Near the midpoint of the Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championship, I
interviewed many of the players at courtside. Among the many fine players
for whom this most elaborately produced tournament was a one-week stopover on
the way to England and croquet's ultimate player experience, I have chosen
these four, in loosely edited transcript, to represent the thoughts and
opinions of the top practitioners of the sport, their diverse interests and
motivations, and their assessment, in 1996, of where the sport is and where
Because this is not a movie script, I can't represent the atmosphere, the
facial expressions, the backgrounds, the nuances of tone which made these
interviews such a delight to conduct and record. Suffice to say that
Sonoma-Cutrer is an incomparable week-long croquet party, with 28 of the best
players on the planet converged around only two lawns. There's plenty of
time for courtside food and drink of the highest quality, for idle chatter of
equal vintage, horseplay, outrageous gossip, and irreverent remarks on just
about everything - all in the spirit of good fun.
As you read these interviews, bring yourself to the party, engage in the
banter with a light heart, don't take anything more seriously than it merits,
and enjoy getting to know just a little better these croquet stars, and their
WHAT'S YOUR RECORD SO FAR IN BLOCK PLAY, ROBERT?
Three out of six.
AND THREE SEXTUPLES IN SIX ATTEMPTS.
AND YOUR GOAL FOR THE TOURNAMENT IS....
Oh well, I'm still trying to get out of the block (chuckling) so I need a lot
of results to work out in the right way.
ARE YOU GOING TO GIVE UP THIS INTENSE CONCENTRATION ON SEXTUPLES AND JUST GO
FOR THE WINS FROM NOW ON? I GUESS THAT'S A LOADED QUESTION.
Yes, it's a VERY loaded question. I'm going for sextuples as a serious
YOU'RE NOT BEING ARROGANT OR PRESUMPTUOUS OR SHOWING CONTEMPT FOR YOUR
No. In a way, it's only a reasonable tactic. It is debatable, I'll grant
you that. I don't necessarily think it's definitely right. It definitely in
IT"S MORE FUN.
Yes, it requires more concentration as well. I've been a bit unluckly in
this tournament, where in two games I failed in the sextuple, but I've gone
on and not made any mistakes. But my opponent happens to have played well in
both games as well,
WELL, YOU KNOW, ONE HAS TO WONDER WHAT KIND OF STANDARD YOU'RE PLAYING
AGAINST, BECAUSE BY NEAR-UNIVERSAL AGREEMENT, YOU'RE THE BEST PLAYER IN THE
WORLD. SO, IF THERE WERE SOMEBODY UP THERE ABOVE YOU IN THE RANKINGS THAT
YOU WERE TRAINING TO "GET", THAT WOULD MAKE IT MORE UNDERSTANDABLE. BUT AS
IT IS, GIVEN THE TROUBLE YOU'VE GOTTEN INTO IN YOUR BLOCK, GOING FOR THE
SEXTUPLE EVERY TIME DOESN'T SEEM TO MAKE SENSE, WATCHING FROM THE
It does take a bit of working out, where you're going to go.
WHEN YOU'RE ALREADY THE BEST, WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO GO? THAT'S THE
I don't know what you mean by that.
YOU'RE THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD....
SO HOW DO YOU PLOT OUT WHERE TO TAKE THE LEVEL OF YOUR GAME FROM THERE? YOU
DON'T HAVE ANY STANDARD OUT THERE TO MOVE TOWARDS.
Well, I've certainly made some mistakes this week, the same as everyone here,
really. You try to make less and less mistakes.
SO WHAT'S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL, THEN? IS IT TO MAKE EVERY SINGLE SEXTUPLE?
Pretty much, yeah. In a way, I'd like to change to the 14-point game, but
that's another issue. But you see, these are very unusual conditions here.
Tactics very much depend on lawn conditions. And I wouldn't go for the
sextuple every time elsewhere. I've only played in about four events in my
life where I considered going for the sextuple a reasonable tactic. But I've
certainly played in events where in the first couple of games I've been
trying to do them, and then I've decided it's not suitable.
WHAT'S YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT IN CROQUET?
SEEMS KIND OF SILLY TO ASK YOU THAT QUESTION.
