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Golf Croquet: Benefit or Bane?

an international forum
with Chris Clarke, Martin French, Louis Nel, and Tony Hall
moderated by Bob Alman
layout by Reuben Edwards
Posted January 14, 2012

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Alarmed by the apparent decline in competitive play in the last few years, the English Croquet Association undertook a continuing study in 2011 backed with major-event statistics which appear to indicate a decline in competitive play coincident with the rise of "social play" including Golf Croquet. The tentative conclusion of the study encourages croquet organizers to place more member recruitment emphasis on Association Croquet aimed at "the right type of player" to combat what is seen as a growing threat of social play overtaking competitive play as the main focus in local clubs. Conditions vary in the major croquet-playing countries of the world represented by the participants in our Forum, but they generally see the rise of Golf Croquet as a positive factor in the overall growth of the sport, while looking for ways to target and recruit more competitive players of Association Croquet.

The CA [English Croquet Association] study identifies the "problem" of declining competition (as measured by statistics of major tournaments) as being "consistent with" and concurrent with the rise in popularity of Golf Croquet [GC] and infers a causal connection. Perhaps this inference can be logically challenged on several grounds, one of which is a weaker economy; secondly, that the NEWER players of the game (a larger percentage of whom came into the sport playing Golf Croquet) are less likely to "compete" in their first years as measured by the CA than people who have been playing for a longer period, as have most of us. How would you evaluate and characterize the logical and reasonable grounds of this study, Chris, and the conclusions reached as to the nature of the "problem" on the basis of the compiled competition statistics from recent years?

The Croquet Association Study on GROWTH AND RECRUITMENT

Over the past few months concerns have been expressed about perceived declining levels of competitive croquet across the country. This has often been attributed to a growth in "social croquet", which is not confined to Golf Croquet but certainly this variant represents the greater part of the rise in non-competitive play. A CA [English Croquet Association] Recruitment Working Party and the CA Marketing Committee set about measuring whether this was so and determining what could and should be done about it. This is a summary of the findings, which include a change in direction for the CA in terms of Growth and Recruitment Strategy, which was ratified by the Council in March of this year. The full text of the report is available from the CA website.
© The Croquet Association 2010

The CA study has received criticism from various parts for some of its conclusions and lack of political correctness. First of all, it says there is a "problem" and then it goes on to say that we are not recruiting "the right kind of player". I'm sure that there are many players who will have taken offense at such statements.

The fact is that there is some truth, however hard to take, in the statements. As with most things in life, it all comes down to achieving the right balance.

1. Clubs need players who only want to come along once or twice a week, play social games for an hour or so and have a cup of tea and a chat. These players are very important.

2. Clubs also need players who come along once or twice a week and can be persuaded to join a local league and play some semi-competitive croquet, attempt to improve their play and take advantage of coaching.

3. Clubs also need players who are highly competitive and want to be as good as possible, play as much as possible and sink vast amounts of time into playing the game.

4. Clubs also need people who enjoy the concept of belonging to a club comprised of "nice" people and actually get most of their enjoyment from not playing the game, but being involved in things such as arranging social activities, lawn maintenance, coaching, refereeing, administration etc.

The fact is that over the last 5+ years, the number of players in category 1 have increased substantially; this is a good thing.

The additional fact is that as a percentage of our overall membership, the number of players in categories 2 to 4 has decreased; this is a bad thing. I do not believe that the decline in competition relates to the increase in popularity of GC [Golf Croquet]. I believe that it simply reflects our failure to recruit players in categories 2 and 3 to replace the ones becoming too old to play competitively anymore. Bob's suggestion that new GC players are "less likely to compete in their first years" is patently wrong in my opinion. One of the strong selling points about GC is that many people can play a competitive game within hours of learning how to play. Indeed, I see people who are learning to play in Canterbury and can immediately see the ones who will be playing tournaments in a few months and those who will never bother entering. Most fall into the latter category, but that isn't the fault of GC as a form of the game. One of the things that needs to be done is improve the handicapping system within GC to enable a more balanced set of results in handicap games. This is easier said than done, as experiments in New Zealand have shown.

