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The Kactus Creek Croquet Club
is open for business--lots of it!

by Bob Alman
photos courtesy of Matt Griffith
layout by Reuben Edwards
Posted June 8, 2015

RELATED LINKS
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Sarasota: The art and science of club-building on public turf
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Establishing the croquet club in Liverpool--at last!


I sat with Matt Griffith around a big table of USCA vice presidents and other notables in the March 2015 annual Planning Meeting at the National Croquet Center. When he mentioned some events he'd done at his club, I realized that his Kactus Creek Croquet Club should be the subject of the "How to Manage a One-Lawn Club" article I've been looking for. Not just because of what he had done and what he plans to do, but for his exceptional knack for enjoying the day-to-day process of constant improvement while broadening the framework for any number of possible futures--all of them bigger, better, more beautiful, more profitable. Matt sees them all together, simultaneously, in a constantly expanding network of features, spaces, and alternatives.


Matt credits the "people skills" of his lady-friend Ellie with much of the success of his event center: "She loves to meet and chat with people, and she helps with most of our events."
Matt was initiated into croquet in 1980, at the tail-end of the near-legendary period when Kansas City was a kind of regional center for several hundred deadly serious players who put on nine-wicket weekend competitions, fueled by tremendous enthusiasm and beer. In fact, Matt played with two of the most notable of those champions--Jim Bast and the late Jerry Stark, who both moved to Arizona to play with the strongest competitors in the country at that time, after they found out about the US Croquet Association. Bast and Stark went on to achieve high rankings and much glory on USCA international teams.

Almost 35 years later, Matt is well on the way to achieving another kind of glory on his own with the remarkable one-lawn club he has made the major organizing principal of his life in a pleasant and quiet little town near Kansas City, on the Missouri side of the river.

A milestone was certainly his purchase in the mid-nineties of the ten-acre property that he turned into the Kaktus Creek Croquet Club, starting with a big box of a two-story farmhouse built in 1880 and other outbuildings scattered along the hillside. Matt eyed it up there on the hill for some time: "I told the owner that if he ever wanted to sell it to let me know. He called in 1994. Early in 1996 I started to remodel the farm house and over about four years it became a modern four-bedroom, three-bath residence. I gave the house a shaplier, more inviting profile, with a covered porch in the front, a sunroom on the southeast corner, and a wrap-around covered porch overlooking what I knew would become the croquet court."

Color added to this Google Earth image helps distinguish the major elements of the KCCC. To the right of the green expanse of the lawn, across the graveled drive, the covered pergola (in red) stretches the length of Matt's shop on the far right, which can accommodate all the tables and chairs necessary for food service. The planted mound and waterfall are just south of the pergola.

Matt did most of the work himself, in his own time, living at the place. He has his own construction business--a fencing and deck company specializing in ornamental aluminum siding--so he built a large "shop" near his house in 2002-03 He had already started construction on the retaining wall he would need for the croquet court, and left room in his mind's eye for future construction that would ultimately become an entertainment complex for more than 100 people. The shop was perfectly located and adaptable to answer the question future clients would have: "What if it rains?"

After 325 tons of sand was trucked in and hand-leveled and the standard sub-surface work done to ensure proper irrigation and drainage, the court was finally seeded in July of 2006. By the time lights were added for night play in 2010, the KCCC would be a fully functioning "event center" featuring croquet.

The court overlooks the lighted pergola across the graveled roadway that leads to extra parking in the back.

First, there was the USCA club in the back yard...

KCCC became an official USCA club on September 1st of 2007, started with eight club members. Most had been playing playing six-wicket croquet for years and wanted a place to practice and compete locally. With Matt's "open nights" membership soon reached 20 USCA dues-paying members. (Visitors can come once to the Open Night, and repeat for $5.00 a visit.)

Three different games of Golf Croquet are visible here. Note that Matt's boundaries are painted for safety, not stringed. The colored balls topping the fence posts in playing sequence are old bowling balls Matt bought from various thrift shops over time painted in croquet colors. The umbrellas around the lawn--also in croquet colors--can be quickly reached for quick shelter from a passing shower. Matt is constantly improving his facility in meticulous and loving detail. The tree-top view on the right--the downhill side--gives the visitors a sense of "playing in the clouds."

The USCA club members can play whatever they like, but usually it's American rules. Matt has long been active in the 9-wicket world, and as Midwest Regional Vice President will host a 9-wicket tournament at the KCCC as part the Midwest Region tournament schedule. The club has stocks of three different kinds of balls members can use practicing for tournaments, including the Dawsons that are now preferred for top-level play internationally.

And then, a strange thing happened...

