how to play croquet
The game of Croquet is played by hitting a ball through a series of wire hoops with a mallet. As a fun backyard activity for children and adults alike, this game has been popular in the United States since its introduction in the mid-1800s. The game is also played as a social activity among members of organized clubs on manicured lawns.1
The origins of Croquet are unknown, although there are indications that mallet and ball games were first played in England and Europe during the Middle Ages. While there were varying rules to the early games, the similar games involving rings and balls were called Lawn Billiards, Closh, Troco, and Pall Mall. A game called Crookey was played in Ireland in the 1830s and was introduced in England in the 1850s, where it quickly became popular. Women enjoyed having a game that could be played by both men and women on an equal footing. Uniform rules and national competitions were offered over the next thirty years, and Croquet became a major sport of the day. The first national headquarters was the Wimbledon All England Croquet Club, now known as Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. The game quickly spread throughout the British Empire and was a one-time event at the 1900 Olympics.2
Croquet was introduced in North America in the early 1860s. One of the earliest known American printed rulebooks was published in 1875 with several revised versions printed by various sources including the version by A. G. Spalding & Bros. entitled Spalding’s Official Croquet Manual that was accepted by the National Croquet Congress held in September of 1879.3 The game was popularized in the United States by manufacturers who offered lightweight, inexpensive equipment that could be played on long grass for family gatherings, garden parties, and other social events.
While Croquet has been a casual outdoor game for families for more than 150 years, other versions of the game are also played on groomed lawns with heavier equipment and modified rules for more exacting play that requires strategy and skill. Social clubs and associations offer tournament play for their members.4
Croquet sets bought in toy and sporting goods stores are generally designed for family play with shorter mallets for children. More sophisticated adult-sized croquet sets have mallets about three feet long, sturdier wickets (hoops), and heavy, solid plastic balls.5 Standard backyard croquet sets match the balls to their mallets by color: blue, red, black, yellow, green, and orange. The weight of the balls varies from 10 ounces for recreational play to approximately 16 ounces for tournament play. The hoops are made of metal and must be rigid with the crown of the hoop being 11.5 to 12.5 inches from the ground.6 The shafts of the mallets can be made with wood, aluminum, or a carbon fiber. There is no regulation for the length of the mallet head, however, if it is longer than 9 inches, it must be marked to show the 9 inch distance from the striking face. Serious players can custom fit their mallets to their needs.7
The rules for the traditional backyard game, known as Nine-Wicket Croquet, have been standardized by the United States Croquet Association (USCA). The official full-size court is 100 feet long by 50 feet wide, but it can be adjusted for size and shape to fit the available space for backyard play. There are nine wickets and two stakes arranged in a double-diamond pattern. The wickets should be firmly planted in the ground. The pattern starts with a stake planted 6 feet from each end with one wicket spaced 6 feet from the stake and another wicket 6 feet further up the center of the field. A wicket is placed in the center of the court, and to form the diamonds, wickets are placed 6 feet from the outside borders halfway between the center wicket and the second wicket from the stake on each side. The borders should be marked by string, chalk, or flags.
The object of the game is to advance the player’s ball through the course in the correct order and direction scoring points for each wicket passed through and each stake hit. For teams, the first side to score 14 wicket points and 2 stake points for each of its balls wins; for single play, the player who finishes the course successfully first is the winner.
For individual play, each player uses one ball. In team play, each player uses two balls. The color of the balls determines the order of play (blue, red, black, yellow, green, and orange), which is maintained throughout the game. The first side with one or two players plays with blue and black; the other side plays with red and yellow. For a six-player team game, one side plays blue, black, and green; the other side plays red, yellow, and orange.
The players take turns striking their balls, and only one plays at a time. At the beginning of each turn the player, who is called the “striker,” has one shot. The striker may only hit the ball he is playing, called the “striker ball,” in that turn with the mallet. Unless a bonus shot is earned by scoring a wicket or stake or by hitting another player’s ball, the turn ends. After any earned bonus shots are played, the play continues with the next player.
To determine the order of play a coin may be tossed or each player may hit a ball to see who hits closest to the middle wicket. Once the order is determined, players must then use the appropriate colored balls and mallets to maintain the order. The balls are played into the game from a spot halfway between the finishing stake and the first wicket with the first player hitting the blue ball, followed by the players hitting balls in the red, black, and yellow (and green and orange, if appropriate) order. In most Croquet sets, the stakes are marked with colored stripes to show the order of play.