I wholeheartedly welcome these new social players. I think that the conclusions reached by the paper are in general excellent, but they have been presented/taken too negatively in relation to the many hundreds of social GC players who now play at our clubs. I wholeheartedly welcome these new social players and want them to understand that they form an important part of the croquet community. Having done that, I want to focus my attention on recruiting more players in categories 2/3/4. Don't get me wrong, if in the process I attract more players in category 1, I will be happy, because these players are important, but the paper's suggestions for the way forward are mostly well thought out and likely to improve the sport as a whole. We need to be making more of our "mind sport" and appealing to targeted groups rather than to the lowest common denominator.

With total playing numbers having been swelled by GC players, clubs should be viewing this as a time of opportunity where they can spend more time focusing on target groups rather than simply trying to attract anyone. A member under 40 is likely to be 5 times more valuable than a member over 75. Only 8% of players are now under 40 and even I am not one of them!

My current thoughts on this matter are pretty much the same as Chris's reply to the Croquet Association's recent Gazette, which had several people arguing for "stopping promoting" Golf Croquet as they thought it was to the detriment of Association Croquet. It isn't. AC tournament entries in the UK were in decline before the recent wave of GC growth. My supposition is that AC's attraction as an intriguing "mind game" is now too often overtaken for the "PlayStation Generation" by games they can play on-line and with friends and adversaries around the world. There is more competition than in the past for the attention of these potential players, and we're not currently attracting them very successfully.

Will Gee and Rachel Rowe are among the newest young champions of the Golf Croquet. Gee won the British title in 2011, while Rachel Rowe engineered a stunning victory in the women's world championship in New Zealand.

In England, the growth in Golf Croquet club player numbers has been primarily early retirees, who as Chris says are very welcome as they have contributed greatly to the health of many of our clubs. The decline in competitive AC players, on the other hand, is due to the lack of new waves of bright players in their late teens or early 20s. England had several such waves in the late 70s through to late 80s, and this drove up the standard of play considerably. These waves included many of the players (now in their 40s) who still grace our Mac and Solomon teams. The problem is that more recently, we've only had small numbers of such new players emerge--never enough to achieve a "critical mass". Those who see GC as a threat to AC completely ignore this fact.

The distinction between a "mind game" and the "PlayStation Generation" is useful, but I think of the difference in the appeal between Golf Croquet and Association Croquet as those between a game with the traditional values of a sport focused on scoring the next point--as in golf, football, tennis, hockey--and the attraction of a board game such as Chess, with more strategic elements aimed at an outcome not determined until the final play of the game produces the winner. So with Golf Croquet sharing more of the values of traditional sports, it will attract a different kind of player, which strikes me as a very good thing. If it's a problem, it's a problem that should be celebrated, because ultimately it's about accommodating more players, generating more club income, and of fairly and effectively allocating and managing club resources--especially court time. All of which builds the sport.

Association Croquet players everywhere sometimes grouse about Golf Croquet players, including Australia, Tony Hall's home turf. The Australian Croquet Association has sponsored the rise of Gateball on the continent as well as Golf Croquet and promotes "malletsports" to embrace several games. Australia may be way ahead of other associations in taking advantage of this diverse appeal, if the sport is to be promoted globally on that basis. So Tony, how is the rise of Golf Croquet in Australia being managed as both a matter of policy by the National Association and the strong state organizations, and how is being integrated into local club play?

I agree completely with the introduction to your question, Bob. The rise of Golf Croquet is not a problem but an advantage because it accommodates a different class of player and increases the numbers who support croquet. I would prefer to put Gateball to one side in this discussion as, although it has much in common with croquet, it uses different equipment and requires different organisation. About the only common thing is the requirement for courts of a similar nature. It has been an advantage to both croquet and Gateball to cooperate but they are really quite disparate sports.

Despite the tendency for some correspondents to generalise, the rise of Golf Croquet in Australia has been markedly different in different States. There are areas in Australia where it has been embraced whole-heartedly and areas where it has been almost ignored. The current "hot-spots" are in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and on the Sunshine Coast, North of Brisbane in Queensland. In those areas (and to a smaller extent in Melbourne) the players are using advanced tactics and have become very competitive. Four or five years ago the "hot-spot" was in country Victoria, possibly because the Croquet Association conducted its Handicaps and Open Championships there, but the tactics have not progressed much in that area. With some notable exceptions West Australia, South Australia and Tasmania have not embraced Golf Croquet to the same extent.

