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Last updated: August 27, 2022
Croquet is an entertaining lawn and backyard game that can be played by two to six players, either individually or as teams.
The game has increased in popularity in recent times, with many variations and spin-offs to choose from, such as Golf, Extreme, Six-wicket, Garden, Nine-wicket, and 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 rules and setup of the nine-wicket variant.
What Is Croquet?
Croquet is a lawn game where players hit balls through hoops, otherwise known as wickets. A wooden mallet is used to shoot these balls. You can play this game on any flat surface, be it in your backyard or on a professional court.
The game’s primary objective is maneuvering your balls across the lawn and through the nine strategically placed wickets. The balls need to go through the wickets in the correct sequence and direction.
Origins of Croquet
It remains unclear how the game croquet was invented. 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 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 throughout 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, 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 good skills and a sense of strategy.
It’s not a wild and action-packed backyard game; instead, 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
Different croquet versions have unique rules. The United States Croquet Association (USCA) has a rule book that governs 9-wicket and other versions.
Nine-wicket croquet is the ideal recreational game for friends and families, and that is what I am discussing in this article. It’s the simplest form of croquet, best suitable for backyard play.
To explain how to play croquet, I am going to discuss the following:
- Field setup
- Game objective
- Game rules
Let’s dive in!
The game is played by 2, 4, or 6 players using 2, 4, or 6 balls. You typically play as individuals, but you can also create teams of 2 or 3 players.
The first step in learning how to play croquet for beginners is knowing what equipment you need.
- Mallets x6
- Stakes x2
- Balls x6
- Wickets x9
The mallets and balls typically come in six different colors; one color per player.
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 the handle and the head.
Croquet stakes are typically made from wood and have colored markings that match the colors of the mallets and balls.
Stakes are installed at all ends of the croquet court, approximately 6 feet from the boundary.
A backyard croquet set comes with six balls. The balls have a diameter ranging from 3 to 3.6 inches and can weigh up to 16 ounces.
As mentioned, the mallets and balls have matching colors, so each player plays with one mallet and one ball of the same color.
Players play 9-wicket croquet using nine iron hoops (wickets).
The wickets are fixed to the ground and are roughly 4 inches wide and 12 inches high.
2. Field Setup
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 must also be soft enough to install the wickets.
You will need nine wickets and two stakes. 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. Of course, the lawn doesn’t have to be that long, but whatever measurements you choose, ensure 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 install the first wicket.
- Install the second wicket 6 feet away from the first and in line with the stake.
- The next step is installing 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.
3. Game Objective
The objective of nine-wicket croquet is to be the first player to score 14 wickets and 2 stakes in the correct order.
Before playing, you will need to determine the number of players and which player to go first. Each player will get one mallet plus a ball of the same color.
The order of play is determined by the colored markings on the stake. The player with the color that is highest on the stake goes first.
The game starts by placing the ball between the starting stake and the first wicket. From there, the first player must try and shoot the ball through the first wicket, followed by the second wicket, and so on.
Once a player hits the stake at the other end of the field (after completing the first 7 wickets), they turn to complete the remaining 7 wickets, after which they need to hit the starting stake to end the game.
4. Game Rules
Now that we’ve discussed the field setup and objective of the game, let’s dive a little deeper into the rules of croquet.
Turns and Bonus Shots
Each player gets one shot per turn. However, bonus shots can be earned when one of the following happens:
- Scoring a wicket.
- Hitting the stake.
- Hitting an opponent’s ball.
Scoring a wicket or hitting the stake results in 1 bonus shot. Note that the ball must pass through the wicket entirely for it to be a score.
Hitting an opponent’s ball results in 2 bonus shots. When hitting an opponent’s ball and then scoring a wicket in the same shot, the wicket doesn’t count, but the two bonus shots are awarded. When scoring a wicket and then hitting an opponent’s ball in the same shot, the wicket is scored, but the two bonus shots are not awarded.
A player can earn a maximum of 2 bonus shots per turn, unless the ball is going through a wicket. When a ball goes through a wicket, the number of bonus shots resets to 1.
In other words, a player can, in theory, complete and win a game in just one turn.
Players earn a wicket only if they strike the ball through the wicket in the correct direction.
Hitting the ball through the wicket in the wrong direction is allowed but won’t earn you anything.
Ball out of Play
If you’re playing with boundaries around the court, and a ball goes out of play, there are rules to consider.
To bring the ball back into play, place the ball one mallet’s length (or 1 meter) from the boundaries into the field where the ball exited the field.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that croquet has complicated rules, but hopefully, after reading this article and playing a few times, you will find it’s pretty easy to pick up.
Croquet certainly isn’t for everyone, and I also find that the vibe is very different from, for example, playing a game of washer toss.
But ultimately, croquet is a fun game that allows for bonding between friends and family in the yard. It has certainly become one of my favorites in recent years.