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Moving into the clubhouse,
Croquet Victoria celebrates milestone

story and photos by George Latham,
secretary of Croquet Victoria
Posted July 15, 2006


Australia has followed the example of the U.S. Croquet Association in creating a comparatively huge venue for the sport, combining commodious event spaces with enough state-of-the-art lawn space - twelve full courts - to accommodate most major events at a single site. Although the clubhouse in Victoria isn't as large or as elegant as the one anchoring the Americans' flagship facility in Florida, the Victoria Association might well have done the better job of providing a useful model for the rest of the croquet world to follow. Why? Because, in spite of construction cost overruns totalling nearly half a million dollars, it's all paid for. Moreover, various state sports-related agencies are providing help and advice to encourage acroquet-specific centre professional standard of planning and management as a condition of their support. Croquet World will monitor and report on the further development of this important facility after the lawns open and it becomes fully operational.

Croquet Victoria has moved into its new Croquet Centre clubhouse at last. The Centre has taken five years from concept to reality.

The old five-lawn headquarters in the affluent Melbourne suburb of Brighton, wholly owned by the cash-poor and asset-rich Association, sat on increasingly valuable real estate. Officials decided a half dozen years ago it was time to sell the land and assure the organization's financial future forever and build a new croquet-specific centre and much larger headquarters further out in the suburbs, but still easily accessible to croquet players.

This view from the germinating lawns of Australia's new 12-court mega-facility near Melbourne, Australia, shows a spacious, modern, open and airy clubhouse with windows on all sides overlooking the games.
Today, Croquet Victoria owns a larger chunk of land in a beautiful landscaped estate in the western Melbourne suburb of Cairnlea, has built a modern 12-court croquet-specific centre, and invested funds sufficient to secure its financial future. The new Centre's location near the Western Ring Road - 15 minutes from Melbourne Airport - makes it more conveniently reachable for the majority of players in the State of Victoria, who can reach Cairnlea without having to travel through the city.

The front of the clubhouse from the parking area.
Croquet in Victoria has been community based since 1914, when townspeople tired of waiting for an invitation to wealthy estates and approached local municipal councils to provide venues for croquet as well as for tennis, lawn bowls, cricket and football. Croquet Victoria is a not-for-profit incorporated Sporting Association run by volunteers. The 2,500 men and women who play croquet in Victoria are members of one or more of the 92 clubs scattered throughout the state. The Association administers a range of services to these clubs through volunteer committees that train coaches, referees and tournament managers; run membership programs funded by government agencies; coordinate Association, Gateball and Golf Croquet activities; run state championships and assist clubs in promoting the game in their community.

The Victorian Croquet Centre at Cairnlea was designed specifically for croquet by the croquet players in clubs around the state of Victoria and will be used for all the activities previously occurring at North Brighton. However, unlike Brighton, the new property affords access to the disabled from all approaches. For all the players, lockers, showers and a bar are new and welcome amenities at the new facility.

The interior can be divided by a foldaway soundproof wall.
The clubhouse has been purposely designed with multiple rooms to cater for more than one activity at a time. The largest of the rooms can seat 150 people for a function. Croquet events can proceed without interruption from non-croquet-related meetings, conferences and a range of activities, all serving the needs of the community and providing revenue for the operation of the Centre.

Professional help For volunteers

Even though Croquet Victoria has been successfully run by volunteers since 1914 and has owned its own headquarters since 1948, the organization's board recognized that outside expertise would be needed to complete the sale of one venue, the purchase and construction of a new one, and the management of a substantial investment of capital. Fortunately, the State Government of Victoria has created three government bodies under the Minister of Sport and the Minister of Health - VicSport, Sport and Recreation Victoria, and VicHealth - all of which support the sporting associations in the state financially and with professional advice.

The board recognized the need for outside expertise...

Consultants and CEO's from these three organisations have guided Croquet Victoria and supplied appropriate professionals to develop and complete the project. They are now continuing to see that the croquet organizations follow best practice in setting up a professional business and marketing program that will eventually have paid professionals assisting the volunteer administration in all aspects of croquet in the state.

All Victoria's clubs will benefit

The 92 clubs in the 13 regions of the state are the core of croquet in Victoria. Croquet Victoria administration exists to support and service these clubs. The clubs voted for the sale, relocation and financial investment on the understanding that once it is established, covering costs and generating profits, the interest from the investment will be used for projects that support and assist the individual clubs.

Until then, any club that is prepared to put in the effort required for running these projects can access up to $1,200 each from the $55,000 granted to Croquet Victoria from state government grants in addition to membership affiliation funds. These projects are to help increase membership, subsidise advertisements and fund free professional advice on croquet court maintenance and repairs to old mallets.