In 2008 a committee chaired by Bruce Fleming (Australia Croquet Association Vice-President), with Jacky McDonald and Shane Davis as members, recommended the introduction of eight new ACA Golf Croquet events to provide equivalence with Association Croquet. That has been implemented with enormous effort and major effects on croquet in Australia. In the same way, the WCF [World Croquet Federation] has introduced World Championships to provide that equivalence. We have not yet seen the ultimate effect of these changes, which are providing a strong incentive to competitive players to involve themselves in Golf Croquet.

The ACA is now looking at how the distribution of ACA events across different areas can help. The positioning of an ACA event provides a strong boost in the area selected. It is not an easy decision to "send" an event to a remote State.

The position within clubs varies across the whole range, from those which remain exclusive to either AC or GC to those where they are totally integrated. We have advised clubs to try to avoid splitting into two sets of players. Some clubs initially rostered AC players to play GC to avoid distinct social groups being formed and this was largely successful. Some clubs have been "saved" from disintegration by the introduction of GC. The only thing that seems consistent is that the number of affiliated players in Australia increases by between 1% and 4% every year.

Perhaps the big difference in Australia is that we are a federation. Each State Association performs the full functions that most national associations perform, with the exception of international competition. So each State is addressing the rise of Golf Croquet in its own way. I am not aware of all the details and I don't think anyone else is!

There is a sentence in the CA report (on page 18) which seems crucial: "A further concept emerged: that croquet is essentially a competitive sport and that the CA should concentrate on promoting competition." I heartily endorse this view. The competitive sector of the croquet playing population forms the core of the sport. A decline in its absolute total is serious.

But a decline in its percentage (as such) is not. For example, if 2000 competitive (AC) players out of a population of 5000 changes to 2000 out of 6000 then surely that is a change for the better--for the sport generally. It just means the "social" component has grown--something to be welcomed (as Chris also implied). GC players could be regarded as "social" for this purpose.

However, there is a significant difference between
percentage of competitive players
percentage of competitive individual members of a national organization.

The latter relates to the matter of eventual political control.
...Social players could be calling the shots in our sport worldwide--a bad situation. If the Growth Strategy (for CA associates) advocated in section 8 is successful, that very success will cause the percentage of competitive AC associates to decline. Could that not have serious long term consequences for the promotion of croquet as competitive sport? If social players form an overwhelming majority of individual members of a national organization, that situation will become reflected in the election of decision making bodies and generally in the governance of the sport. If competitive players form the core of the sport, then that core should have a strong presence in decision making bodies--especially where decisions are made that have a bearing on "promoting competition." It seems possible that we are moving towards a situation where social players could effectively be calling the shots in our sport worldwide--a bad situation.

I think the fear expressed in the last paragraph--that if the proportion of social players grows, those players may change the objectives of the national associations away from competitive play--is unlikely to come about. In England we have found that these social players do not, in the main, see a reason to join the national association. Some do, but most instead take the view that it does little that matters to them, so they save their subscription money. While the CA Council and committees are not dominated by top class AC players, they are predominately populated with players of AC and GC of whatever standard, who at least regard both games as serious competitive sports.

If you want a different fear for the future (perhaps off topic), it's that at some stage, clubs in large numbers may start running tournaments advertised directly to the players (on the Nottingham Board, their own websites, or Facebook), rather than in the national body's Fixtures List. If that happens, the flow of income from tournament play to the national bodies dries up--and that could have more serious repercussions.

The point made by Martin that tournaments are organised by clubs independently of the national body is not valid in Australia. Clubs advertise their tournaments in the State's Year book (or equivalent) but there are no payments made to the national or even the State bodies. In this country all tournaments are self-financed or expected to make a profit which remains with the organisers. I think the same applies in New Zealand.

I believe that Croquet New Zealand charges $50 per page advert in their yearbook.

As I recall, the major condition of Egypt's joining the World Federation two decades ago what that the WCF schedule a world championship in the game, and now Golf Croquet has full parity with Association Croquet in the 10-year calendar. Surely Egyptians have mixed feelings about the watershed year of 2011, with the first loss ever of Egypt in both the GC World Championship and the GC Women's World Championship. The new president of the WCF, Amir Ramsis, has said that such a thing was inevitable. But now that it is happened, all at once, in 2011, what effect will this have on the way Golf Croquet is played in Egypt and how Golf Croquet and the sport overall is promoted around the world?

