A SHORT HISTORY OF ASSOCIATION CROQUET
from an article published some years ago by the Croquet Association.
Croquet seems to have originated in Ireland, and the first set of formal rules was established in England in 1851. Thereafter, the game developed rapidly, perhaps because it gave the ladies of that time the novel experience of being able to play a game in the open air in the company of gentlemen. In the early years, it was largely a garden party game for the well off but before long croquet clubs were being established, the most famous being Wimbledon, which was formed in 1870.
In 1874, a Major Wingate patented a game which he called 'Sphairistike". Within a year or so it had changed its name to lawn tennis and swept the country. Many private croquet lawns were converted to tennis and even Wimbledon in 1875 set aside some of its space for the game. There followed a sharp reduction in public interest in croquet, and although the game continued to exist as a competitive sport, it was gradually replaced by tennis, and croquet ceased to be played at Wimbledon in 1882.
There was, however, a major revival of the game at the end of the century, when Wimbledon once again took up croquet and many new clubs were formed. In 1897 the Croquet Open Championship was revived after a 15-year gap and in 1914 were holding 120 tournaments each year. Croquet was in its heyday during this period and extraordinarily popular.
The game made a lively emergence from the 1914 war and in 1926 Test Matches were instituted against Australia and New Zealand and have continued ever since. However, during the 1930's there was a gradual decline in interest, and the Second World War put paid to many clubs. Membership in the immediate post war years was probably at its lowest ebb.
Even so, the game once again proved to be remarkably resilient, and from the 1950's it has made steady progress. The most significant feature of recent years has been the number of young men who have taken up the game, particularly from the universities. Most clubs have experienced an encouraging increase in membership, new clubs are being formed annually, and the game is attracting the attention of both the press and television. Croquet is also experiencing a boom in the United States and Japan, and at the instigation of the Croquet Association, a World Croquet Federation has been set up to organise the game at international level.
Despite the game's remarkable ebb and flow in popularity, all the major croquet events (the Open Championship, the Men's and Women's Championships, the Inter-Counties Championship and the prestige invitation events) have been held without a break throughout the century apart from the war years. There are currently over 100 tournaments held each year at various clubs, details of which can be obtained from the Croquet Association. Some of these tournaments last for a whole week, whilst others take place over a weekend. A handicap system operates as in golf and at many tournaments there are separate events for different classes of player.
In 1985, financial help from the Sports Council enabled the Croquet Association
to employ a National Development Officer for the first time. A National Coaching
Scheme has been set up and over 100 official coaches have been appointed.
Nowadays croquet is played in many schools as part of the sports curriculum and the Croquet Association's National Schools Championship has become a regular feature of the tournament calendar.
In 1986, the Croquet Association introduced the "Croquet Classic", a tournament especially designed for garden players. More experienced players (those with an official handicap) are barred from competing. Over 500 players take part in this competition each year.
Croquet was a "demonstration sport" at the World Games in Karlsruhe in 1989, and the same year saw the first World Croquet Championship held in London. Officially recognised by the World Croquet Federation, the Championship was contested between 80 players from all over the world. Three more World Championships have been held since.
An European Croquet Federation was formed in 1993.