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Last updated: October 2, 2021
Croquet is an entertaining lawn and backyard game that can be played by two to six players. It has become so popular to the extent of spawning sequels like Golf, Poison, Extreme, Six-wicket, Garden, Nine-wicket, Ricochet, to name a few.
But how exactly is this game played? Grab a mallet and learn how to play croquet for beginners. This article delves deeper and details the important rules and setup of the nine-wicket variant.
What Is Croquet?
Croquet is a lawn game where players hit balls through hoops. A wooden mallet is used to hit these balls. You can play this game on any flat surface, be it in your backyard or a professional court.
The game’s primary objective is to maneuver your balls across the lawn and through the strategically placed nine hoops. The balls are driven through the hoops in the correct sequence and direction.
You finish the game by hitting these balls against the center peg. The first team to finish the course with both balls is declared the winner.
Origins of Croquet
The exact inception of croquet remains unclear. Some sources claim it originated from the French game Pall Mall, while other theories assert that Pall Mall was more golf than croquet.
History pinpoints the first documentation of the present game to 1852. During this time, the Irish’s game “crooky” was launched in England. John Jaques, a London based sporting goods manufacturer, started manufacturing croquet sets for widespread use and recreation.
Upper-class individuals mostly played initial croquet games, but by 1870, its popularity had spread all over England and its colonies. The surge in popularity saw croquet introduced in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
However, the emergence of lawn tennis slowed down croquet’s momentum around the start of the 20th century, and it wasn’t until decades later that the game of croquet was revived.
Come 1950, and Americans had learned how to play croquet. It was played across the US mainly as a recreational sport. From then to the present, the game has been on an upward trajectory. In Canada and the US, the recreational 9-wicket croquet is prominent, while garden croquet is more popular in the UK.
Why do I like this game so much?
Croquet is quite a sophisticated game that requires a good level of skills and a sense of strategy.
It’s not a wild and action-packed backyard game, rather it’s a game that allows for a bit of thinking, strategizing, considering, aiming, and so much more. And all of this happens in a relaxing environment shared with family and friends.
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Croquet Rules for Dummies
Nine wicket croquet is the ideal recreational game for friends and families. In many backyards, it’s played using house rules. As mentioned earlier, the game is played by 2, 4, or 6 players using 4 or 6 balls.
When two players are playing, each will play with two balls. There will be three teams of two players or two teams of three in the case of six. The predetermined order of play is blue, red, black, yellow, green, orange.
An important step in learning how to play croquet for beginners is understanding the equipment the game uses.
Essential equipment includes:
- Croquet mallets
- Croquet stakes
- Croquet balls
- Croquet wickets
1. Croquet mallets:
A croquet mallet is a wooden rod with a hammer end that’s used to strike the ball. The mallet’s length can be between 26 to 35 inches and weighs anywhere between two to three pounds. The hammerhead measures around 12 inches and can be square or round. Note that sometimes the heads are referred to as the mallets, however we are referring to mallets as both handle and head.
2. Croquet stakes:
The game’s stakes are made from wood and come in four colors, blue, red, black, and yellow. Stakes are installed at all ends of the croquet court at an approximate distance of 6 feet from the boundary.
3. Croquet balls:
While playing croquet, you’ll encounter four color-coded balls. Croquet balls come in red, blue, yellow, and black colors. Casual backyard croquet sets however typically have balls in more than four colors. The balls have a diameter ranging from 3 to 3-5/8 inches and weigh up to 16 ounces.
4. Croquet wickets:
Players play 9-wicket croquet using 9 iron hoops (wickets). The hoops are fixed to the ground and are four inches and 12 inches high.
You have to know how to set up the playing court when mastering how to play croquet for beginners.
You can play this game anywhere provided the surface is flat and the grass is short. The court’s surface also needs to be soft enough for hoops to be fixed quickly.
You will need nine wickets, two stakes, and mallets. Optional items such as chalks, flags, and strings also come in handy.