To me it must be a very good thing when an international sport moves beyond being dominated by one country. So the fact the players from several countries can now be in serious contest for the top GC events is great for world croquet. And I expect that among the very best players in Egypt, there will be some who are driven by the rise of overseas players to look critically at their play and Egyptian play, and build something stronger and better from the two.

Martin French snapped the stylish young player Moustafa Nezar of Egypt on his way to winning the 2011 Under 21 GC World Championship at Hunstanton in England.

Louis referred earlier to the sweeping statement in the CA study that "Croquet is fundamentally a competitive sport" and pointed to the possibility that croquet's national organizations would come to be dominated by "social players" as a real danger. My impression is that New Zealand croquet in the middle of the 20th Century was governed by elderly ladies--presumably social players--and I wonder whether and to what extent there were negative consequences. I believe that women--the more "social" of the genders--have constituted a majority of players in both New Zealand and Australia in the past. How was that dangerous or harmful to the sport? Would national organizations politically dominated by dues-playing female social players instead of oligarchies of competitive male players actually pose a danger to the sport, as suggested by Louis? Wouldn't competitive events continue to be staged as now, with a larger base of dues-paying club members supporting the sport both locally and nationally? Let's hear an assessment from New Zealand and Australia.

Bob, You presume incorrectly. Many of the lady administrators in New Zealand in that period were fiercely competitive players. According to John Prince, 50 years ago there used to be many more good lady players, perhaps around the scratch handicap mark, who were perfectly capable of playing three breaks to win. One of the questions that must be asked is, "Where has this group of great female players gone?" Personally, I think the answer can be found in the change in women's way of life. We have moved from the 1950's where we had many "ladies of leisure", to the 21st century where a high proportion of women are expected to work, with some being the main bread winners. This reduction in time available has changed the make-up of NZ croquet clubs. If you look at the pictures on the club walls from 50+ years ago, you'll see 35 lady club members and one man. This was the norm.

Women still make up the majority of New Zealand croquet players, but it's now more like 60% than 97%.

Although we have tried to collect figures from the States regarding the mix of ages and gender of affiliated players it is clear that those figures are not generally collected. Despite that, I believe that in Australia, in 2010, about two-thirds of all affiliated players were women. We had 8727 players affiliated in 2010. The percentage increases for the last nine years were 3.5, 2.2, 4.2, 3.2, 0.9, 0.7, 3.7, 3.1 and 0.7, making an overall increase since 2001 of 24 percent. I expect there will be an increase of about 2 percent when the figures for the end of 2011 arrive. My personal guess is that less than a thousand are competitive to the extent that they enter competitions external to their own club. It is impossible to distinguish between those playing AC, GC or Gateball because so many players play more than one discipline in different ratios. Also, there are marked differences between what happens in different areas. I am constantly appalled when correspondents interpret what is happening in their local experience to apply everywhere--in their State, their country and internationally.

So it is obvious that becoming "dominated" by social players is not a danger. Now if the national organisation were to become so dominated, then yes, it could become a danger. But those social players do not offer their services as administrators, even at State level, let alone at national level. I therefore see no danger at all in recruiting large numbers of social players. In Australia they are the backbone, the strength of our sport.

We seem to have a consensus--with the exception of Louis Nel of Canada--that the rise of Golf Croquet's popularity is not a threat to the sport either at the local club level or the national level. As a matter of fact, the retiring president of the USCA, Gene Young, has said that he is going to concentrate on promoting the sport through Golf Croquet in the near future, expanding on our format developed for publicly promoted Golf Croquet Celebrity Exhibition games. I'm helping to organize a couple of these events this spring. The biggest will be an exhibition game between world champion Mark McInerney and three-time champion Khaled Younis, complete with scoreboards and amplified play-by-play, followed with basic instruction and games for the public. The expectation that more people will join if they quickly get a handle on a game they can understand appears to have been realized at all the clubs I've organized, including the San Francisco Croquet Club and the National Croquet Center. Many if not most of them will also learn the more advanced and competitive American Rules or Association Croquet.

