Playing croquet at hotels: The high-end hotel game for both sexes

A spot of croquet, anyone?

I recall having a bit of a bang about with a mallet and balls once when I was a child, at a very old-fashioned guesthouse on Phillip Island. I don't recall anyone I played with knowing the rules.

I'm sure the guesthouse doesn't exist any more and, even if it did, the croquet lawn has probably become a carpark or a swimming pool. It was a holdover from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the game was at its most popular.

Luxury hotel guests these days are more interested in massages, cocktails and health centres than a genteel outdoor game in which players rarely break a sweat.

Or so I thought. But I've visited a few hotels recently where the croquet lawn has been painstakingly maintained and the competitive sport is offered to guests, sometimes with instruction.

These hotels include the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo, a colonial gem that opened in 1864 when croquet was in its infancy, Gleneagles in Scotland, famous for its golf course rather than its croquet lawn, and at Tea Trails in the Sri Lankan highlands.

A quick check of hotels that offer croquet reveals that there are at least 73 hotels and guesthouses in Britain with croquet lawns, including the Lygon Arms in the Cotswolds and Swinton Park in Yorkshire. For historic hotels like these, the emotional connection to another era that croquet brings is very powerful.

In the US, there are dozens of hotels that cater to the sport, coast to coast, from the Breakers in Palm Beach to the Grand Del Mar in San Diego. The Four Seasons resort in Maui has a croquet lawn, as does the Royal Bahamian in the Bahamas.

Although there aren't many croquet fields in Europe, I find it fascinating that the ornate Palais Schwarzenberg in Vienna has one. You can also play the game at Vomo Island Resort in Fiji, the Anantara Hua Hin in Thailand, and at Peppers Delgany in Portsea.

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Who knew? Croquet is back in style.

Most know of the game from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in which Alice plays a nonsense version, using a hedgehog as a ball and a flamingo as a mallet. In the real world, coloured wooden balls are hit with a wooden mallet through iron hoops fixed into the lawn.

The object of the game is to hit your balls in the right sequence, and the first to finish the course wins. It requires great tactical skills.

There are several variations and it's far more complicated than it sounds, a little like lawn bowls, which looks easy until you try it. It can be quite vicious, apparently, with competitors trying to move their opponent's balls to unfavourable positions. Luckily it's not a contact sport, or shouldn't be, because a whack on the ankle with a mallet would be quite painful.

It was one of the few games available to both men and women in the 19th century, which explains its early popularity. Heavily corseted and bustled ladies could play it, as it required only gentle bending.

The rules were first registered in 1856. The first All England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbledon in 1868. Later, Wimbledon converted its croquet lawn to tennis courts, but it is still known today as The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Croquet was an event in the 1900 summer Olympics. The World Croquet Foundation holds world championships to this day, in Britain, the US, New Zealand and Australia.

There are croquet clubs in many Australian suburbs and the international MacRobertson Shield (named for the manufacturer of the Freddo Frog) is held every four years. The WCF is hardly the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) though – you won't see it telecast on a cable TV channel.

Croquet does seem staid, although I'm sure its players would disagree. But I'm rather in favour of a game that doesn't require walking all over a green, as golf does. There's more time for afternoon tea and the scoffing of cakes.

Unfortunately, whenever I come across a lush croquet lawn, there seems no one about to play with. Perhaps it's too dull for the Candy Crush generation. There's not an "Xtreme" version yet, as far as I know, although there is something called "advanced" play. Maybe that is played with large birds. Or is umpired by a Queen who shouts, 'Off with their heads!'.

I'll stick to the genteel version.

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