A standard nine wicket court measures 100 feet in length and 50 feet in width. The lawn doesn’t have to be this long of course, but whatever measurements you choose, just make sure that all sides are scaled-down in proportion. The settings below are for a 100 x 50 feet lawn.
Once you mark the boundaries of the playing court, the next step is setting up the stakes, followed by the wickets:
- Install the stakes along the centerline. Each stake should be 6 feet from either end of the court.
- Measure a distance of 6 feet from the stake and fix the first wicket.
- Place the second wicket 6 feet away from the first and in line with the stake.
- The next step is fixing two wickets on either side of the court. They have to be 16 feet away from the second wicket.
- The fifth wicket is placed in the center of the court, 32 feet away from the second.
These are the settings for one half of the lawn, follow the same process when fixing the remaining wickets on the other half.
Start of the Game
Before playing, you will need to determine the number of teams, the number of players per team, and which team goes first.
The game can commence with a classic coin toss. The winner of the toss decides whether they will play first or second. The losers from the coin toss get to pick the ball colors they want, either red/yellow or blue/black. The order of play is blue, red, black, and yellow.
The game starts from any point that’s a meter away from the boundary. This point should be in front of the first wicket. The starting side hits the ball into the court, and after their turn, the opponents play their ball from the starting position.
Players commence the game from their starting stakes and navigate through one side to the turning stake. They then turn and navigate the opposite side to the starting stake to end the game. As you pass the ball through each hoop, you earn a point and a continuation stroke.
First Four Turns
During the first four turns, players have to play with all their balls. After these turns, the starting team has to pick the ball color again and start the next round of shots. Teams can only play a single shot per turn but can continue if they have earned extra shots.
Players earn a wicket only if they strike the ball through the hoop in the right direction. Hitting the ball through the hoop in the wrong direction is allowed, but won’t earn you anything.
Tactics and Techniques
Although backyard croquet is played for fun, there’s always the urge to emerge the overall victor. As a novice studying on how to play croquet for beginners, you’ll need workable tactics and the proper technique.
- At the start of the game, going second is the better choice. You’re likely to find more balls in front.
- Retain any croquet advantage you have until the end of your turn.
- Keep all your balls in front of the next hoop when taking a break.
- Learn how to swing the mallet accurately and smoothly.
Different croquet versions have unique rules. The United States Croquet Association (USCA) has a rule book that governs 9-wicket and other versions.
Below are some of the critical rules you should always remember when practicing how to play croquet for beginners.
1. Extra Shots
Players get extra shots whenever they strike an opponent’s ball (roquet) or score via a hoop. Scoring earns you one extra shot while hitting an opponent’s ball earns you two.
After you roquet the enemy’s ball, you can do the following:
- Make two continuation shots from where your striker’s ball came to rest.
- Place your striker’s ball a mallet length away from the roqueted ball and make two continuation strokes.
- Place the striker’s ball near the roqueted ball and hit two continuation strokes.
- Repeat the previous step but use your hand or feet to steady the ball before making two continuation strokes.
This rule governs how you strike the opponent’s ball. You cannot bang a roqueted ball repeatedly before scoring another wicket. This rule is optional.
3. Ball of the Lawn
Whenever your ball goes out of the court, you’ll replace it a meter away from the spot it went out. The play then progresses without any penalties.
4. Hoop Points
You score a hoop point if you strike a ball through the hoop. The ball must at least have passed some section of the hoop for the score to stand.
5. Striking the Ball
You should only strike the ball with the mallet’s face/hammer. When the ball hits the peg at the end of a game, it’s removed from play.
6. Winning the Game
The first team or player to score all the hoops and pegs out all the balls wins the game. In case of a tie, the game continues until one team scores an extra point.
You may think that croquet has rather complicated rules after reading this article, but rest assured, after playing a few times you will find it’s quite easy to pick up.
Croquet certainly isn’t for everyone, and I also find that the atmosphere is very different when playing a game like washer toss, for example.
But it’s a fun game that allows for bonding between friends and family.