The next question, then, is whether the rise of Golf Croquet is likely to cause the eclipse of Association Croquet at local or national levels unless some pro-active measures are taken. If the assumption of the British study is correct, what is needed is more of "the right kind of players" which turns out to mean younger players of the intellectual class--like the Fulford/Clarke/Maugham generation of champions in England. Is that true? Where do you find them? How do you persuade them to take up Association Croquet as competitive sport?

Martin French, Rob Fulford, Mark Avery and Ian Burridge [left to right] are being presented with the InterClub Competition Trophy by Quiller Barrett (4th from L), president of the Croquet Association, after Colchester beat Bristol 7-0 in the 2011 final at Surbiton. All four of the Colchester team have been in the World Top 20 for Association Croquet over the past 20 years, and all now regularly play Golf Croquet as well. Photo courtesy of the Croquet Association.
We have arrived at the $64,000 question! While people can take up AC at any age and become quite successful, it is true that most of the time, the really strong new AC players who get to the very top are the ones who take it up in their late teens. This means starting them off when at school or college. I've been involved in organising school croquet and while it was very rewarding at a personal level, it was also a relatively unproductive task as almost all the ones who took it up seriously moved away within a couple of years. Some are lost to the world of croquet forever, some are lost until later in their careers when they begin to have more free time, and a few carry on playing--but now wherever their work has taken them. So our home club didn't benefit at all in the long run. However, I still think this is the nut we need to crack--schools and universities. The complexities of AC are naturally attractive to some bright people--once they see it, they want to play it. The final requirement for successful recruitment to competitive AC play is to have a 'critical mass' all starting out together and feeding off each other. Keen teenagers who get the bug will want to play a lot--and having more teenagers around is the best way to support that.

By a mixture of chance and planned development activity by the CA, that is what happened in England in the later 80s, when a National Schools Championship run by Chris Hudson as well as local activity by a few other schools or clubs brought the Fulford/ Clarke/ Maugham/ Burridge/ Saurin/ Cornelius/ Palmer/ etc. wave of great young players. Not only did they push the standard of play and tactics up greatly; those who still play today are still some of the best their countries have available for international events. We need to find the way--or have the luck--to foster another such wave of young talent.

I think you have misinterpreted the findings of the study, Bob. Whilst it would be nice to find more teenagers who are willing to participate in the sport, the key is to find more people (just general human beings without being prejudiced by age or sex) who find the mental challenge of Association Croquet a wonderful draw.

These people will come in all walks of life, but may be more predominant in certain areas. I believe that the study is saying that instead of advertising "come play golf croquet--you can learn in minutes", we might find more AC players if we advertise "come play Association Croquet--the best sport for a mental challenge."

Now, I'm sure that the second advert would put some people off, but so would the first one. It all comes back to the concept of achieving the right balance. We need all these players in our sport and instead of Gene Young's policy of concentrating on promoting the sport through GC, we need to be promoting the sport equally to all potentially interested parties. These players exist--but it needs time and effort to find and encourage them.

A look at two very different croquet clubs in rural Ontario may shed some light.

The Bayfield club has close to 100 members--one of the oldest and certainly the largest club in Canada. From the beginning they played AC almost exclusively (reflecting the start-up influence of Nigel Aspinal). This club consists largely of social players. Very few are ever seen in other tournaments, very few are members of Croquet Canada.

Not far away one finds the Aboyne Croquet Club. It has single-digit membership. They started out playing American Rules but switched in the 1990's to mainly AC. They have only competitive (= tournament active) members, no social.

The influence of these two clubs on the Canadian croquet scene is in sharp contrast. That of the first is nearly negligible, because they have been operating largely in isolation. For croquet in Canada generally, the fact that they are a croquet club rather than a lawn bowling club, is certainly better, but not much better. The second club has had an enormous influence. They were the first to stage open AC tournaments at regular intervals, to provide a concentration of competitive players, thus improving standard of play and gradually causing AC to become the preferred version among advanced players. I view the growth of GC and the influence of that growth on AC as similar to the effect of founding another largely social croquet club, playing whatever rules. Such an event is certainly welcome and should be encouraged and promoted, but it is something quite distinct from the promotion of AC.

