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Croquet: Game Rules, and Set up for Beginners

Ernest Hemingway once said: ‘The game of golf would lose a great deal if croquet mallets were allowed on putting greens”.

Croquet is an ancient game that may have originated in Ireland. It was supposedly also played by the Gauls, who passed it on to the French. The French introduced it to the Brits, who then spread it to America, where it has become a beloved family lawn game today.

After nearly 150 years of evolution and adaptation, Croquet remains a popular garden or lawn game. Innumerable American families play it on their lawns and even inside their homes. Ladies, gentlemen, boys, and girls alike enjoy it.

If you’re looking for simple, straightforward rules of Croquet, this guide is for you. Here we will cover:

  • Simple rules of Croquet
  • Basic setup
  • And more…
Picture of a person playing croquet.

Simple Rules of Playing Croquet

Basics of Croquet

  • Croquet is a lawn game of tactics played between two sides – red and yellow versus blue and black. 
  • You can play it in doubles, but in international tournaments or in a competitive setup, it is played between two players. There are 6-player Croquet games too – mostly in the United States.
  • In 2-player games, one player has red and yellow balls while the other one gets black and blue balls.
  • Each ball has to pass through a dozen hoops (called wickets in the United States) in a certain order. These hoops or wickets are inserted into the soil on the lawn.
  • The first player/side to complete this order with each set of balls wins. 

Equipment Needed for Croquet

These days, you get inexpensive kiddie-croquet sets, also called backyard sets. Competition-level or professional croquet sets are sturdier and more durable. Naturally, there is a considerable gap between backyard croquet and championship croquet equipment.

Croquet sets include the following:

Mallets

These are made of hardwood, and each set consists of 4 to 6 mallets. They can have any length or weight, but good ones weigh 3 pounds and have a 3-foot long shaft. Backyard sets contain mallets with removable heads and handles. This makes it easier to store or carry around in a bag.

Backyard mallets are typically shorter (about 2-ft). They also use plastic impact caps on the face, whereas professional players use mallets having special Delrin plastic coating. This can prevent the mallet head from breaking. You can also buy special custom-made mallets, but they can be as expensive as $400.

Balls 

Each set has 4 to 6 Croquet balls – red, black, yellow, and blue. They measure 3-inches in diameter. Most have a composite core with a plastic cover.

Wickets or hoops 

Most Croquet sets contain six wickets or hoops, although some games use nine or 10-wickets too. You need to dig the lawn slightly to insert them into the soil. Backyard sets have cheap wire-based wickets that you can bend into any shape and width.

Official sets are made from sturdy wire that you cannot easily bend. The distance between the upright wickets – which is uniform for the entire wicket – is between 3 11/16 and 4 inches.

Stakes 

There are two stakes which are the starting and turning stakes. They may be made of wood or iron. Official sets have stakes with 1 ½ inch diameter and a height of 18-inches above the ground. Stakes have one sharp edge that helps you easily insert them into the ground. They should not be taller than 2-feet; otherwise, they could interfere with the players’ actions.

Accessories

Some croquet sets come with accessories like clips, a deadness board for the American version, a clock, corner flags, and check fences.

Terminologies in Croquet

  1. Running the hoop – when a ball scores a hoop, it is referred to as ‘the ‘ball has run the hoop’. When this occurs, the ball earns another shot. 
  2. Roquet – when a ball hits another ball, it is called Roquet. A ball earns two shots when it roquets. After completing three roquets – one on each of the balls- the player’s turn ends. However, if you score your hoop, you earn the right for another three roquets.
  3. Croquet stroke – the first of the two shots (when a ball hits another ball) is called croquet stroke. When this occurs, the player has to place the ball together with the ball it has hit. The player then needs to take a shot so that he/she hits both balls together. If you score your hoop, you earn the right to another three croquets.
  4. Continuation stroke – This is the second normal shot. Here the player needs to only hit one ball to make a roquet or run a hoop.
  5. Wiring – Blocking one ball from another with the wire of a hoop or peg is called wiring. This is a strong tacting in the game as it restricts the opponent into a single choice of shot.
  6. Poison ball – this is the Croquet ball that has scored all the wickets but hasn’t hit the finishing stake.
  7. Handicap – A number assigned to a player to indicate his/her ability. 
  8. Peel- to send another ball through its hoop.
  9. Handicap play – A version of the game where a player is granted extra a number of extra turns equal to the difference in their handicaps.

Basic Set Up – How to Lay Out the Croquet Field?

The beauty of Croquet is that you need not only play it on smooth, flat, and big lawns’ even a small, sloped, and lumpy yard will do.

What are the dimensions of a croquet lawn?

The official croquet court is 100 feet x 50 feet, but you can play backyard croquet on lawn sizes of 40 ft x 80 ft or 10 ft x 20 ft as well.

How far apart are the hoops in croquet? How far apart are the stakes?

Assuming typical backyard play, the stakes are about 50 feet apart from each other across the field. The first wicket is around 3 feet from the stake.

