BLOWING ROCK – With terms like ‘straight rush’ and ‘over the top cannon’ it might be easy to suspect that the speaker is talking about a card game, or maybe even a beer drinking contest. Those conclusions didn’t even come close to the subject on September 9, when Matt Essick and Tom Balding teamed up at the Blowing Rock Country Club for an educational croquet show.
There were oohs and ahs and moans, as well as enthusiastic applause. There were astonished big eyes and even a few OMGs. The No. 1 ranked croquet player in the US and No. 5 in the world, Essick is one of the royalty of the sport. Kalende may not be far behind as the pro who replaced Essick at Grandfather Country Club. Sure, they know more than a little bit what they’re talking about when the topic of hitting wooden balls with mallets through different types of hoops comes up in conversation.
Association Croquet, according to several documents cited on Wikipedia, may have its origins in an ancestral game introduced to Britain from France between 1660 and 1685 during the reign of Charles II in England, Scotland, and Ireland. At the time, it was played under the name, paille-maille, also spelled pall-mall. Other theories about the modern game of croquet suggest that it came from Ireland in the 1850s, perhaps after it was brought to Ireland from Brittany (France), where a similar game was played on the beaches.
One description, an 1828 entry in an English language dictionary, suggests that it is billiards played on the floor.
When asked what he thought was the most difficult skill to learn to play croquet, Essick didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“I think it’s mental,” Essick said. “Once you’ve mastered the different shots, it’s about not letting your opponent get into your head. Play your game.”
Essick spends the warm season in Winston-Salem and the colder season in Winter Park, Florida.
“I started playing croquet when I was 3 years old,” Essick said.
On May 6, the author of Croquet Network.com wrote an article titled, “Triple Peels Dominate the Finals in the US 6-Wicket PFC Hoop Maker Masters.”
“What a show! In the eight years I’ve played American 6-Wicket, I’ve never seen a player finish a game with a triple peel, and yet Matthew Essick finished three of his last four games with a triple last weekend. the semifinal match against Zack Watson, Matthew won both games by scoring all the hoops with his second ball as he shelled through the last three hoops (scoring his partner ball) then put both balls on the center stake, winning 26tp-0 and 26tp- 13. Essick did the same in one of his final matches against current US 6-Wicket National Champion, Randy Cardo, winning 26tp-5 and 26-0.”
In November 2020, Essick scored his first USCA National title.
Balding is now the croquet pro at Grandfather Country Club, where he says that of the 400 members, about a quarter, or 100, play croquet.
“About 80 of them take classes every week,” Balding says.
Balding, a Maryland native, said he started playing the game while in college.
“I was drawn to all the trophies and accolades that came with winning,” he said, “but now I realize it’s all about promoting the game, getting other people to enjoy it and understand it.”
Although croquet began to decline in popularity in the late 1800s to give way to lawn tennis, including at the All England Club in Wimbledon, where croquet lawns were largely converted into tennis courts, there has been a resurgence in recent years, especially among country clubs. like Blowing Rock and Grandfather. According to the US Croquet Association, there are about 200 croquet clubs in the US and it is even embraced as a club sport on many college campuses. Examples include the University of Virgnia, Harvard, Dartmouth, St. John’s, the US Naval Academy, the University of Chicago, Penn State, and others.
A 2010 Croquet Association director’s entry reports that there are over 170 croquet clubs in England and Wales. The All England Club at Wimbledon may be more famous for its tennis, but it still has an active croquet section.
“There are artificial surfaces,” Essick said. “And you have to play what the surface dictates. Blowing Rock is blessed with a great track and a well-maintained, natural lawn. This is great.”
Bob Hartnett, an organizer of the September 9th exhibit that brought Essick and Balding to Blowing Rock, said the game’s popularity at BRCC is steadily growing and they hope to expand some of the facilities in the future to accommodate more players. house.