The CA report quite correctly identified the need for specific promotion of AC. How that specific promotion should be done is theoretically quite easy, but practically very difficult. AC becomes promoted when a group of talented youngsters arrives on the scene in close proximity from one another to form a competitive hotbed which advances the standard of play and generates enthusiasm. I wish I knew how to create such a group! What can be done and should be done, is to nurture it whenever and wherever it spontaneously erupts. Perhaps one can create circumstances which facilitates such eruption.

As Louis points out, clubs are going to do whatever suits their local immediate purpose--whether it's to have a predominantly social club or predominately a competitive club, or some combination that could be managed through intelligently apportioned court time allotted for different games. So the issue of whom to target (everyone, or youth, or the intellectual class) and what the message should be is likely to be can only be suggested or urged upon local clubs by the national organization. So let's imagine that you are the absolute policy czar of your national croquet organization. Who, precisely, is our target audience? And what, precisely, is your ideal message of invitation to an introduction to the sport? I'll start by saying that currently in the US, the target audience is "the public"--that is, everyone. The message, in summary, is: "Come to this free event, learn Golf Croquet in half an hour, and enjoy playing a game or two."

Would the policy you recommend to local clubs be to cast a wide net, as in the US, on the presumption that people enrolled for Golf Croquet will also learn Association Croquet? Or would you concentrate on a more defined target with a message about a more intellectual game?

It is certainly appropriate for the national organization to have a recruitment policy and to fund its execution, but that should not be the only recruitment done. The most effective recruitment is probably done by individuals that invite friends to try out the sport. The national organization should concentrate its own recruitment efforts on things that would be difficult for clubs and individuals to do, like raising general awareness of the sport through advertisements of national and international events etc.

Clubs are ultimately in the best position to do organized recruiting. As regards your question about who they should recruit, my own response is: anybody who wants to play any form of croquet. One cannot know at the outset which individual is going to be that rare specimen who is wired for AC. That will become evident only after the newcomer begins to play.

Novices can become confused and frustrated by the many intricacies of Association Croquet at first acquaintance, while dedicated AC players are annoyed by new players "giggling around the hoops" in social Golf Croquet play.
Let me illustrate with a real example. I once invited a colleague to try out croquet--a professor of mathematics with several publications in learned journals and known to have reasonable hand-eye coordination (seen on the squash court). He seemed a good candidate. I was astonished (almost embarrassed) to discover that he had difficulty comprehending the significance of the roquet-croquet-continuation-shot sequence! He seemed unable to think in those terms; but had no problem with GC! I discovered the same difficulty also in a successful lawyer. On the other hand, I have seen numerous newcomers with no professional background at all grasping the fundamentals of AC right away. So it seems to me that some people (regardless of their general intelligence) are simply not wired for AC. Based on observations like these, I favor recruitment of new players to start with GC. The AC-inclined among them will select themselves eventually after exposure to AC--you could not stop them from doing that if you tried.

I agree that clubs are unlikely to do anything "on the basis of the policy of the national association" in Australia for two reasons. First, they are remote from the national association and probably only aware of national or State policies if one of its members is involved in either administration. The Magazine and website attempt to rectify this but reach only a small proportion of club members. Secondly, situations and conditions vary so widely that each club is likely to do what they consider they are capable of and what has been the precedent. The "audience" in Canberra is limited to those who turn up to "Come and Try Days" on the first Sunday of each month, usually between 15 and 40 people who saw the advertising or who heard by word of mouth. We just try to get as many as we can. I will be interested to hear whether, and if so, how others are able to aim their message at a more defined "target."

Chris Clarke holds the trophy for his second win of the Association Croquet World Championship, taken in 2008 in New Zealand, where he now makes his home with his wife Jenny Clarke, the highest-ranking female in the sport. Both Chris and Jenny also compete successfully in Golf Croquet at top level.
During my last year as Canterbury President, I tried to encourage clubs to develop "Business House" evenings. The concept was to find a group of professionals and get them to come along for a 2 hour session one evening where there would be drinks and maybe a BBQ. Games would consist of GC Doubles. We had various target groups--solicitors, estate agents, academics, medical workers, council workers, stockbrokers,etc.

