Indeed, the game’s greatest fame came during Hollywood’s Golden
Age when movie moguls like Louis B. Mayer, Darryl Zanuck, and
Jack Warner would play daily and, dressed in impeccable whites,
hold regular weekend croquet parties on their magnificently manicured
course, that is the crux of the problem,” said Stark with a smile.
“To play the game as it’s meant to be played you do need perfect
lawns. So the costs are exceedingly high. Also, this is a real
difficult game to learn if you want to play it at the highest
The basic idea of croquet is to get two of your balls (colored
blue, red, black, and yellow) into your hoops in a certain order
before your opponent does by pushing them through strategically
placed wickets with a mallet. But, according to Stark, “once you
learn to play the game, you’ll realize that there are a lot of
nuances to it.”
is a cross between billiards and chess,” he said. “Billiards,
because it’s all about angles. And chess because of its intense,
almost warlike, competitiveness, profound use of strategy, and
the necessity of always thinking three or four moves ahead.”
The sport was born on the British Isles in the mid 19th
century and soon migrated to the rest of the Commonwealth and
other English-speaking countries. Strangely, this “sport of kings”
suffered something of a setback in the 1890s in the U.S. when
the Boston clergy spoke out against the “drinking, gambling, and
other licentious behavior” that was associated with it. The sport
then made a real comeback in the 1920s, becoming the favored pastime
of entertainment and literary figures, including the famed Algonquin
Today, croquet remains most popular in England, Ireland, Australia,
and New Zealand. In the U.S., it’s played by approximately 10,000
men and women, both in its popular (Golf Croquet) and most competitive
(USCA 6-Wicket Croquet) forms.
To Stark’s great sorrow, “it’s unlikely that croquet will ever
become an Olympic sport” even while oddities like whitewater kayaking,
beach volleyball, and synchronized swimming are “in.” There are
only 17 member countries in the International Croquet Federation.
Due to croquet’s limited exposure, even an acknowledged expert
like Stark is likely to have come to the sport by mere accident.
”When I was still living in Kansas City, a friend invited me to
a croquet tournament out in the woods,” he said. “I’m still not
sure why I went but I went. There were wickets made out of old
coat hangers and 35 kegs of beer for 150 people.”
to say, I fell in love right away.” And the rest is croquet history.