly flat. Golf pros are always very quick grasp the elements of a good stroke, and soon we are playing golf croquet on the rolling, sloping putting green - and it's an intensely competitive game.

By the end of the seven-point game, the pros are saying, "We should have invited Bill and Jake, they'd like this, let's call them." And a second game commences, just as intense, and maybe even a third, double-banked on the small sloping course.

Usually, the time for the demo stretches beyond its allotment because everyone is having such a good time. There are hurried thank-you's and goodbyes, and they say we'll talk some more about building a croquet lawn. Usually, the question of fitting it into the right location - right in front of the clubhouse - is an issue. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

So I pack up and leave, satisfied everyone had a good time, but uncertain about the result.

After a couple of years of this, it finally hit me: I was at a golf club near Sacramento which had a huge practice putting green - almost as much territory as two full-sized croquet lawns. They didn't have space for a full-sized croquet lawn. What I realized is that I have delivering the wrong message. I have been telling them that their putting green isn't a "real" croquet court - and of course, it isn't. My mistake has been to make that into a problem rather than a benefit. I realized that the management of this golf club could create almost overnight - and with very little investment - a new center of activity and revenue on their putting green. With Golf Croquet.

Golf Croquet brings to a golf club a vital missing element: an excuse to get a large number of people together in one space playing an absorbing game - eating, drinking and socializing at the same time, and generating a cost-effective and space-efficient way for the golf club to make more profit.

As soon as I had the realization, I started talking to people about it and soon convinced myself that it wasn't just one of those "good ideas" that doesn't look so good the next day. When I talked about this people really got it. They wanted to try it. One of them was Chuck Stueber, CFA President and organizing force behind the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. We have decided to try out some presentations on some of the 150 golf courses in Palm Beach County. If we're successful, we could package the presentation with some printed materials, consulting, and equipment, and sell it to every golf club in the country. (Well, okay, we'd be very happy with maybe three percent of them.)

Lohantan Golf Club, near Truckee, California. Mike Kosak, Director of Golf Course Construction, looks on while one of the golf pros shoots for a longish wicket point on turf that drifts to the left. In the background is Lohantan's full-sized croquet lawn under construction.
I was rambling on in this vein at the USCA Nationals at Sherwood Country Club in October, when Arthur Bagby got into the conversation. Arthur and his wife Cindy live near Birmingham, Alabama, and play there at the Mountainbrook Croquet Club. Arthur owns an elevator manufacturing business, and they travel a great deal. They travel to a lot of places where there are no regulation croquet courts. Like Vegas. "Vegas is the fastest growing city in the U.S., and not one single croquet lawn", he declares indignantly in his soft Alabama drawl.

A discussion over lunch some years ago with USCA founder Jack Osborn about Osborn's efforts to get more croquet lawns into service got Bagby to thinking. His marketing plan is very different from Osborn's. He has invented "Golfer's Croquet" around the notion that golfers CAN be converted to the great sport of croquet - if you make the game seem familiar to them by incorporating elements from golf.

Arthur comes from a golfing family and has played the game since the age of seven. As a member of two private golf clubs, he thinks he knows pretty well what the golfer is all about, and he'll spell it out for you. Arthur makes the following observations about the "average golfer" who is his target market:

  • He's not willing to take a serious look at another sport if it requires any additional education.
  • Like a Rhino with an ego, he has little vision but a lot of power and bluster.
  • He likes to mix alcohol and gambling with the sport.
  • He is posssive about all that is "golf."
  • He spends more personal money on the sport than he can afford.
  • He is hampered in travel by the weight and bulk of personal equipment.
  • He is a "he", sexist about his sport and somewhat at odds with his wife about it, as it is difficult or burdensome to include her.

With all that, the golfer is a pretty nice guy - and he's rich and powerful in terms of club facilities and influence. If he had a good reason to do it, he could fit some croquet into the golf club. Croquet is, after all, 10 to 20 times more space efficient than golf.

So Arthur has designed a game just to seduce golfers and given it a patented name: Golfer's Croquet. He proposes a flat, full-sized croquet lawn for golfers, but then adds "tee boxes" at the boundaries. He explains: "Golfers do not play forward to the next hole before finishing the current hole. When a golf hole is finished, every player begins anew at the next tee." And so it is in Golfer's Croquet.