The concept was that after they had played their games, hopefully some might become interested in playing more permanently. In addition, the "best" 4 players from each group would be invited back a few weeks later to play against the "best" 4 players from the other target groups. This had the advantage of enabling the evening to be considered as "networking" for some of the groups.

We held some enjoyable evenings, but unfortunately due to earthquakes, the last couple of months of the season fizzled out.

I still believe that this is a good method of attracting new players of both codes. It does require quite a high degree of effort and organisation though and as with most things, this tends to be done by a small handful of people.

This year, the United club hosted several groups, some in excess of 40, to pre-Christmas after-work social functions. These were once again enjoyable and we already have bookings for next Christmas, but they did little to generate immediate membership (although they did generate very good income).

I think it is important to appreciate the concept of "sowing the seed" of croquet. Many players who try the game when at school or during their working lives, will not have the time (or perhaps the desire) to take the game up at that point in their lives. However, 20 or 30 years later, they may look back to an enjoyable evening's croquet and decide to find out where their nearest club is. This is why we need to keep having these evenings--for the long term future of the game.

I also think that successful recruitment decisions are most likely to be made by the local club than the national association--though I welcome attempts by national bodies to provide marketing materials and support for particular initiatives.

How do we target; can we target? We think so. We got interested a few years ago in "demographics" at my home club. We found some surprising things, for example: 10% of members had a partner who sang in a choir, and about 15% belonged to a local private library ("Ipswich Institute"). So we now have an annual one day croquet course for the Institute and are planning a similar approach directly to the several choirs in town. We also found that many of our keen AC players started out as "garden croquet" players--so we've been tracking down a number of "garden croquet circles" in nearby villages--and we're planning to approach them directly too. We've already got one on board, at the very end of last season.

Just as Chris reports, we also run a number of corporate evenings--which makes good money for the club. We've had a few people go on to join the croquet club--and it also prompted us to examine why the others didn't, given they seemed to have had an enjoyable evening. This made us realise just how unattractive the facilities were for new recruits--apart from nice lawns in a pretty setting. We had lots of other weaknesses--no nearby parking, awful nearby toilets, dark and basic hut, no refreshments. So now we're moving the club to a new venue at a golf club just out of town, where we can provide much better facilities surrounding the croquet itself: close and free parking; good toilets and changing rooms; bar and food; coffee shop, and so on. By making our 'proposition' more attractive, we think we can recruit and retain more players--some will play AC, some GC, and some both--we don't mind.

With such sweeping agreement, it's time to end! I just want to underline the importance of the PEER-GROUP EXPERIENCE for attracting younger, corporate members. Typically, they have little time to spare, and any after-work "social" sport with a level playing field for novices that combines professional networking, food and drink and the possibility of getting a date has to attract. No oldies allowed! At the National Croquet Center, the weekly Five-to-Nine Club I organized some years ago was destroyed in just one evening by the committee's "good idea" of combining it with the regular social evening. The dozen or so under-forty new members disappeared and never came back; plans are now underway to restore this event and protect its privacy in the spring season, when daylight lasts until 8:30. It's a hard lesson, but worth learning from. What it means is that for the right clubs, with the right facilities, there can be an immediate pay-off in attracting young adults to peer-level social groups incorporating Golf Croquet, as well as a long-term benefit.

Now, the last question, in two parts: In the next ten years, what would you like to see happen in the development of croquet in your club and your country? And what do you think will actually happen with respect to the sport's development and especially with respect to the balance between Golf Croquet and Association Croquet?

When the expansion of GC first occurred in a big way in several areas in Australia (Country Victoria, Hunter Valley NSW and Sunshine Coast Queensland) there was a definite split between those who played AC and those who played GC. Some clubs almost split into two and strenuous efforts had to be made to foster social interaction between the two groups. However that was between ten years and five years ago and the efforts to integrate the groups have been successful in most clubs. I am delighted to see that there are now a few of the GC players starting to want to learn AC and I expect and hope that this trend will continue. The mirroring of all the Australian AC Championships with Australian GC Championships has given the GC community a credibility with the AC community. Many of the better AC players are now playing GC as well. The prizes remain as an incentive to the best (for example, $1000 for the winners of both the Australian AC and the Australian GC Singles Championships). My hope is that the trend will continue and that both AC and GC will advance together, with many players playing both codes.

