Back to
The Front Page
The Game
This alternate universe
has nine wickets and two pegs

by Chris Woodka
snapshots courtesy of Chris Woodka and friends

"Life in the Bunker" column
USCA nine-wicket rules
American nine-wicket website

A Google alert for all mentions of "croquet" in public media arrived in my inbox. A small-town newspaper editor in Colorado has written in his weekly column about creating a croquet course at the "Top Secret Water Facility" and other fantastical and oxymoric exploits that didn't sound quite real. I assumed he was speaking metaphorically and sent him an email to ask about it. It turns out the story was only partly fantastical, as all backyard croquet should be. I asked if they played year-round and to send pictures to prove it, which he did, along with other explanations below. The column cited in my Google alert is at the end of this article. Here's how he answered my query.

Yes, it is all true. We play actual croquet. None of what I wrote was metaphorical.

I was an editor and reporter at The Pueblo Chieftain for 31 years before accepting a job as Issues Management Program Coordinator at the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District on Sept. 12, 2016. Part of the severance deal with the paper was that I would continue, for a fee, writing my weekly humor column, "Monday Morning Special."

The "Top Secret Water Facility" I refer to is my office at the Pueblo Airport Industrial Park, which is a weird place for a water office because it is difficult to find any water located in the middle of what looks like a desert. However, we have a three-acre demonstration garden largely filled with water-tolerant plants. It's sort of an oasis in the industrial area. It has a lot of turf.

Last winter, our conservation specialist told me that she did not approve of the native-grass turf which has been established for some time in the demonstration garden, so I developed a croquet course to justify it. The field is regulation 50-by-100 feet, with wickets placed at the specified dimensions for nine-wicket croquet as proscribed by the United States Croquet Association, but is has unique features, such as a ring of rocks around a tree near the center wicket and a dog-ear on a slope that goes into a gully.

On green turf in May the Southeaster Colorado Water Conservancy District raised $450 for a scholarship fund in a tournament threatened by dark clouds. The fee for playing was $10.00, but you could avoid playing entirely by pitching in $20.00--a fundraising strategy Woodka threatens to repeat next May. The ring of rocks is an unavoidable hazard in the middle of the course, but players may attempt the dangerous strategy of flying over it via ramp.

Croquet is a wonderful pastime for breaks throughout the year at the district. (We had a benefit tournament in May that raised $400 for engineering scholarships.)

Last summer, we held tournaments on Friday mornings for about three months, but it kind of fell apart when someone brought in a second croquet set, and I of course went overboard. I thought about building a "Back Nine" along some other excess turf we have, but instead set up a wreath of wickets around the regulation course, which I then labelled the "alternate universe." The leader in our standings got huffy about this, partly because he is my boss and partly because we did it while he was out of town. "You can't change the rules in the middle of the season!" he said. So, the season kind of rolled to a sudden stop.

The competition is often interrupted by disputes over a babble of rules, including the official USCA version, a smorgasbord of choices the players may make about most of the elements of the game--the boundaries, the croquet shots, the deadness--instead of a single recommendation of the "best" version. These two Alpha males are thus likely both "right." Woodka applies his public relations expertise by listening patiently.

That was just as well, because we found out we were doing it wrong anyway. Our engineer, a very literal type, re-read the rules and educated us on the subtleties we had missed, particularly what the rules are after striking an opponent's ball. We feel like we've got that under control now, at least.

A player defends his position while Woodka (right) challenges it.

We started with an old wooden set I had in the garage with six balls, rounded hoop wickets, and four-and-one half cylinder-head mallets (one is wobbly and held together with industrial-strength silicone adhesive). But my boss's wife picked up a set of six mallets (lighter weight), six composite balls and squarish wickets from a junk shop. We also have a children's set that one of the employees won at a picnic years ago, but had never used.

The classic Forster set in the corner of the office that serves as a clubhouse has been in the Woodka family for more than 30 years. Other lightweight equipment has been donated.

In terms of managing the course, I keep all of the equipment in my office (We have even rigged up a "putting wicket.") at the Top Secret Water Facility, and I faithfully reconstruct the course with my 100-foot tape measure after it is mowed during the summer months.

We have indeed played in the snow, as you will read in the article below.

This team photo, snapped by Margie Medina, is the international debut of snazzy shirts included in the $25 club membership..

