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My husband and I are 30-something Bostonians with a passion for good food, fine company and exploring new places both near and far.  Follow along as I document our adventures and share my tips for traveling, dining and entertaining in style.

The Essentials: How to Play Croquet

The Essentials: How to Play Croquet

For over 150 years, Americans young and old have enjoyed this traditional backyard recreation.



Born in the British isles in the mid 19th century, the game of croquet soon migrated to America, where it became a beloved backyard tradition.   The sport suffered a brief setback in the 1890s after the Boston clergy spoke out against the "drinking, gambling, and licentious behavior" associated with its play on the Common.  However, it resurfaced in the 1920s and quickly gained popularity as a favorite pastime of famous entertainment and literary figures, including the Algonquin Roundtable.  Although its heyday may be behind us, backyard croquet is still widely enjoyed today, and remains the ideal complement to family gatherings, garden parties and elegant social events. 


What You Will Need

Croquet's popularity as a"backyard pastime" stems in part from the fact that partaking in a friendly match requires little more than procuring a simple croquet set and locating a flat stretch of grass.  Although inexpensivesets can be purchased online for as little as $30, investing in proper equipment is advised for all but the most rudimentary players, and with hundreds of options available, need not strain your budget.

This heirloom-quality, square-headed croquet mallet is custom crafted from Indian Rosewood by British-based artisan Michael Percival.

This heirloom-quality, square-headed croquet mallet is custom crafted from Indian Rosewood by British-based artisan Michael Percival.

A croquet set typically consists of mallets, balls, hoops and a center peg; of these components the mallet is by far the most important.  Whether you are a professional croquet player or backyard beginner, selecting an appropriate mallet is essential to making clean and accurate shots.

Mallets have three major components: the head, the length and the weight.  Most competition mallets have a square head, whereas garden mallets tend to have a cylindrical head shape. The width of the mallet face can also vary.  Although it is a personal preference, those new to the game would be well-suited to select a square headed mallet with as wide of a face dimension as posible as narrower faces can be challenging to play and result in inaccurate shots.

These exquisite croquet mallets from Garden Games feature brass-bound cylindrical heads and are more suited for backyard use.

The second aspect to consider when selecting a croquet mallet is the length of the shaft.  There are two factors that impact this decision: the height of the player and the style of grip with which they play.  If possible, new players should try out different mallets and grip styles before deciding what length to order.  However, starting with a 36" mallet is usually a safe bet (though taller or shorter individuals should adjust the length accordingly).  In the event it is necessary to further shorten the handle, this can easily be accomplished.

The final aspect to consider when selecting a proper croquet mallet is weight.  The general rule is that heavier mallets offer more power but less control whereas lighter mallets offer the opposite.  A mallet with a weight of three pounds is typically advised for those new to the game.

There are various other aspects to consider when purchasing a croquet set, including but not limited to grips, aesthetic appearance, shaft type and of course, budget.  The United States Croquet Association maintains a comprehensive directory of manufacturers and service providers offering high-quality croquet products.

Personalizing your croquet mallets adds an additional touch of elegance and creates an instant family treasure.  We purchased ours from North Meadow Outfitters; a small American company that remains committed to producing the highest quality croquet sets while meeting all of the rules and regulations required of a domestic manufacturer.


What to Wear

When selecting a croquet costume, it is wise to bear in mind that a proper croquet shot often requires one to bend at the waist and swing one's mallet through one's legs.  This adorable Lilly frock offers both coverage and mobility.

When selecting a croquet costume, it is wise to bear in mind that a proper croquet shot often requires one to bend at the waist and swing one's mallet through one's legs.  This adorable Lilly frock offers both coverage and mobility.

White clothing is recognized as the traditional standard of dress when playing a match of croquet. Unlike the sport of tennis, which gradually relaxed its dress code over the decades, it remains customary (and at times mandatory) for croquet players to don all white apparel when on the croquet court.  This standard is strictly enforced in all USCA titled events as well as by many private clubs, resorts, and hostesses of croquet-themed parties (particularly when said theme party has a name: i.e. "Cocktails & Croquet" or "An Edwardian Garden Party").  In sum, even when when all-white attire is merely "requested,"  good decorum and proper etiquette warrant complying with same.


Where to Play

Children enjoying a match at The Westmoor Club

Children enjoying a match at The Westmoor Club

Croquet is a portable sport, and part of the fun therein lies in the fact that a croquet court can quickly be set up on any suitable patch of grass.  For those looking to elevate their experience, many clubs and resorts maintain expertly manicured croquet lawns and offer formal competition as well as expert instruction.

Aspiring croquet aficionados may wish to consider membership in the United States Croquet Association.   Organized in 1977, the USCA established croquet as a serious sport in America and remains the primary organizing force behind its growth and development.   A small annual membership fee ($65 individual, $100 per couple) provides a host of benefits, including access to nearly 300 member clubs sanctioning hundreds of local, regional, national and international tournaments each year.


