FREMONT - It could be a vision of the past - figures dressed all in white, playing a game of croquet on the lawn at the Rutherford B. Hayes home in Fremont.
A closer look reveals not ghosts but real people engaged in an actual game with more up-scale equipment than what grandma might have used.
Two croquet professionals, Mike Orgill of California and Bob Alman of Florida, are directing free croquet clinics and tournaments this weekend at the Hayes Center. Equipment is provided, and no previous experience is needed. Kathy Boukissen, director of development, explained the resurgence of the sport at the center.
PHOTO BY JIM SHOBE
Mike Orgill of Santa Rosa, California and Bob Alman of West Palm Beach, Florida, professional croquet players, demonstrate how the game is played.
"Next year, January through August, we're going to have a croquet exhibit in the museum to kick off our big event next year, which is 'Wine, Wickets and Wheels.' It will be July 3 and 4," Boukissen said. "Our really big event is planned for 2010, so these gentlemen said, 'Let's come this year to get people acquainted with it."
The first step was to start a croquet club on the grounds. In late March, the Hayes Presidential Center Croquet Club was established with more than 30 members. Boukissen said the club is a first for the center. The group is a sanctioned member of the United States Croquet Association.
The court set up on the Hayes lawn is about 30 percent smaller than a regulation croquet court with manicured turf. The smaller size is meant to compensate for the slower speed of the ball on terrain made uneven by moles and foot traffic.
Bob Alman said the reduced court is adequate for introducing the sport to area players.
In addition, beginners can learn the rules of the game by playing SuperSize Croquet or "toequet" with soccer balls. Another court has been set up in a large oval with oversized wickets.
"That's designed so that you can play a good game on any kind of surface. The kids can play by kicking the ball, because the mallets are too big for them to handle, or adults can use the mallets. We're doing the SuperSize Croquet World Championships here next year, and we're doing it freestyle, doubles, which means you can come out and play any way you want to hit the ball - with your foot, or the mallet," Alman said.
A press release states the Hayes Family were avid croquet players in their day. The center also houses an extensive collection of printed material related to the sport. Collections manager Mary Lou Rendon said the artifacts include a figurine of a family playing croquet and "tons" of documents, such as rule books and letters that mention the sport.
"In my area, I have quite a few of the table-top sets, the miniature sets. There's a framed lithograph showing ladies of the 1800s playing," Rendon said.
Orgill and Alman gave two introductory golf croquet and SuperSize clinics Thursday. Today, area service clubs and employee groups are to compete at 2 p.m., and an open croquet tournament begins at 4 p.m. Boukissen said about 20 people registered in advance, but players still can sign up today. More events are planned for Saturday and Sunday.
At 9 a.m. Saturday, the HPC Croquet Club will have a tournament. Spectators are welcome. Before and after the 2 p.m. Independence Day concert, the public can take part in a "Wicket Shoot Contest," similar to a putting contest. The cost is $1 to play, but watching is free. On Sunday, Orgill and Alman will give two more free clinics that are open to the public.
The center staff are hoping these events will generate interest in the benefit scheduled a year from now. Richard Bean, one of its organizers, said he hopes to attract 100 or more Mercedes vehicles for the "wheels" segment.
"We're having a wine auction on July 4 in the evening. There will be food and wine and the auction going on. For the tournament, we have people coming in from all over the country," Bean said. "The whole thing is to have fun and play on the presidential grounds ... It's a new idea of raising funds for the presidential center."
The Hayes Presidential Center is located at the corner of Hayes and Buckland Avenues, Fremont. For more information, visit the Web site www.rbhayes.org or call (419) 332-2081.