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A foundation for
croquet's national home

by Bob Alman
Posted April 20, 2001
Related Links
Original site map, National Croquet Center
Clubhouse floor plan


A cool front moves down from Georgia, and the mid-April thermometer in Palm Beach County dips into the 60's, refreshing the spirits of the staff and construction crew on the 10-acre site of the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach. The weather front has brought 25 mph winds with it, whipping up dust from newly contoured berms partially screening the Center from residential neighbors along the southern and eastern boundaries. The "high season" ended with Easter. No more major croquet events will be played in Florida until October. Many croquet players are preparing to fly north to their summer residences, while the rest of us look forward with mixed feelings to a tropical summer in Florida. For croquet players, life is good - especially at the National Croquet Center, which in April 2001 became, in fact as well as name, croquet's national home.
On top of the cement foundation, workers begin to set in place cement blocks that will soon rise to a height of 20 feet. On the far right, beyond the fully grown in croquet lawns, is a corner of the Utility Building, where the USCA staff offices are temporarily quartered.
Since the closure of the National Center's lawns in February, conditions have been changing almost daily in response to the County requirements for occupying the premises and beginning the building of the main clubhouse. But now - in mid-April - the project is solidly on track and the site is abuzz with activity: grading berms, planting trees, constructing sidewalks and roadways, putting down thousands of square feet of sod to stabilize the raw, sculpted earth around the 12 croquet courts and the soon-to-be clubhouse.

A couple of weeks ago, the clubhouse was an enormous hole, roughly square, being readied for construction. Then the foundation was poured in the second week of April. If all goes well - and why shouldn't it? - the shell of the building will be complete before the end of September. Well before then, the National Center staff hope to get official permission to resume play on the lawns - for members, for the public, and for major events scheduled for fall.

Moved in and reconnected

This impressive rig permits all the concrete for the clubhouse to be poured in one continuous operation, its orange proboscis extending beyond the full length of a croquet court.
The USCA/CFA office staffs moved into their temporary space on Monday and Tuesday, April 9/10, and soon had the operations up and running. Following several weeks of disrupted communication caused by transferring phone connections from other locations, the phone system is now reliably functional. Everyone at the Center is now easily accessible by phone, fax, and email. A snazzy new phone system has been installed that does just about everything except make the coffee.

As with all the technical systems installed at the new Center while the staff is in temporary quarters in the Utility Building, the phone system is designed with the clubhouse in mind. It can be expanded to as many as 30 lines, when needed. It has all the features necessary to serve the multiple activities of the clubhouse - including the USCA and CFA staff, the restaurant, the National Croquet Club, and the Pro Shop.

The contacts for the USCA, CFA, and the National Croquet Center staff are:

Main phone line - 561-487-2300
Main fax line - 561-686-5507
Main email: USCA@msn.com

Utility Building is temporary headquarters

Moving day for the USCA staff: Jayne Everman, Deyana Ferro, Shereen Hayes, Diane Weir at the interior doorway to the new offices.

The 40' x 100' Utility Building was the first major structure completed on the site. It was built to serve many purposes, some temporary, others permanent. The USCA staff of four occupies a corner space roughly comparable in size to the old offices at Palm Beach Polo, while the National Center staff is housed in another corner. A third corner has been built out with restrooms and a catering preparation area. Several storerooms have been enclosed along the western wall. All of those uses take up less than half the area of the sizeable building. The remaining open space is used for equipment storage, repair, carpentry and other work to support the ongoing building of the Center.

The croquet event of the century

Although the lawns will undoubtedly open for play before winter and various parts of the clubhouse may very well open in 2001 before the entire structure is finished, the opening celebration will not take place until early February, 2002, in a 14-day "mega-event."

Croquet Festival II has been scheduled for February 10-17, 2002. The National Croquet Center is negotiating with the World Croquet Federation for the Golf Croquet World Championship to precede the Festival (February 4-10) and overlap its opening day with a finals spectacle for several hundred spectators covered prominently by the press. During this period, dedication ceremonies for the lawns and building spaces of the clubhouse will be held, along with elaborate social events and entertainments.

Take a second look: Croquet is not at all what you thought it was. The full-service opening of the world's largest dedicated croquet facility is, in itself, newsworthy. Combine that with the Center's promotional emphasis on Golf Croquet, and the February event becomes, potentially, a public "relaunch" of the sport. The focus of the media and the public will be on Golf Croquet - a game that can be learned, understood, and appreciated on short exposure. Egyptian-style hitting power should lend a dramatic edge to press and television coverage of the Golf Croquet World Championship finals, and the message will be very clear: "Take a second look: Croquet is not at all what you thought it was."

The concentration of these events in one 14-day period should constitute just about the biggest croquet bash in the history of the sport. As one croquet historian put it succinctly, "In the 19th Century there was Wimbledon, in the 20th, it was Hurlingham; now it's the National Croquet Center."

Major donors and new dedications spur project

Wealthy members of the croquet establishment are realizing that the National Center will be much more than a great place to play croquet. One of them is Pat Supper of Palm Beach. She created a sensation on Opening Day of the Croquet Festival in January with her donation of $375,000 to the clubhouse building fund. The gift dedicates the entire second floor of the clubhouse to the Patricia and Frederick Supper Foundation, comprising the offices of the USCA and the Foundation, the national archives, and a museum that will double as a meeting room and banquet hall.

Pat Supper has said she is especially interested in bringing more young people into the sport. The USCA's Youth Development program for high schools and colleges is designed to do just that, using the National Center lawns as a showcase venue for major competitions and summer coaching programs for young people.

Another major donation honors the memory of the first president of the Croquet Foundation of America, Jack McMillin. His dedication plaque will go on the East Veranda overlooking the center courts, thanks to another president of the Foundation and a long-time friend of McMillin - Ellery McClatchy.

With their substantial gifts, these pillars of American croquet, among others, are buying into the founding vision of CFA president Chuck Steuber. Steuber has steadfastly maintained that the chief purpose of the National Croquet Center is to dramatically expand the play of the sport in America, as measured in USCA club and individual memberships.

National Croquet Club memberships restructured

Past and current memberships in all categories have been realigned consistent with the new projections for completion of the National Croquet Center. The Charter Memberships were designed to begin in December 2000 and extend throughout the year 2001. Charter members were entitled to playing privileges at the Center beginning December 2 and ending February 9, when the lawns were closed. The new annual membership will begin on November 1, 2001, and all the current and new memberships will be extended through the end of October 2002.

Memberships in what will surely be America's premiere resort-class croquet club are only one way to support the completion of the most expensive croquet project ever undertaken. Your tax-deductible contribution - or that of your club, your corporation, or your foundation - can help to shape the future of our sport. Send your check, payable to the Croquet Foundation of America, to:

Building Fund
National Croquet Center
700 Florida Mango Road
West Palm Beach, Florida 33406

[National Croquet Center photos by Bob Alman.]


 
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