After all the balls have begun play, the game continues until a ball has successfully finished the course. In individual play, the game is then over. In team play, the game continues with the remaining balls, skipping the ball that has finished the course, unless the player who finished the course chooses to stay in the game as a “rover.” As a rover the player can help his team advance their remaining balls and prevent the opposing side from advancing. The rover’s ball may hit any other ball only once per turn, gaining extra shots accordingly, but it does not score any points for running a wicket. The rover may be put out of the game by any player by causing the rover’s ball to hit the finishing stake. The rover’s side earns the point for the stake, and the order of play resumes without the rover’s ball. The game continues until one team has completed play with all of their balls. A game can also be timed with a time limit set before play commences. When the time limit is reached, the game is over and the team with the most points is declared the winner. If the score is tied, the ball closest to its next wicket gets an extra point for the win.
If the striker takes a swing at his ball and misses entirely, the miss counts as a shot and his turn ends, unless the striker had a second bonus shot. If the striker’s mallet accidently hits another ball than the striker ball, the shot must be replayed with no loss of turn. If a player plays out of turn, there is no penalty, but any ball moved during the out-of-turn play is replaced to its position prior to the error and play resumes properly.
To score points, each ball must go through a wicket or hit a stake in the proper order and direction. Any improperly played ball that goes through a wicket or hits a stake in the wrong order or direction is not counted as a score. If a player’s ball is caused to score a wicket or stake by another player’s ball, the scoring ball earns the point for its side, but no bonus shot is earned as a result. A ball must clear the wicket to score a wicket point. If it travels through the wicket but then rolls backward, it has not scored the wicket. If a ball is played backward through the wicket to get position, it must clear the wicket before hitting it through the wicket in the correct direction.
One bonus shot is earned if the striker ball scores a wicket or hits the turning stake. The striker earns two bonus shots if the striker ball hits another ball. Hitting another’s ball is called “roquet.” The maximum number of bonus shots earned by a striker during his turn is two. The player is considered “dead” on a ball for extra shots until he clears his next wicket or on the start of his next turn, whichever comes first.
If two bonus shots are earned by striking another ball, the first of these two shots may be taken in any of these four ways:
- From a mallet-head distance (9 inches) or less away from the ball that was hit called “taking a mallet-head.”
- From a position in contact with the ball that was hit, with the striker ball held steady by the striker’s foot or hand called a “foot shot” or a “hand shot.”
- From a position in contact with the ball that was hit without the striker ball being held by a foot or hand called a “croquet shot.”
- From where the striker ball stopped after the roquet. If the striker ball went out of bounds, the ball should be measured in one mallet length (36 inches) from where it crossed the boundary perpendicular to the boundary line.
The second bonus shot after a roquet is an ordinary shot played from where the striker ball came to rest and is called a “continuation shot.”
When the striker ball scores a wicket and in the same shot hits another ball, only the wicket counts for one extra shot. The striker may then roquet any ball to earn two extra shots. When the striker ball roquets another ball and then goes through the wicket, the wicket has not been scored, but the striker earns two extra shots for the roquet.
There are a number of optional rules that can be played. These should be agreed upon by all players before the start of the game.8
- 1. Corfield, Justin. “Croquet.” Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society. Rodney P. Carlisle, editor. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publication. 2009. pp. 158.
- 2. “Croquet and cousins.” The Online Guide to Traditional Games. < http://www.tradgames.org.uk/games/Croquet.htm > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 3. Drazin, David. “Unsolved mysteries of croquet history.” Croquet World Online Magazine. < http://www.croquetworld.com/Letters/mysteries.asp > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 4. “Croquet in America: From Backyard Game to Worldclass Sport.” United States Croquet Association. < http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/history/ > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 5. “Synopsis of Nine-Wicket Croquet.” United States Croquet Association. < http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/rules/ninewicket/synopsis/index.php > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 6. “Hoop Specifications.” The Croquet Store. < https://www.oakleywoods.com/pages/HOOP-SPECIFICATIONS.html > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 7. “Selecting a Mallet.” The Croquet Store. < https://www.oakleywoods.com/pages/PRODUCT-INFO.html > 8 Aug. 2017.
- 8. “Rules of Nine-Wicket Croquet.” United States Croquet Association. < http://www.croquetamerica.com/croquet/rules/ninewicket/index.php > 10 Aug. 2017.