Croquet club welcomes visitors
by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
Most folks have played a game or two of croquet in the backyard. The set probably came from the local department store and included colored balls, four wooden mallets, a colored stick and wire wickets you’d stick in the ground and forget to remove before the grass was cut.
But at Chesapeake Bay Croquet Club in Middlesex County, croquet is a bit more organized and a little more competitive.
The players were all dressed in white on a recent play day. They were carrying mallets costing more than $500 each, studied every shot and were focused competitors. This is not your backyard game of croquet.
And although play is taken a little more seriously than the game you played with neighborhood pals, the club welcomes everyone, first-time players, some-time players and die-hard vets of the game.
“I hadn’t played since I was 10 years old and this is quite a lot different,” said Ken Layden of Hartfield. “My neighbors told me to come out and play so I thought I’d try it.”
Layden’s neighbors, Carl and Connor Johnson are regulars at the club, which is in its second year and includes about 45 members, according to co-founder Barbara Wallace.
She and Macey White converted the front lawn on their expansive farm in Hartfield into eight croquet courts on two acres. The couple used to operate a Christmas tree farm on White’s 120-acre ancestral property but after joining the Middle Peninsula Croquet Club in Mathews County, Macey decided he wanted to set up his own club on his property. The transition included extensive work that included pulling up all the trees, many remaining from the family-owned peach orchard, leveling the lawn and installing drainage and irrigation systems.
“After he put in all the French drains and irrigation, he had it lasered and leveled and put in Bermuda grass,” said Barbara, who serves as the club’s treasurer. Macey is president.
Additionally the couple converted a 100-year-old peach-packing barn from the farm’s orchard days into a clubhouse for awards ceremonies and picnics. It includes restrooms, a kitchen and a commons area to seat 60.
The club is the second largest croquet facility in the U.S. and holds several United States Croquet Association (USCA) sanctioned events each year.
Most of the club’s members are residents of Middlesex or nearby Mathews counties, but many are weekend residents from Richmond with a second home in the area.
Although Barbara said the club didn’t have any members from the Northern Neck, on that particular Sunday last month, Paul McClean and his wife had made the drive from Lively in Lancaster County to Hartfield.
“I saw the sign a couple of weeks ago and got online to look up the club,” said McClean.
He had played croquet in the 1980s with a club on St. Croix and wanted to try his skills again, he said.
Barbara said they get visitors all the time. “It’s just a fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon,” she said. “We don’t charge them to play. We just hope they’ll love it and join the club.”
Visitors are welcome to join on play days, Wednesdays and Sundays, beginning at 1 p.m. The first hour is used as a clinic of sorts for newcomers, where club members explain the game. First-timers are then paired with members for a game. It’s very beginner-friendly.
What they play
Generally, 6-wicket or golf croquet is played at the club.
Golf croquet is the simpler of the two and is basically a game of skill, much like golf, according to Macey, who has become somewhat of a croquet addict and travels to croquet tournaments up and down the east coast. In 2016, he played in 14 tournaments and has become a nationally ranked player with the USCA, ranking seventh in the top 60 2016 Grand Prix of croquet. The Grand Prix ranks players on their winning scores in games throughout the year.
It’s a good game to play as a beginner or when the skill level of players are vastly different.
Six-wicket, or American croquet, is a more advanced game that involves as much strategy as it does skill, he said.
Players were playing both games on separate courts last month.
Club vice president John Priest and three other men were playing golf croquet. He explained as soon as a player “scored” or went through the wicket, the whole group moved on to the next. The first player or team to reach seven points wins. Seemed simple enough.
However, a group on another court was playing 6-wicket, which is often played under an hour and 15 minute time limit. A ball scores a wicket by passing through it in the correct position. Each ball has a corresponding clip used to show which wicket the ball needs to score next. In this game, a striker ball can hit another ball which allows the striker to play a croquet stroke. My head was spinning.
“It’s a lot to remember,” said Barbara. “But it’s a lot of fun.”
“This is a great facility here and they are so nice,” said player Maxine Brewer. “So often to be able to play croquet you have to belong to a country club. So this is wonderful.”
Chesapeake Bay Croquet Club
1834 Twiggs Ferry Road, Hartfield
Players welcome at 1 p.m.
every Wednesday and Sunday.