The Westmoor Club    Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sprawling across fifteen acres, Nantucket's private and exclusive Westmoor Club boasts the island's only croquet court.  Non-members may enjoy access to all of the club's facilities by reserving one of seven elegantly appointed guest rooms.   Book a lesson with the charming and enigmatic Wayne Davies, a top ranked croquet pro and former tennis champion who now serves as the club's sports director.

A 1917 summer home built for Alice Vanderbilt now serves as the clubhouse and guest quarters of Nantucket's Westmoor Club.

A 1917 summer home built for Alice Vanderbilt now serves as the clubhouse and guest quarters of Nantucket's Westmoor Club.


The Ocean House   Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Rhode Island's iconic Ocean House resort maintains a beautifully manicured croquet lawn overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Open to members of the public with approval, the Ocean House offers guests the opportunity to compete in traditional, six-wicket croquet on a full-size, world-class court.

First opened in 1868, the warm yellow facade of the Ocean House has welcomed guests for nearly 140 years.


The Rules of the Game

Newcomers to the game of croquet are often surprised to learn that there are actually multiple versions of the sport.  American Croquet, also known as Six-Wicket Croquet, is the principal game of the United States Croquet Association and the version played in tournaments and clubs.  Nine-Wicket Croquet is the simplified version of the game played in backyards and public parks across America for nearly 150 years. 

The USCA maintains the official rules of American Croquet; a copy of which can be downloaded from their website.  The USCA has also created a special edition of the rules as a guide for backyard play.

A Quick Introduction to Backyard Croquet

Nine-Wicket Croquet is played between two sides — the blue and black balls versus the red and yellow balls. In singles each player plays two balls; in doubles each player plays the same ball throughout the game.

The object is to maneuver the balls through the course of wickets and into the finishing stake. The side which first does so with both its balls wins the game.

Play is made by striking a ball with a mallet. The player who is playing a turn is called the striker, and the ball in play for that turn is the striker ball. Turns are played in the sequence blue, red, black, yellow, and so on throughout the game. This sequence of colors is usually painted on the stakes (incorrectly in some sets). Each turn is initially one stroke, but extra strokes are earned when the striker ball hits another ball or scores a wicket point. By making good use of these extra strokes it is possible to score many points in one turn.

The striker ball may cause other balls to move and score points. However, the striker must never strike any ball other than the striker ball. The mallet must contact the ball crisply — scooping, pushing, and hitting the ball more than once during the stroke are not allowed.

Starting a Game

The side that wins the coin toss chooses colors; blue plays first. Each ball is played into the game from a point halfway between the finishing stake and wicket #1. (If scaling down the court, maintain the 6' distance between each stake and its nearest wicket.)

Scoring a Wicket

A ball scores a wicket point by passing through a wicket in the correct direction and sequence (see Figure 2).

Hitting other balls

If the striker ball hits a live ball we say it has made a roquet, and the striker becomes entitled to take croquet from the roqueted ball. (All balls are live at the start of the turn.) This is done by picking up the striker ball, placing it in contact with the roqueted ball, then striking the striker ball. The croqueted ball is now dead, and remains so until the striker ball scores its next wicket or stake point or until the start of the next turn.

If the striker ball hits a dead ball, it is not a roquet and no extra stroke is earned. However, if the striker is otherwise entitled to play an extra stroke, the turn continues.

Boundaries

You may mark a definite boundary with string or chalk, or simply mark the corners with flags or other suitable markers. Any ball that crosses the boundary is placed in three feet (or the length of a mallet), nearest the point where the ball crossed the boundary. Any ball less than three feet (or the length of a mallet) from the boundary is also placed in the full distance.

Wicket and Hit

The striker ball cannot both score a wicket and make a roquet on the same stroke. Whichever happens first takes precedence.

Turning Stake

A ball scores the turning stake by hitting it in the correct sequence.

Continuation Stroke

The striker earns an extra stroke (called a continuation stroke) for the striker ball by scoring a wicket, or the turning stake, or by taking croquet. The continuation stroke is played as the balls lie. In general, continuation strokes are not cumulative. For example, if the striker ball scores a wicket while taking croquet, only one continuation stroke is earned.

If the striker ball makes a roquet while taking croquet, there is no continuation stroke and the striker immediately takes croquet from the ball that was just roqueted.

If the striker ball scores a wicket and the turning stake on the same stroke, only one continuation stroke is earned.

The one exception is that two continuation strokes are earned if the striker ball scores two wickets on one stroke. And if the striker ball scores a wicket or stake or makes a roquet with the first of these two continuation strokes, the extra stroke is forfeited.

Rover Balls and Scoring the Finishing Stake

A ball that has scored all the points except the finishing stake is called a rover ball. Any rover ball that hits the finishing stake, whether or not it is the striker ball, has scored the stake and is removed from the game. Play continues in the usual sequence, skipping over the missing ball. The game ends when both balls of a side have scored the finishing stake.

A rover ball may roquet each other ball no more than once per turn.

Stake and Hit

The striker ball cannot both score the stake and make a roquet on the same stroke. Whichever happens first takes precedence.

On Island Time: Three Days in Nantucket

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Maine Blueberry Shortcake with Maple Whipped Cream

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