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Letters & Opinion
Letters & Opinion
April 27, 1998



Jaques update: testing, official statements, more development.
America's choice: USCA rules or International rules?
Lawn bowlers blaze new trails in the dress code
Prequalified list expansion may hurt USCA regionals
Taylor's workbooks break the logjam of USCA Grand Prix reporting



JAQUES UPDATE
   Many flaws to be corrected in new Jaques balls
   Official statement of the English CA.
   Letter from Chris Jaques.

Many flaws to be corrected in new Jaques balls

One of the biggest croquet stories of 1997 was the factory fire that brought to an end the production of the fabled Jaques Eclipse - the last of the composition balls. Initial tests in England of Jaques' "replacement" ball, while passing minimum standards, have revealed flaws including damage proneness, milling which creates excessive draw, and minor out-of-roundness. The associations of England and New Zealand - vital to Jaques' viability in the croquet ball market - have declined to reject the new ball outright, however. The chairman of the English Croquet Association made the following statement in late February, while the New Zealand Association, which had said that it would announce a "decision" on the ball by March 31, instead decided not to decide at all. Independent observers, recalling the many generations of the Barlow ball preceding the "GT," speculate that the "perfection" of a marketable Jaques ball could still be years away.

- Editor

Official statement of the English CA, February 22, 1998

Prototype (SOLID STATE COMPOSITION) balls supplied by Jaques have been subjected to the CA Championship Ball Tests and sets will shortly be forwarded to Sussex County Croquet Club and a senior player for evaluation 'in play'. The results have been communicated to Jaques who have indicated that they now intend to continue development.

Further details will be issued when available.

--Bill Arliss
CA Chairman of Council, England

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Letter to Croquet World Online Magazine from Chris Jaques

In direct response to our faxed list of questions, Jaques' managing director faxed back in mid April the letter we excerpt below.

- Editor

Thank you for your fax...requesting information on progress on the development of our new one-piece ball. Obviously you are gleaning small pieces of information from around the world which can be interpreted in a number of ways and therefore I think it is best for me to let you have the current situation so that you know where we are.

We have been working on perfecting a one-piece ball for a number of years now and in fact have had various prototypes of the new ball tested in the UK, New Zealand, and also United States on various occasions over the past six years. The latest trial balls...have been tried out by the [English] Croquet Association and the New Zealand Croquet Association merely for their report, as they are by no means finished balls in the sense that further development is not necessary.

The balls themselves do comply with the regulations regarding weight, rebound and size and therefore strictly speaking are legal but nevertheless there are a number of points which we intend to improve before putting them on the market. We are awaiting complete reports from the UK Croquet Association and also New Zealand Association and when received we will analyse their comments and incorporate them in the further development of the balls.

What we do not want to do is to put a ball onto the market until it is clearly superior to any other balls available, and we are hoping that we may be able to achieve this as well as a significant reduction in price over our old Eclipse balls.

On the question of striped balls, we have not considered [this] up to now but obviously if there is sufficient demand we certainly could investigate this possibility but at the present time we are concentrating our efforts on the solid colour balls....

...Rest assured that as soon as we have any definite information as to when a replacement ball for the Eclipse will be available we will let you know and publicise it as much as possible throughout the various world croquet channels.

Thanking you for your interest and hoping this will be of some assistance.

Yours sincerely,

C T C Jaques
Managing Director,
John Jaques and Son, Ltd.

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The game of choice in America - International Rules or American Rules?
   I'd rather play golf that USCA Rules
   A fable of the American croquet apocalypse
   John Taves teaches tactics to Aunt Emma

"I'd rather play golf than the USCA game"

I've just finished reading Garth Eliassen's article on purse money for the 1997 season ["U.S. prize money report for 1997"] and found the section concerning his opinions on the future of televised croquet most interesting. Let me preface my statements by saying that I am a devotee of the Association [International Rules] game. In fact, I would rather play golf than play the USCA game. The American game's "complicated strategy (?)," and "endless safety plays" are, in my humble opinion, a splendid way to waste an hour and a half that could be spent trying for TPO's and perfecting the diagonal spread leave.

Moreover, personal preferences aside, I must say that Garth's argument for the USCA game as the best hope for televised croquet seems to me to defy all logic. Garth makes the argument that the USCA game would be more widely accepted on TV because it is a "thinker's" game whereas the Association game is a "shotmaker's" game.