In the spring of 2009, Matt was invited to a Business Network International breakfast. He wasn’t interested in joining them, but he mentioned that he had a croquet court. About a month later, they called and asked if he could host a picnic at the club. He really hadn’t thought about it before but said yes. That's when he built covered porches and patios on the house next to the court, enough to handle 35 people. Everyone who attended the picnic a couple of months later seemed to have a great time, and he booked two more events that year through people from other businesses at that original picnic.

Half the divided court is viewed here from the wrap-around porch in the late afternoon as shade begins to deepen from the trees west of the court.

Small groups of 35 of fewer enjoy access to Matt's excellent porch furniture, right on the lawn. All the groups are allowed to use the fire pit (for warmth, wieners, and marshmallows) and his large grill for cooking.
With so much work already done, Matt realized it was fun seeing some money returned from all that investment in and around the court. So Matt put together a rudimentary “business plan” that included pictures and some business cards, with a color photo of the court on the back. He started carrying cards everywhere with him always and made sure the people he gave them too saw the color photo of his court on the back of the card.

Next came a website—easy enough to do, with the photographs he already had, and on that fairly static website he started to promote a weekly “open” night of play listed on the constantly-updated and increasingly crowded calendar.

Looking for what's missing, and providing it

Things were going very well by 2010, but the place still lacked something, Matt realized: a "water feature" that event planners and party people of all kind seem to highly prize. So Matt decided to build a huge pondless waterfall in a highly strategic location. He recalls, "I had an area right across from the house and just south of the sidewalk going down to the shop. The problem was it had a large elm tree and it sloped away from the house. I took out the tree and hauled lots of dirt up from another part of my property, close to 300 loads by the time the construction of the waterfall began in the summer of 2011. When I had a pond dug on my property in the late 90’s they removed a large number of Glacier rocks that I used along with other rocks in the construction, for structure and surface decoration."

Children as small as seven years old in family groups can use the lighter and shorter mallets available in addition to the KCCC's standing stock of "adult" mallets. (If mallets are in short supply, partners can share.) .

Groups loved the waterfall--of course--and the beautiful flora Matt planted over the next couple of seasons added a lot to the impressive display. And it could be viewed ideally from.....a pergola! The long rectangle running the length of Matt's shop would provide seating for another 100 people! And his shop, just down the stairs would give him the answer to the question everybody asks: "What do we do if it rains?" The answer, Matt says, is "If it rains really hard, I will have already prepared my shop to accommodate whatever the group needs."

How could Matt do all this by himself?

ESSENTIAL FEATURES AND AMENITIES
FOR PAID GROUPS AT KACTUS CREEK

Event capacity is judged by covered seating capacity: 100 in the pergola plus 35 on the porch.

Dining capacity is also 135, with the clients bringing all the food and drink they want.

Parking capacity is 70 or 80 cars, fully sufficient for the maximum event size, in graveled spaces.

Croquet capacity is 16 in simulataneous play double-banked on reduced courts and up to 64 if the play is done in four half-hour shifts of 16 during the event, allowing for a final knockout of the top teams, well within the maximum four hours allowed for events. Matt starts games at opposite ends of the court so they won't collide in "best-of-five" mini-tourneys.

Provided free to all the groups are the use of Matt's freshly cleaned tables and chairs, fire pit and large grill for cooking at the end of the porch, and clean-up and garbage disposal after the event in the abundant receptacles Matt provides. (Matt and his assistant(s) are always included in the food and drink, naturally!)

"Everything was designed in my head and built by me, Matt says, but I did pay others to help with some of the construction and I have friends in the concrete business. Club members helped with some of the seeding and leveling of the court. I did take on projects I didn’t have experience with, but finding out how to build them was fun, and added to my store of 'professional knowledge.'"

Word-of-mouth spread quickly in the little KC suburb, as more and more people started coming to the “open night” and got a taste of Golf Croquet, and event bookings began to increase. Many of the new bookings came from people invited for the events of other hosts. Matt's calendar soon began to fill up with private family, club, and business groups.

Shortly after the pergola was finished, Matt installed two bathrooms and added fabric to the top of the pergola that allows plenty of light but keeps the heat out.

So with an event capacity now of 135, Matt got even more serious about marketing the club and the event offerings. One of his “good ideas” turned out to be surprisingly great--having a Groupon and then later a LivingSocial.com coupon offered to the public on those two different but popular coupon sites. Matt’s coupons offer a group of four people a choice of several three-hour blocks of play for $30. Specific times are set aside on the club's increasing complex calendar for the groups to choose from.

Matt recently expanded the pergola by almost 300 square feet to add the food service area on the left, abutting the shop.

