Croquet is a sport that is not necessarily popular in most of the country. That is not the case in Northeast Florida.
In recent years, croquet has seen a boom with tournaments in the area sanctioned by the US Croquet Association. The association also hosts a tournament in Ponte Vedra in October and the Florida Regional in January.
As far as getting more tournaments in the area, Bill Simmons was one of the key players involved. Simmons is the founder of the Northeast Florida Croquet Club, which was formed to help promote tournament play in Northeast Florida.
“Our main goal is to get more clubs in Northeast Florida involved,” Simmons said. “A lot of the players here are good tournament players. About 10 percent of the players in the top 100 are from Jacksonville.”
One of those players is Helen Covington. Covington is ranked 35th in the country and fourth in the women’s ranking.
She is also heavily involved in the First Coast League, which consists primarily of local tournament players competing at clubs in the area.
“What we’re doing is we’re organizing one social and one competitive game at these clubs,” said Covington. “Social is where you just play with everyone to get out there and get people playing. It’s fun, but if you want real competition it gets boring.”
These tournaments are just some of the ways the American Croquet Association is trying to help the sport grow, not just in Florida, but across the country. As it penalizes more tournaments, the players get better and more people get involved.
“Croquet is really a lifelong sport because older players come in and they find a sport they can still improve in and excel in,” said Cheryl Bromley, national chair of the association’s golf croquet committee.
Golf croquet is the more modern version of six wicket croquet, meaning the course has six hoops (wickets) and one post (stake) in the center of the lawn.
The game usually has two sides with two balls each and a hammer to hit the ball. In singles each player plays two balls, but in doubles they each play their own ball.
The object of the game is to be the first to score seven points, which can be achieved by getting the ball through each wicket.
Croquet was actually an Olympic sport in 1900 in Paris, but only for that year. However, it is credited as the first Olympic event in which women participated.
Age really doesn’t matter when practicing the sport, and more young people have shown an interest. One of the best players in the world is not older than 13 years.
“This is not just a sport for old people. It’s actually a great spectator sport,” Bromley said.
But about 98 percent of all croquet facilities are private and require some kind of membership.
“I’d like to see some cheaper places for people to play,” Covington said. “Right now you have to be a member pretty much everywhere.”
In northeast Florida, three croquet clubs are sanctioned by the American Croquet Association: The Florida Yacht Club, The Plantation at Ponte Vedra, and the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club.
Of those clubs, the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club has the most croquet courts with seven and was also voted Croquet Club of the Year. The club was built and run by John Curington.
Curington is a croquet Hall of Fame inductee, helped build the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, and is vice president of the First Coast League. He said there is still more that can be done to help the sport evolve.
While his club is generally private, he offers free instruction to the public at 9:30am on Wednesdays and Saturdays and at 3:30pm on Sundays.
“It’s been hard to reach all the people I’d want to because I know there’s an awful lot of people out there who would enjoy this if they knew about it,” Curington said.
Jake Klausner: (904) 359-4697
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Visit the American Croquet Association website at croquetamerica.com.
Visit the Northeast Florida Croquet Club website at nefloridacroquetclub.com or call Bill Simmons at (908) 625-9189.
Visit the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club website at pontevedracroquetclub.com or call John Curington at (904) 343-2281.