I would argue that the simpler the game, the better chance it has for success on television. I think Garth helps to support my opinion when he notes the success of darts and snooker on UK television. Those two games are 100 percent about excellent shot-making skills. In darts, pound the T80's, then double out. In snooker, pot balls over and over with unfailing accuracy - no strategy, just relentless, repetitive, shot-making! Even the safeties in snooker require top-notch shot-making. I might also note that here in America, when ESPN televises billiards, all we ever see is the dreaded 9-ball, a game with even less strategy than snooker and yet another testament to our country's lack of desire to embrace anything too challenging.

Any country that can find time to televise darts, snooker, lawn bowls, and sheep dog trials has a better chance of making time for croquet.

In closing, let me say that I cannot foresee a scenario where croquet on television in the U.S. becomes a reality. Our country is, for better of worse, not in tune with the croquet mindset. Perhaps our friends in Britain are the best hope for televised croquet. Any country that can find time to televise darts, snooker, lawn bowls, and sheep dog trials has a much better chance of making time for croquet. Here in the U.S. we'd rather watch pro wrestling and monster truck races.

Jim Audas
Concord, California, USA

A growing number of organizers would vote for neither International nor American rules on television. They would argue that only Golf Croquet has a chance to crack the television barrier.

- The Editor

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A fable of the American croquet apocalypse

Learning that in response to the players' request the USCA-sanctioned California State Championship now plays International Rules in the top flight and American Rules in the lower flight, Bert Myer, editor of the USCA CROQUET BULLETIN, sent us the following. Could this be really happening?

Once there was a United States Croquet Association. The founders agreed on a set of rules derived from backyard croquet and incorporating some attributes of Association Rules croquet long in existence. The USCA grew in leaps and bounds, attracting American backyard players who saw and grasped the challenges of a higher level of the game.

The USCA conducted national championships, to which entry was achieved, initially, merely by showing up. The players, amazingly, came from all over. As clubs and membership grew, Regions were formed and regional championships were conceived, both as local promotional events and then, naturally, as qualifiers for the national championship.

The USCA continued to grow. Sanctioning of tournaments became a source of revenue for the USCA. Recognizing this, the Association encouraged wider sanctioning of other tournaments throughout the U.S. and attempted to provide some benefits for doing so. State, club and district championships emerged, and a path was established, particularly for new players, in American Rules events: club championships, state championships, regional championships, national championships. And so the organization grew.

Simple, straightforward and extremely successful in the late 70's and early 80's.

High achievers in American Rules croquet then wanted more. And so they set their sights on Association (International) Rules, whose devotees had great players and a long history. This, they thought, must be the real pinnacle. The USCA had long recognized International Rules play and the international scene - and had participated in it, mostly as a learning experience. It decided that it would sponsor an International Rules tournament every year - and did. In addition, it selected players to various U.S. teams for various international competitions. Players with aspirations then could achieve success in both games. Because there were more American Rules players in the U.S. than International Rules players, the international competitions drew their participants from the ranks of good American players. Then some of these players decided that maybe the International Rules game was more important, its shot-making skills and rules more straightforward, and, since it was an older game and its proponents and players were acknowledged as "the best in the world," that perhaps it offered greater chances for glory in the croquet world.

But what was this croquet world? Who knew about it? It turns out, not many.

But a small cadre of top players around the world spent hours playing and ranking and talking about International Rules croquet, and so it seemed the way to go. And so an equally small band of players in the U.S. decided that they were going to strive in that direction and began demanding that the USCA accommodate their desires.

The USCA said, well, that was okay, but there were greater audiences it preferred to serve and that the potential for growth in the U.S. seemed to lie with the American Rules game. So, yes, the USCA would devote some of its energies and resources to participating on the world scene, but the foundation of the organization still would be to promote American Rules 6-wicket croquet as the American pinnacle.

Eighteen years passed and 18 national championships, countless regionals and state championships. More than 3,000 people remained members. Those with aspirations had real opportunities to move into international competition.

Then the small band of International Rules players became more insistent. Some clubs and individuals said, "This is a real sport. To achieve success in the sport requires that you compete against the likes of world champion Robert Fulford and, incidentally, in games where you very well might not ever take croquet and which run on forever and where the ultimate championship takes two weeks and best-of-3 matches...but we want to be great and acknowledged on the world scene. In the pursuit of these desires we intend to short circuit the carefully laid path the USCA has established."

The rift grew when several top-ranked U.S. players - products of USCA development programs, including some USCA national champions - wouldn't play in a USCA State Championship unless the championship flight was conducted under International Rules. Apparently it didn't mean enough to them to win an American Rules title event. Therefore, since they wouldn't play except under their conditions, and the USCA therefore would lose out on sanction money, the tournament committee capitulated, accommodated their wishes, and everybody supposedly benefitted - the top players got to compete under Association Rules, the USCA received sanction money, and the tournament continued its run.

