At a media event Wednesday, professionals Bob Alman and Michael Orgill gave journalists a crash course on golf croquet at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. Like most people who have played the sport, Alman learned it from his grandparents.
"My grandmother beat me. ... She didn't let me win - ever," he said.
Now, Alman is the editor of croquetworld.com, an online magazine. Orgill belongs to a club in Santa Rosa, Calif., and works for MalletBall, a company that produces SuperSize Croquet sets. The two men had become friends about 30 years ago while both were employed as writers in the San Francisco area.
PHOTO BY JIM SHOBE
Mary Lou Rendon, collections manager of the Hayes Center, gets some instructions on “Mallet Ball” from Bob Alman of West Palm Beach, Florida.
A native of New York, Orgill said he started playing croquet in 1981 in California. He had read about a national championship in New York City's Central Park. The article mentioned a club in San Francisco, so Orgill looked it up and joined.
Soon after, one of its members who owned a winery built two courts in Santa Rosa. Chance brought him to the Hayes Presidential Center for the first time.
"I had to drive a car from New York to San Francisco. I was driving I-90 and I saw the sign for the Rutherford Hayes Center. Something lit dimly in my mind. I had read an article that they had some croquet stuff here. So I drove up here and it blew my mind when I saw the collection," Orgill said.
After that first visit, he wrote an article about it for Alman's e-zine. Later, Orgill called Kathy Boukissen at the center and suggested having a tournament there. Now retired, Orgill travels extensively to participate in croquet tournaments and to set up equipment. Some members of his club were to join him for today's tournament.
Alman said this is his inaugural visit to the Hayes Center. Because he does numerous history articles for croquetworld.com, he was aware of the center's collection of croquet-related artifacts. When Orgill wrote about his experiences in Fremont, Alman decided to help Orgill get the Hayes club and tournament organized. He spoke about his early interest in the sport while working with Orgill in San Francisco.
"We got this notion of forming 'The Guerrilla Croquet Club of San Francisco. It was the age of guerrilla theater," Alman said. "The idea was to dress in white and go to places where we didn't belong. We weren't doing anything criminal. ... No one would realize that we weren't authorized because we looked authorized. This was before the age of terrorism, and we always got away with it, which made it boring, ultimately."
The next step was to play regulation croquet. Orgill already was familiar with the USCA. At first, Alman deemed association croquet "too serious" but soon was "captured" by the game and its many refinements. He started wondering why everyone was not playing croquet. Now active in club development for the USCA, Alman offers numerous clinics to introduce the sport to the public.
The professionals said old fashioned lawn croquet employs different rules than those of the current styles of golf croquet. Association croquet is played all over the world, but Americans play an adapted version of the sport that is generally "looked down upon." Orgill said croquet is very popular in Florida and southern California, where tournaments are offered every month of the year. The winners usually get a trophy but no purse. Orgill said his club does offer a purse of $6,000.
As far as the cost of the equipment, Orgill said he paid $500 for his mallet, but basic versions are about $70. A set of tournament wickets can run $900. The balls are about $90 each. Although the initial outlay may be expensive, the pieces rarely wear out. Orgill said mallet handles vary according to a player's height. The mallet head also can differ in size and be fashioned in a cylindrical or rectangular shape. Mallets can be made of wood, metal or acrylic resin.
At www.malletball.com, one can purchase a set of two SuperSize Croquet mallets for $50-$60. A four-player toequet set is available for $139 and a six-player set for $159. The sets include four or six regulation style soccer balls, nine wickets, two stakes, an air pump, instruction book and a net storage bag.
Those who are not ready to invest in equipment can learn the game by joining the Hayes Presidential Center Croquet Club. The annual dues are $25 per person or $40 per couple. The club provides the equipment and courts, which must be reserved for play. Club members may invite non-members to play at the center and use the club's equipment at a cost of $5 per guest. For more information, contact Kathy Boukissen by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (419) 332-2081.