Setup

  1. Start by driving the wooden stakes 50 feet apart from each other across the field.
  2. Next set up the wickets. Start at one stake and drive the first wicket about 3 feet from it – facing the second stake across the field.
  3. Place the second wicket about 3 feet from the first, again to the side facing the other stake.
  4. Place the third wicket roughly halfway between the two stakes in the center of the field/court.
  5. Around this central wicket, imagine an area 15 x 15 sq. ft in dimension. Place a wicket at each corner of this imaginary square. To help you better imagine this- the central five wickets should resemble the face on a dice having 5 dots.
  6. Place the last two wickets at the second stake just like the first stake – 3 feet apart from each other and the nearest wicket also 3-feet from the stake. The wickets are in the direction facing the opposite stake.
Picture of a person hitting a croquet ball

Croquet Rules

American Croquet/6-Wicket Croquet Rules

  1. The objective of the game is to reach 26 points first and the player to do so wins.
  2. Each of the 6 wickets is run through twice and the center wicket is one point. Thus, you have 13 points max per ball and 26 points max per side.
  3. Players take turns in the following order: blue, red, black, and yellow. Blue and black play as a team and yellow and red play against them. In singles, one player plays each ball while in 3-player games, one of the sides has one player playing both the balls on that side.
  4. A coin toss determines the beginning of the game. The side to win the toss has to choose from playing first and third with blue and black or second and fourth with red and yellow.
  5. The player can play each ball from anywhere in the starting area. As explained in the setup above, this is 3 feet behind the number one wicket.  If other balls are crowding the start area, the player can place the ball up to 9 inches on either side of the start area.
  6. Each player gets one shot at the beginning of the turn.
  7. The striker balls can earn additional turns by:
  1. Scoring a wicket – One bonus stroke for passing the ball through the wicket in the right direction and order.
  2. Roqueting – This means hitting another(opponent’s ball). The ball earns two consecutive strokes. The first is called croquet stroke and the second is called continuation stroke. In the first, both balls are placed touching each other and the aim is to move both balls simultaneously. They need to move a little or a lot. A player may not place his/her hand or foot on the ball during the stroke. A player may play the continuation stroke from wherever the striker ball lies after the croquet stroke.

        8. A player’s turn ends when:

  1. The shot clock ends.
  2. The shot is completed with croquet or continuation shot
  3. If s/he misses the ball when attempting to strike it
  4. Due to a fault.

      9. A player can pass the turn or shot with the following rules:

  1. State her/his intention to give up their turn
  2. State clearly the color of the ball the opponent should play

10. A player must not interfere with any ball or shot in progress.

11. A ball should come to a complete stop and ultimately cross the boundary before a player or equipment can touch it. The only exception is when a roquet occurs.

12. No player can interfere with the boundary string during a shot.

Short Croquet Rules

Short croquet is the shorter version of the Association level game. It is played for 14 points per side. The lawns or courts in Short croquet are also smaller – measuring about 24 x 16 yards. It was first played in 1985 and was launched by the Croquet Association. They created Short Croquet for tempting younger players so they could enjoy a shorter version of the game on unused tennis courts during their lunch breaks.

The rules of Short Croquet are more or less the same as the classic game with the following exceptions:

  • An opponent’s ball may not be wired from its partner ball. A wiring lift is granted when a player is left with no open shot at any ball.
  • Players with shorts handicaps below 2 are required to complete a specific number of compulsory ‘peels’. Short Croquet handicaps range from 10-to-0-to-3 peels.

Best Croquet Set for Adults and Kids

I strongly recommend the GoSports Premium 6-Player Croquet Set.

We took this on a recent camping trip and had a lot of fun with it. At first, I thought the mallet height would be slightly uncomfortable for the kids, but even 11-year-olds in our groups enjoyed the game and could use the mallet with ease.

The best part of the mallet is its superior grip, thanks to the leathery straps provided on its handles. They are also solidly built, and you can tell so from how they impact the balls.

I must also mention GoSports’s customer service: it is excellent! They are available to answer any questions and make replacements and returns super easy.

Here are some great features of the GoSports 6-Player Croquet set:

Features

  • 6 colored mallets made with hardwood. 35-inch full-size handles. 
  • 6 matching balls – 1
  •  9 wickets and 2 stakes
  • Comes in an attractive carrying case

FAQs

How big of a yard do you need for croquet?

The official Croquet court size requires a yard size twice the size of a tennis court – about 35 x 28 yards. However, you can easily play Croquet on a smaller yard – just scale the dimensions accordingly.

How long does the game of Croquet take?

In general, most Croquet games last for about 2 hours. However, the length of time is significantly affected by the number and skill of the players. Competitive players might finish in an hour or less.

What is the difference between Croquet and Croquette?

The former is the game described above, while the latter is a type of food (fried minced vegetables or meat!).

Why is Croquet called so?

Croquet may have originated in Ireland, where it was called crookey. Crookey is Irish for a hooked stick. The French changed the word Crookey to Crochet or Croquet.

Conclusion

Croquet is a popular lawn sport that arrived in America in the second half of the 1860s. Women initially enjoyed it because it required little strength or tactic. Today, men, women, and kids alike enjoy this family lawn game.

The United States Croquet Association describes Croquet as a combination of ‘chess, billiards, and war.’ A fair description indeed to those who love and play this beloved game!

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