Canada is a small and developing croquet country. What I would most like to see is just growth in all directions. I don't expect problems here in the foreseeable future as regards interaction of GC and AC.

At my club level, we want to successfully transplant the club to the local golf course and double its membership within 3 years: then we can look at moving from 2 to 3 lawns and also having the lawns professionally leveled. This is all very focused on facilities--but that's because that was our club's greatest weakness before we moved. At a national level, I'd like to see the steady growth in club and CA membership continue, but with a reversal in decline of AC tournament play. I'd like to see croquet--and particularly AC-- reintroduced successfully on a larger scale into schools and universities. There are 115 universities in the UK --and yet whenever the topic is raised, people only talk about the same one or two old universities. We need a programme to tackle the other 100.

At a world level, the WCF has different development goals. We don't have the resources, nor the mandate, to intervene in countries and provide direct development on any scale--that is a job for our established member organizations in their own countries. Neither will we "evangelise" and try to create croquet associations in "croquet deserts"--countries that lack the basic core of enthusiastic players to drive a national body. What we will do is 1) help smaller established national associations grow, for example by providing coaching visits, and 2) help those that are established develop their first "4 lawn" facility--as that allows them to begin to stage bigger events, including some internationals.

As to what will actually happen, it's always hard to make predictions that involve the future! I suspect that there will be a steady increase in the number of countries playing, though still only a small number will grow large player populations. Top-class GC might be televisable--some YouTube videos of Egyptian play show how spectacular it can be. If that can be achieved, it might transform the growth in some countries. I expect GC will continue to grow faster than AC, but that both will still be thriving in 2022.

It's pretty clear that Golf Croquet has quickly achieved preference as the form of the game attracting the biggest crowds, the most media, and the best purses, probably because savvy organizers--including myself-- see it as the best way to attract people and media and sponsors to the sport. So I see both games prospering in the near and long term, with Golf Croquet asserting itself more strongly as the public face of the entire sport, worldwide. Many new croquet players initially attracted by Golf Croquet and the social aspects of the sport will also take up Association Croquet and become competitive players. The sport will continue to benefit, worldwide, from the growing popularity of both games.


MARTIN FRENCH is currently Secretary-General of the World Croquet Federation, on the English Croquet Association's Council, and secretary of his local club. Aged 58, Martin retired a year ago having had about six careers, including bus driving, chemistry teaching, computing research, programme management, director of a medium-sized business, and free-lance consultant. He began playing serious croquet at age 27, and played for 12 years reaching President's Cup level, playing in the Solomon Trophy for Great Britain, and scraping into the World Top 20. He then took a 12-year complete break for family reasons, and returned at the end of the 2004 season. Martin is pretty much back to his best AC standard now, and in 2011 also took up Golf Croquet to reasonably good effect.

LOUIS NEL, a retired Professor of Mathematics, discovered croquet in his 60th year and thereafter participated in two AC World Championships (among the lowest ranked entries). He has been Club President of Croquet Ottawa since 1994 and is former President of Croquet Canada. He has served the WCF as Handicap Coordinator, Chair of Seeding Method Committee 2001, and as a member of the recent Ranking Review Committee. He is currently a member of the Technical Committee of the Tournament Group of the Management Committee.

TONY HALL has played croquet around the world for the last 22 years. After retiring from the army and administration of hockey, squash and swimming, he was welcomed into the administration of croquet, initially at club level, then at State, national and international levels. He was President of the WCF for five years from 1997 to 2002, acting as the Secretary-General also for a year during that time. He won the English Golf Croquet (GC) Doubles Championship once, the Australian Open GC Singles Championship once, the Australian GC Handicap Singles once and the Australian GC Handicap Doubles twice. He has played in five Association Croquet World Championships and seven GC World Championships and was the Australian representative on the WCF’s GC Rules Committee from its inception until recently. He ‘retired’ to the position of Treasurer of the Australian Croquet Association in 2004. He is a widower with three children and seven grand-children.

CHRIS CLARKE of England currently lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He retired from International singles in 2010 at the age of 39 due to back problems. At that time he was ranked world number 1 at both AC and GC. He is two-time world AC champion, has won 15 National Open Doubles titles and is the youngest ever inductee into the WCF Hall of Fame.

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