Frustrating delay in grass growing

Victoria's harsh summer and water restrictions has made Santa Ana couch grass a good choice for the lawns, because it requires a minimum of water and is less prone to disease than other strains. But unfortunately an unforeseen delay in the construction of the roads around the Centre and their attendant services caused a parallel delay in the planting of the grass in 9 of the 12 courts, which meant that the grass was not planted soon enough in the warm season to germinate properly and flourish. It's now expected that the grass on these 9 courts will achieve the full coverage necessary for top class tournaments by the end of the next Australian summer - March 2007 being the projected date for full use of the lawns for croquet.

Luckily, the contract of sale on the old headquarters allows the lawns at that venue to be used until the new courts are playable. In the meantime, the three remaining courts at the new Centre have been sown with a grass mix that is now growing rapidly and will be ready for start of season play in October 2006. This will give the surrounding communities not only a for-hire venue for meetings and conferences, but also croquet courts to service a new club at the Centre to attract new members to croquet as well as programs for nearby schools, organizations, and businesses who may wish to use croquet for social activities or team building at meetings and conferences.

The new Cairnlea Croquet Club

The new club already has members ready to play at the start of the season... Because there is no club near enough to the Centre, Croquet Victoria decided that it was an advantage to establish a club at the Centre to increase participation in croquet in the area and to involve the local community in all aspects of the Centre. The club has now been formed with experienced players as founding members and officials until new members are ready to be involved in running the club. The club already has new members on their books ready to play at the start of the season in October.

The clubhouse is open for business

The clubhouse has been used for croquet meetings since the end of May while officers were being set up setting up and new furniture moved in.

By July 11 the commercial kitchen and bar was fully set up and tables, chairs and equipment for functions were in place. Croquet Victoria will provide catering only for croquet events. When the rooms are hired out to private, community and business groups, they are expected to do their own catering or hire a caterer. The hire fees and bar sales will provide revenue to offset the cost Centre maintenance.

Even before advertising, a number of bookings have been confirmed. The new Centre is seen as the best-equipped and most attractive venue of its kind in the area.

Live-in caretakers a bonus

Frank and Iris Williams, leading club members of the Horsham Croquet Club in western Victoria, have moved into the modern one-bedroom caretaker flat upstairs in the clubhouse. Having enthusiastic, experienced croquet players on site is considered a huge advantage for coordinating activities and developing community contacts. Iris is a registered coach and referee and is experienced in taking schools and business groups for croquet, while Frank is an accomplished tradesman and astute businessman.

Well planned playing area

Each of the 12 courts extends an extra two metres beyond each boundary to ensure there is a level area at each boundary and to allow the court to be shifted to avoid wear and tear in crucial areas. A perimeter walkway and two centre walkways raised 11cm above court level surrounds all courts; concrete kerbing around the walkways, covered with artificial turf, acts as a barrier to protect players and spectators from croquet balls. The shelters on the walkways have retractable canvas awnings and toughened glass sides to protect players from the weather and permit maximum viewing from the shelters. Court equipment will be housed in lockers in the shelters.

The four centre courts have lighting for play at night; four drinking fountains near the courts will serve players and spectators while the toilets at the maintenance sheds will be available to players on the remote courts.

Rooms with a view

The outstanding feature of the clubhouse is the sweeping view of the courts from almost every room. Learning from the restricted viewing from the old headquarters, planners decided on floor-to-ceiling windows facing all courts, with the main veranda facing the courts below the floor level of the clubhouse so those sitting outside would not block the view from inside. You can stand at the bar and see all courts except half of the two courts that flank the clubhouse. The Tournament Manager's office also has a sweeping view of the courts. From the upstairs balcony overlooking the courts you can see all but the two courts beside the clubhouse.

The balcony affords an uninterrupted view of the courts.

Patience will be rewarded

The work involved in getting the new Centre built and operational, and the frustration of delays have taught Croquet Victoria to be patient and work steadily at getting everything right. So far we have succeeded financially and operationally, and our experienced government agency advisors are assuring us that the Centre will be a big success if we keep continuing to improve our organisation and adhere to sound professional advice.

Croquet Victoria looks forward to welcoming croquet players from interstate and overseas to our new centre in the near future.

A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR: George Latham has been playing croquet for 30 years. In that time he has won 14 national titles and represented Australia in the MacRobertson Shield twice as a player and four times as a manager/coach, the last being in Florida at the National Croquet Center in 2003, when he coached the Australian Team to second place. He will again be the Australia coach in the November 2006 Shield in Australia originally scheduled for the new Victorian Croquet Centre. George has served croquet in Australia and Victoria in a volunteer capacity as a Selector, State Magazine Editor, State Director of Coaching, President of Croquet Victoria and now as Secretary. In these last two positions he has played a major role in guiding the development of the Victorian Croquet Centre.


 
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