The coupons were an instant hit. With minimal "management" that includes just a few minutes of instruction for all the coupon groups together there in an evening, these events are fun and profitable and easy to supervise.

The biggest benefit from the events and the word-of-mouth, the publicity, the website, and the events, was that thousands of people across the town and Kansas City were able to see that there was a "real" croquet club in town. Here was something REALLY up to date in Kansas City, something new and fun to do with friends, families or co-workers.

And Matt is still coming up with marketing ideas. New window signs for his car and work truck give everyone a quick and short but pointed message about the croquet club.

Where will it all end?

With many larger groups came multiple repeat bookings. A YMCA senior group has a monthly slot. The Northland Catbackers, comprised of the Kansas State alumnus in the area, are scheduled for their fifth event at KCCC. In the summer of 2014, they were Matt's biggest event, with more than 100 people there to eat, drink, play, socialize, and listen to the guest speaker: the popular Kansas City State football coach.

This photo shows the back porch, the lawn, the dividing gravel driveway, and the pergola.

In the 2015 season there were already 10 sizeable events booked from the beginning of May until the middle of June. By mid-May Matt had already hosted a wedding rehearsal dinner, a Groupon event and a group of friends gathering for birthday party. Future “major” bookings include the Parkville Chamber of Commerce, a couple of church Sunday school classes, a local Landscape supplier, and the Weatherby Lake Garden Club--just to name a few.

What else? Oh, of course! A large banner is now posted out by the main road with the name, phone number and website listed, so everyone driving by can find out about the newest hot spot in Parkville. Matt reports several calls a week asking pricing and availability. Most of them book, because the price is right, beating out hotels and event planners by a mile, and Matt is nothing if not enthusiastic.

The Kactus Creek Croquet Club, as a continuous work-in-progress, already displays some striking features, like these plantings alongside the waterfall Matt built at the "entrance" end of the pergola a few years ago, featuring huge rocks he recovered in building a pond on the property.

What form of all this marketing is the most successful? Matt says, "The Groupons and Livingsocial.com are great, but what has really made the club take off is the word-of- mouth reports from people who had a really good time at a party here and told people about it."

Is there any space left for future development?

It takes a lot of work and dedication to make it all happen. Matt is driven by his passion for the game and wants everyone to know about and play croquet.

This croquet evangelist already puts the Kaktus Creek Croquet Club logo on shirts, jackets, visors, hats, luggage tags, Tervis water bottles, and other items that can be bought by members or partiers. Club members can show off their pride in Matt's exceptional little club as they travel the country; and partiers who wear that logo will augment world-of-mouth and help sell future events and the sport of croquet.

When night falls, casual play can continue with the lights Matt installed in 2010. This view looks to the east, where you can see the gate down to the pergola on the left.

Matt tells everyone that putting on croquet parties and personally competing in the sport is living his dream--and there's so much more of the dream still be dreamed and lived, and plenty of space on those ten acres and time on the calendar to see it all happen.

One possibility, of course, is a second croquet lawn. And that big sloping hillside above Interstate 435 and the Missouri river beyond might be ideal for grape vines. Would he harvest them himself? Would he invite partiers to do that, in season, and keep the grapes, for an extra fee? Or might he adapt his shop space to include wine-making apparatus?

It sounds like a lot of work, but Matt doesn’t look at it that way. He’s doing exactly what he wants to do, he sees it working, so each “level” of expansion just fuels the next imagining of what is possible.

This vision already includes a firmly set goal for him to “retire” from the normal work-a-day world by 2020 latest, with his USCA one-lawn Kactus Creek Croquet Club generating enough income to sustain him and his family.

He's well on the way to retirement already with more than $4000 gross in bookings in only one summer month. Matt suspects he's already broken all records in revenue earned from a one-lawn croquet court in the back yard.

And he's sure he has yet to hit his stride.

CHANNELS OF LOCAL PUBLICITY

  • Local and regional newspaper and magazine features.
  • The club website, complete with photos, prices, features, and options--a compelling "sell" for any and all groups who want to do something "really different and fun."
  • LivingSocial.com and Groupon.com "deals" for calendared off-peak dates and specific times of day.
  • Social media, including Facebook.
  • Offsite events on any available lawn for Golf Croquet, often done free for the publicity for all Matt's croquet endeavors: the croquet club; the paid events; the nine-wicket circuit. These include block parties, fund-raisers; neighborhood associations, church and business events, YMCA and senior groups.
  • Word-of-mouth: the most valuable ongoing promotion long-term, especially in a small town or suburb of a big city, because it just keeps going like waves in an ocean.

You can email Matt Griffith at kactuscreek#yahoo.com, or view his website at KactusCreek.com. If it's about croquet or decking, you can ask him anything.


 
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