Jon Diamond is the chairman of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Croquet Club chairman and also the webmaster of the impressive tunbridgewellscroquet.org.uk website. Jon has been playing the sport for 20 years.
I suspect like a lot of people I started playing late in life. I had a few colleagues at work who had been playing for a long time at Royal Tunbridge Wells and suggested I had a try.
I got hooked. I wasn’t very good to start with but I am a decent player now, I am currently top of the ratings at the club and about 150th in the country from around 6-7,000 who are members of clubs, which is a decent number. I have played a few times abroad, we do play in tournaments around the country but I have never played in the Open Tournament, I am just outside that level.
It is a sport that is not too much effort, obviously you need to be a bit fit, but essentially what what you are trying to do is use gravity to hit the ball, more than actual strength. There is also a tactical side to the game, it is not just hit and run.
Association Croquet is the traditional one where if you hit another ball you get an extra turn, you take your ball, put it next to the other one and have two turns, then you try and go through the hoops in the order with that ball.
It is a bit like snooker, infact there is some thought that snooker was invented in India during the monsoon season when they couldn’t play croquet. It is a good story!
The other variation is where you play in strict rotation, one shot at a time, and the objective is to get through the next hoop and the first person to get the hoop wins for that side and then you all go to the next one.
It is a faster game and it’s called Golf Croquet, I’ve no idea why. It is really a much more recent game in its current form, about 10-15 years old I guess and created by the Egyptians. It is a good version to introduce people to the sport and one that we teach novices, including people who come for corporate events. We can teach them the rules of the game in about 10 minutes. Everyone can then have a fun time.
The sport of croquet is about 150 years old, we’re not exactly sure and not exactly sure where it came from, it may have come from Ireland or France but there is no documentary evidence for either but it does precede lawn tennis. Wimbledon started as a croquet club and then became tennis and it now almost totally tennis.
There are a few other clubs that combine the two sports but not so many as there used to be in the past. We try and cut the grass differently to the tennis, we try and cut ours shorter and the tennis courts get hammered more by people running across them. We don’t run across the croquet lawns.
Our lawns do take some upkeep, they get mown twice or sometimes three times a week, you need to do lawn maintenance. Since I have been involved I have discovered more about grass than I ever wanted to know! At home I don’t have one, just a verge, that is all I am willing to take on!
Our facility is pretty good, it is not at the top, but we are good enough for a World Championship.
THE COST OF PLAYING
You need flat shoes to play, trainers are fine, that is the only thing that we need people to have when they come to play. Novices will be given a club mallet, we have 30 of them. They can play with any one of those.
After you’ve played for a couple of years you will want to go and buy your own mallet, it costs between £150 and £400, something like that, so compared to golf it is very cheap. You only need one, the rules stop you changing mallets.
The sport is growing at the moment, the best estimate we have is that it is growing at about 5% per annum nationally. We have about 220 clubs and we do know there are new clubs opening every year and the size of the clubs are increasing in general. We do quite a lot of coaching here, we are not full, we could accommodate around 100 and we are at about 65 so we can get more people in.
We do like to welcome beginners, we have courses available, and we love to see new people playing, especially at the current time, just to get people outdoors, it is a very gentle exercise. Those people who have played golf and have got injured for whatever reason they can come over to croquet, you are still outside and still doing stuff but there is no strain on the shoulders.
Stamina helps, it also helps to have a good idea, although we have had players who have been colour blind that have played, that is not a problem that can’t be overcome. One eye is good enough as well and there are people who can play with just one arm. It can absolutely be played as a disability sport.
There are not as many clubs in Kent as we might have expected. A lot are along the south coast and in Sussex and I guess that is down to the age profile of existing members although it is noticeable we have a slightly older profile than places like New Zealand and Australia. I would hope that changes.
The trouble with reducing the age is that schools are full of doing allsorts of other sport, there is just no space in the timetable or in people’s minds to do it. It is very hard to persuade schools to take up croquet as an activity at all.
We have staged the World Golf Croquet Championships at Royal Tunbridge Wells a few years ago, it was noticeable that all the semi finalists were under 35, it is actually at the top level you need to be young, it is not that you need to be strong, but you do need to have stamina because they can be playing for nine hours a day and that is quite taxing.
Croquet does have a perception, partly because of Lewis Carol, the flamingoes and the vicarage tea party. It has given us an image that is a bit unfair but you can’t change perceptions quickly unfortunately. We do gets lots of different people playing.
Some clubs are full, one in south west London is full, they have a better catchment area than ourselves, but I would like us to be full. You would think we would see more people playing at the moment, because people are outdoors, they just need to know about it.
*The Tunbridge Wells club have scheduled two Introduction to Croquet Courses, on Thursday, May 13 and Saturday, June 19 (between 10am and 4pm) for £25 per person. These are suitable for almost all ages (12-80). Visit the club’s website for more details.