Meanwhile the 2nd and 3rd flight players - where the sport's growth comes from - struggled at their now "less important" game, with no hope of ever moving on to a USCA American Rules state championship (and then on to greater fame at the American Rules Nationals). Why? Because the big boys prefer International Rules, which to the lower flighters are pretty boring and confusing, since they started with and are just now becoming somewhat proficient in, American Rules.

Real croquet, they say, means being ranked in the top 100
among the Brits, Aussies and Kiwis!

So these lower flighters struggle along in the lower ranks forever. Soon, the rest of the country, and particularly the mavericks, say International Rules are best; "we'll only play those, because we're so good and the real challenges are not in this bastard American Rules game that's a concoction of one man or at the very least a group of East Coast snobs...real croquet means being ranked in the top 100 among the Brits, Aussies and Kiwis!"

And so the good organizers with vision and a larger sense of the game wring their hands and...capitulate! Autonomy is now king. Whatever works, for whomever. It's called expediency. The opposition - the mainstream - is now branded "a dictatorship."

And so the bickering continues...and organized croquet fades slowly away to its enclaves in San Francisco, New Hampshire, Arizona, Connecticut, North Carolina, Florida, New York - where everyone plays whatever rules they want, under whatever conditions they want...and croquet in America becomes what it once was and has often been over the years: a hodgepodge of individually-sponsored events and games, rather than the triumphant and pervasive American croquet game which it might have been.

Bert Myer, Editor
USCA CROQUET BULLETIN
Hampstead, New Hampshire, USA

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John Taves teaches tactics to Aunt Emma

John Taves' first article on coaching American Rules for beginners (while presumably sensible) sadly reinforces one of my key criticisms of the U.S. game.

There is no incentive for the beginner to improve. The tactics discussed are what we call 'Aunt Emma', a derogatory phrase we reserve for very weak players who refuse to attempt breaks and refuse to make hoops off an opponent ball.

- Richard Hilditch,
London, England

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Lawn bowlers blaze new trails in the dress code

As part of my marketing scheme, I keep an eye on the lawn bowlers through their e-mailing list. They have been having an ongoing topic of different types of wild animals on their greens. This latest one tickled my funny bone:

"We also had a streaker one weekend. One of our more elderly lady bowlers decided to cheer everybody up by streaking across the green during the club Four's. I happened to overhear this conversation:

'Was that Eva Thompson?'
'Yes, I think so.'
'What was she wearing?'
'I don't know, but whatever it was, it needs a good ironing!'

- Don Oakley
Oakley Woods, Canada

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Prequalified list expansion may hurt USCA regionals

In a recent article [USCA Nationals at Merion] it was announced that the USCA has pre-qualified 76 players for this year's National Championships. Although the goal of large championship flight attendance at the Nationals is admirable, all this expanding pre-qualification does is sound the death knell for regional championships.

When I first started croquet five years ago, being a regional champion was a big deal and many of the top players were attracted to play there. It wasn't unusual to find a number of zero handicaps, halfs and ones in every tournament. Now, with the list of Nationals "invitees" at 76 (and maybe growing larger), the regionals as we know them are an endangered species. There is nothing at all to attract the very top players to compete.

In the not-too-distant future, regional championships may be played in first and second flight only. Surely this can't be the intent of this action, can it?

Marc Gilutin - President
Beverly Hills Croquet Club, USA

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Taylor's workbooks break the logjam of USCA Grand Prix reporting

I have developed two very simple Excel rev5 workbooks to assist a tournament director in computing and reporting the USCA's handicap tracking points and the points for the new USCA Grand Prix.

I am making the workbooks available for $10 each and would like to distribute them via an e-mail file attachment. The files were created in the Windows system but transferring them via the web should allow a Mac system to read and use the files. If you would prefer to have disks (Windows format only) sent via regular mail please add $5 to the cost of the order.

Here are the two files I have available:

- USCA Handicap adjustment point calculations and reporting

- USCA Grand Prix point computations and reporting

The workbooks were created with Excel 97 for Windows and saved as rev5 workbooks. You must have Excel rev5, or later, to use the workbooks. These are simple applications, but you do need to know how to open and run files with Excel.

Contact me at: TaylorsCA@aol.com.

John Taylor
San Mateo, California, USA

A fuller description of the new workbooks and the original tournament program workbooks is on Taylor's new Website at: http://members.aol.com/taylorsca/index.html.

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[You're invited to E-mail to us your own letter for consideration for publication in this international forum.]


 
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