Winning the OTHER world championship. But obviously, my goal is to win it
over and over again. So, in a way, it's winning the world championship THREE
times. And in a few years it'll be how many ever times I've managed to win
TONY STEPHENS TOLD ME HIS MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMLISHMENT WAS GETTING ON THE
MACROBERTSON TEAM THIS YEAR 33 YEARS AFTER HE DID IT THE FIRST TIME. DO YOU
HAVE ANY SUCH LONGEVITY GOALS IN CROQUET?
Not particularly. I don't know what would happen if I reach a point where
I'm not playing anything like as well as I have done. I don't think you can
ask that question before it happens. But I certainly don't see myself
retiring from croquet unless I stop playing well. At the moment, I have lots
of time to practice. I imagine eventually I'll probably get married, and
pretty well have a lot less time. And I don't know whether my playing would
drop off very much. But at the moment, I don't see why I shouldn't be
playing when I'm sixty.
WHICH PLAYER DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?
Probably Bob Jackson. He has a phenomenal longevity record. And partly
because of the incredible record he's got in the New Zealand Open. He's been
in the finals of something like 21 out of 24 Opens he's played in, and he's
won about 11 of them, at a time when, particularly in the late seventies and
eighties, New Zealand was at least as strong as Britain. Possibly stronger,
at the very top, with England being strong in depth. But not just because
he's won things. It's the way he plays, which is really quite unique.
IF YOU GO FURTHER IN EXPLAINING WHY, I'LL PROBABLY BE OUT OF MY DEPTH.
No, I don't think so. People used to try and run breaks as tightly as
possible. But Bob just didn't care, he would just leave five-yard roquets
all over the place, and was very successful doing it. And that was a bit of
a revolution, then. And there are lots of players now who are very
comfortable doing that, leaving five-yards roquets in the middle of a
BURRIDGE DOES THAT. YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT 'BURRIDGE ABUSE",
DO YOU? I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT!
(chuckling) No, I've been playing with Mr. Burridge since he was eleven, so
I've got a whole different attitude on....
YOU'VE BEEN PLAYING CROQUET SINCE YOU WERE ELEVEN?
No, I went to school with him.
TOO BAD ABOUT HIS FORM, WHICH I'VE BEEN READING ABOUT ON THE NOTTINGHAM
He's playing fine....
IF YOU WERE TO CHANGE THE GAME IN ANY WAY - THE GAME ITSELF, THE CULTURE, THE
PEOPLE WHO DO IT - WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
The first thing I'd change is to go do the 14-point game.
AT THE TOP LEVEL OF COMPETITION?
Yes, PURELY at the top level, the very top level.
I THOUGHT THE SENTIMENT WAS TO OPEN UP THE GAME AT ALL LEVELS.
But the game at lower levels is already pretty open.
IT TAKES FOREVER....
Yes, it may, but it's in-and-out. In THIS game (the long game), the slower
player can take 35 minutes on the lawn in one turn. It's a bit boring, I
think. And also, they're not demanded to do anything very difficult, really.
Certainly for me, here, doing a triple-peel is absurdly easy. For many of
these players, it's just a waste of everyone's time.
SO THE CHANGE YOU'D LIKE TO MAKE IS TO HAVE THE 14-POINT GAME AS THE STANDARD
IN TOP-LEVEL TOURNAMENTS ONLY?
Yes For everyone else, the long game is fine. .
DO YOU ASPIRE TO MAKE A LIVING FROM CROQUET?
No. There's no money in playing. I'd love to play full-time professional
croquet. But you can't do that, there's no money in that. To make a living
in croquet you'd have to coach.
CLEAR ENOUGH. SO, TO END JUST TELL ME WHAT QUESTION WOULD YOU LIKE TO
ANSWER, IF ONLY I'D ASK IT?
(huhmmmmmmm...) Well, one of the most important pieces of information I
think some people in American don't get is....basically, just to tell them to
try and play breaks. (chuckling)
WE DON'T PLAY BREAKS IN AMERICA...?
Well, on the West Coast maybe you do, and I think they've been told on the
East Coast, but I don't think they've been told enough. Beginners. People
who just picked up your Web page, and they want to know something about
playing croquet, they can find out about rules, but you don't have much about
three-ball breaks, four-ball breaks. The object of the game, REALLY, is to
learn to score several hoops in one turn. That's how you get started, as far
as I'm concerned. That's basically the first think I knew about the game. We
didn't know very much about the ending, but we DID know that you were
supposed to start off playing breaks.
GOOD ADVICE! THANK YOU, ROBERT.