Pueblo Chieftain weekly column

by Chris Woodka, April 24, 2017


Wielding A Mallet

An engineer with the District posed for a "Get Hammered" poster. His slogan, "I'd hit that," was rejected because someone said it was street slang with sexual connotations. It hangs in Woodka's office.
Mallet madness! Now that spring has arrived, it can be revealed.

It's been about six months since my last update about my new job at the Top Secret Water Facility east of Pueblo. And what an exciting time it's been.

I won't bore you with details - they're classified anyway. But here's an excerpt from my next job evaluation:

"Mr. Special:

"Overall, your work has been quite adequate, but your imagination sometimes takes over and creates needless distractions and obstacles to progress.

"For instance, your repeated suggestions that we "weaponize" our top-priority project, including the idea that we frame its cost in MOABs and Tomahawk Missiles, does not appear to be improving the chances for receiving increased levels of federal funding. Your notion of renaming a pipeline project "Strategic Underground Defense System (SUDS) and casting it as a way to fight "Toxic Terror Water" is not gaining traction in Washington.

"Under internal affairs, equipping staff members with high-powered Nerf guns does not seem like a realistic security measure, and it is definitely not an avenue we need to go down.

"On the positive side, thanks for developing the Croquet Course."

Croquet Course?

That's right. It's been my major accomplish so far.

It started on a particularly balmy December day, after our conservation specialist had remarked that our turf, even though it is made up of low-water consumption grasses, was still ... well, turf.

Consistent with the Water District's mission, this native grass turf of the croquet course demonstrates ecologically sound management of the water imported to the region across the Continental Divide.

"If you're going to have a lawn, you should play on it," she told me.

So, I dug the old croquet set out of the garage, wiped off the dust and built a regulation course on a neglected portion of the property.

Because I now work for a bureaucracy, there had to be justification.

So I told the Boss:

"I think this will be a way to expose more people to the Xeriscape gardens. We can sponsor tournaments to raise money. The posts and wickets will provide continuous aeration. It's a recreation outlet for staff. It will discourage helicopter landings."

He looked at me skeptically.

"Plus, it's just like golf, only the balls are bigger. And made out of wood. Plus, you get to play whenever you'd like without a green fee."

That got him.

So, about a week later, after I processed the "Vegetation Realignment and Reformulation Request" packet of forms, the Croquet Course was born.

There was a light snow on the day of the inaugural round, but that did not hinder play. The Boss was swinging his hammer in the air like some sort of crazed Viking warrior after successful shots, while the engineer was surreptitiously creating tunnels in the light snow when we were blinded by the blizzard.

Since then, there have been frequent games during lunch time, with visitors and even a few, um, "business meetings" on the course.

The Croquet Course is not Augusta by any means, but it has its charm.

There's an angelic fountain near the starting tee, a stone ring smack dab in the middle of the course and bunnies that scurry off in the shrubbery whenever players take the field. The occasional stick or root can create unforeseen misery and high drama.

Another course hazard, the Croquet Angel, collects rainwater.

My favorite feature is the "dog ear." Where golf courses often will have a crooked dogleg to challenge duffers, the southwest corner of the Croquet Course dips off steeply into a drainage ditch.

"NO! NO! NO!" is often heard from that corner of the field as a ball rolls endlessly toward the abyss.

"Dog ear" just seemed appropriate for an organization grounded in paperwork.

The course is regulation size - yes, there are official regulations for these things. A game can take a few minutes or an hour, depending on the specific level of blood lust on any given day. Rapping an opponent's ball into the dog ear is a strangely satisfying experience.

Shown here in November, the grass is going dormant on a course that couldn't be perfectly flat. The paper-pushers named the dreaded hazard behind the orange cone where balls are apt to roll into a gully "the Dog Ear."

I don't know if there are any other croquet courses in the Greater Pueblo Area, but our team with take out your team if you're foolish enough to challenge us. Please see me for the appropriate forms.


Don't knock it until you've knocked it.

Chris Woodka graciously allowed the editor of CROQUET WORLD ONLINE to suggest some slight edits that make a local subject more accessible to a global croquet audience. We included only a dozen or so of the interesting snaps he sent in proof that the alternate universe he created actually exists.

Back to Top   Copyright © 1996-2023 Croquet World Online Magazine. All rights reserved.