The main difference between "Golfer's Croquet" and Golf Croquet is that there is only ONE tee-off in Golf Croquet, and the balls are played from wherever they lie after each hoop point is scored. I told Arthur that I believed that golfers would give up the tee-off for each wicket. He still thinks that golfers will not ever be comfortable playing ahead to the next wicket.

On the other hand, Arthur could immediately recognize the attraction, to a golfer, of playing Golf Croquet on a green which dips and rolls in the familiar manner of a putting green. "This will make the tee-off much more interesting and challenging," I said. He agreed. If you want to play Golfer's Croquet on a reduced size golf croquet course on a putting green, you could designate a tee-off point for each hoop that would create the maximum challenge. Instead of a string, the golfer could use the "frog hair" edge of the putting green for a boundary.

Arthur Bagby and I had only one more agreement to make, before our meeting of the minds was complete: I had been using the name "Contour Golf Croquet" because I couldn't think of anything better. What I really wanted from Arthur was the name "Golfer's Croquet", because it's the best description of the putting green game I want to promote. Arthur has applied to the Patent Office for a Golfer's Croquet service mark, but he generously agreed to let me use the name for three years in testing both versions of Golfer's Croquet with golf club managers and golf pros around the country.

Do we dare engage in objective market research?

The deal is struck: Golfer's Croquet is the name of the game - whether the players tee off after every hoop point or shoot from where they lie on the court. When we test the market, we'll offer both options and see which one the golfers prefer.

I've always enjoyed the game of Golf Croquet, and I've got to admit there is now an extra dimension of pleasure in the game when I teach it to golfers on tilting terrain. I say things like, "This is Golf Croquet. It's what the guy who invented golf would have come up with if he had been really thinking." And, "Isn't it a shame you can't block the other ball in golf, or knock it out of the way? Wouldn't that be a lot more fun? Wouldn't that make the game more exciting and competitive?" And, "Why do you need all that territory to play a game? You can have a great game of croquet in a tiny fraction of that space!"

These comments do not seriously offend - golfers are much too secure in their overwhelming supremacy of numbers to be upset with such comparisons. I do hope they serve to point to the unique joys of croquet. And now that I have begun to enjoy playing Golf Croquet on putting greens I can happily embrace the unique gift that golf brings to the party - the terrain.

The terrain's the thing

Much of the lure of backyard croquet (or extreme croquet) is the joy of playing on "found turf", creating courts that are uniquely challenging in the dips and rolls and swells the player must master to win.

The Bagby's play at their Mountain Brook Croquet Club, in suburban Birmingham, Alabama.
Terrain is an essential element in golf. Even in perfectly flat places like Palm Beach County, it's all about terrain. They bulldoze the swamp into hillocks with ponds and bunkers between to make a variegated landscape for golf. There are 150 golf clubs in Palm Beach County alone, within a half hour drive from the National Center. This county is a "hotbed" of croquet, with some of the largest membership clubs and multi-lawn facilities in the country. But where there are mere hundreds of croquet players in the county, there are hundreds of thousands of golfers. That gives you an idea of the potential.

Arthur Bagby does have one serious reservation. "I want them to build croquet courts. Real croquet courts that I can play on when I travel. In Vegas."

That will come, Arthur, in time.

In the meantime, let's get the word out that we have the missing piece in all those golfing paradises. You can't have a real party with golf - it's too spread out. But you can with Golfer's Croquet on your putting green. We have a message to get out to golf club managers - and that includes the marketing directors and the food and beverage managers as well. They need to know that they can now offer Golfer's Croquet Lawn Parties to their clients on their practice putting greens - with all the trimmings for 30, 50, or 70 people, and all the profit that goes with it.

And don't forget the sheer fun of it, for everyone. At Quail Lodge in the Carmel Valley this Spring, my one scheduled demo stretched to two, and the general manager became so engrossed in the games that he forgot about a critical conference call. (Building a "real" croquet court is in their budget for 2001.) Mike Kosak of Lohantan Golf Club emailed me, "Probably the highlight of the summer was Dick Ferris (owner of Pebble Beach) and Arnold Palmer spending several hours playing and having a good old time with Golf Croquet without any fanfare from anyone. They both really enjoyed it."

At the golf club, Golfer's Croquet makes the perfect party for the cocktail hour, combining food, drink, socializing, and competitive play in one small easy-to-manage space. If you manage a golf club, here's the missing piece in your business plan, and it's so easy to add.

If you don't know what to do next, contact Arthur. Or me.

[Send an email to Bob Alman or Arthur Bagby.]


 
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