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The Game
Inter-club croquet
in the time of Covid

by Jon Diamond with Bob Alman

RELATED LINKS:
Royal Tunbridge Wells Website
Brief "Back to Croquet" video produced for media at the Nottingham Club
End-Bar by Eugene Chang, edited from the Nottingham Board


With three full-size lawns, the maximum size of an event that allows everyone to play at one time is 12 players. Typically no more than four players are permitted per lawn in the time of Covid, so maximum efficiency calls for double-banked singles and the re-discovery of the 14-point game, limited to 80-minute games. The format suits both the old and the young, when many want to have the excitement of pegging-out, but don't want to take three or four hours to do it, and it allows each player up to six games per day. At the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club, Jon Diamond organized and produced a successful one-day event and is looking forward to continue with more at the much larger nearby Sussex County Club in Southwick. Here's the story of the first event, at the three-lawn Tunbridge club, on a single day in July of 2020, as told on the club website.


This is the first year that we've had short form 14-point Association Croquet events in the South East Federation, intended to be six events shared between Sussex County and ourselves. Of course, Covid-19 has caused this monthly schedule to be put on hold, so our July tournament was the first one to be held.

Socially distanced players "fill" all three lawns with double-banked singles.

Given the late start to the season there was a lot of pent up-demand, so we were able to have a full house of 12 players, ranging in handicaps from - 2 to 12 and 6 different clubs up to 50 miles away. Parking as usual was a problem, but only expensive for those who didn't read the joining instruction.

Almost socially distanced, the competitors (minus one who had left) reveal themselves to the camera, with Phil still holding his prize. Perhaps he'll share it later.

The lawns are in reasonable condition, with the exception of Lawn 3, which has suffered due to some sad person who decided to practice turning circles with their Segway electric scooter over the winter. It's now bumpy and slow, since we can't cut the grass very short until the bumps have gone. The weather was mostly gray and fairly cool, but at least the rain held off.

[Scooters are the bane of lawn-keepers on public lawns these days, when it used to be motorbikes doing those circles.]

The club and lawns are in the midst of a well-populated area close to the rail line and downtown in the background.

So, to the play: given the Croquet Association's Covid-19 guidance the players were split into 3 groups of 4 in the morning playing Advanced all-play-all with 80-minute time limits, organised by handicap in three groups.

Only a few games went to time, so lots of games pegged out and it feels like this time limit is acceptable, especially for the better players. Disinfecting balls and clips between games didn't manage to affect the timing or the players' enjoyment of the games.

Sam Murray from Surbiton was clearly in form, as the lowest handicapped player, making some really good leaves and the only player winning all three games in the morning, allowing his three opponents a total of just 5 hoops.

Chris Coull and Phil Dunk converse in front of the clubhouse. Sam Murray is seated with a snack.

After lunch the players were divided into three all-play-all groups again, arranged according to their results in the morning. In the afternoon, it was still Advanced, but if the handicap difference was more than 5, the higher handicap player could opt for the Advanced Handicap format, which they mostly did.

Alison Maugham, without her 7-month old baby, is still on maternity leave.

Sam couldn't quite keep his success rate up, losing narrowly to Phil Dunk from Reigate Priory by two hoops. Phil did lose one of his games, however, but was declared the winner on a tie-break and received his socially distanced and disinfected prize of a bottle of wine; also a handicap reduction to 1.

John Diamond presents to Phil Dunk a winner's prize scaled to the event: a bottle of semi-precious liquid.

I think the day was enjoyed and adjudged a great success by all, with everybody managing to comfortably play six games and have at least one win.

Phil Dunk and Chris Barham pause in their play, perhaps listening to the music and the slap of the basketballs on the fence that separates them from a more energetic sport than croquet.

The next 14-point tournament is at the Sussex County Club at Southwick on the South Coast (with potentially up to 40 players) and we're back at Tunbridge Wells on 1st September.

From the club website: good advice for players everywhere in the year 2020!

HAVING QUICKER GAMES INVITES
MORE PLAYERS INTO OUR SPORT

The discussion on the Nottingham Board about various short game formats has reignited an opinion I've had for some time about the excessive length of croquet tournaments. They take too long because the individual games take too long. Several Association-approved 14-point formats effectively address the issue.

Other than tradition and to 'challenge' the top players to show they can concentrate for a 6-hoop break, what is the benefit of having 26-point games as standard? Couldn't we make 14-point games standard except at 'Championship' level, where games are quicker because players regularly complete longer breaks?

The equivalent in other sports would be having 10 red balls instead of 15 in snooker, or a countdown starting from 301 instead of 501 points in darts--the latter I believe being used at amateur level. And in Golf, the equivalent might be a "short" par three course, sufficient to show the comparative skills of all players except the top one percent.

In my opinion, 26-point games unnecessarily lengthen the time required to find a winner of a game. And people who are time-short (players under 18, students, working age, or with families) cannot play as much competitive croquet when they are required to commit entire weekends just to get five rounds in from a field of 16. One-day formats would allow those people a satisfactory competition, and then they could get on with their lives on the other day of the weekend!

Those still working nine to five may struggle to get a complete 26-point game before nightfall--a situation I've personally faced many times. A 14-point game might allow such a player to begin at 18:25, complete the game by 19:45, and get home while it's still daylight.

If we want more people under the age of 65 playing the sport competitively, surely we can agree by consensus to shorten the standard tournament format by reducing the length of a single game.

A one-day 14-point tournament can easily be run in the same format as a two-day 26-point tournament, just with time limits of individual games reduced. The pandemic has limited people's desire to enter typical tournaments of two days or more due to the potential risks of overnight stays and the fact that many hotels and guest houses remain closed.

Using shortened formats of Association Croquet would permit players still working (both during this Covid-19 era and normally) to still compete on the tournament circuit in one-day events, without giving up their entire weekend, and without the additional risk of overnight stay.

So the pandemic has provided an opportunity to improve an important aspect of the croquet culture at the same time: By promoting competitive one-day club events using shorter games.

- Eugene Chang

Eugene Chang is chairman of the English Croquet Association's Marketing Committee. This statement is adapted from a post he made to the Nottingham List, reflecting his personal opinion on growing the sport. The photographs in this end-bar were taken in "normal" times, before the pandemic.

Jon Diamond has been Chairman of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club for the last 10 years. He is also on the Committee of the South East Croquet Federation and was on the Organising Committee of the very successful Simon Carter Golf Croquet World Championship in 2019. He's been their webmaster for a while. He was introduced to croquet about 20 years ago by an ex-work colleague whom he's never forgiven. He's a decent enough player, with a scratch handicap in Association Croquet and in Golf Croquet a handicap of Minus One. He keeps himself busy trying to recruit and coach new members.


 
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