Maui Croquet Club CROQUET NEWSCroquet at President Hayes’ House

New club playing at Spiegel Grove hopes for national tournament

Click to Visit12 June 2009
Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Freemont, Ohio, United States of America United States of America
story by Ryan E. Smith in Toleo Blade, Toledo, Ohio, United States of America United States of America
photo by Jeremy Wadsworth in Toleo Blade, Toledo, Ohio, United States of America United States of America

A croquet ball sits in play at the Hayes Center.  

You can learn a lot from the scandals of the past. Like, how to play croquet.

Rutherford B. Hayes may be known for attaining the presidency without winning the popular vote, but it’s the controversial extra $4 he spent on a set of croquet balls while in office that seems more relevant for those participating in a new croquet club at his home here, Spiegel Grove.

[See croquet video at YouTube.]

It’s an ironic twist that during Hayes’ term in office the extra expense was touted as unseemly by his Democratic critics. Today, his presidential center is one of the greatest repositories of croquet-related material in the world, according to executive director Thomas Culbertson.

Inside, there are old rule books, miniature games, and a total of about 1,000 items donated years ago by an Ohio collector Rendell Rhoades. Outside, the center is doing its best to help the game bust out of backyards and into the mainstream.

“This was sort of a natural mission,” Mr. Culbertson said, who noted the sport’s popularity during Hayes’ time in the 19th century (before it was overshadowed by tennis) and the fact that the president’s family probably played.

A club with about 35 members started play last month and there have been public clinics as well. The ultimate goal is to host a major, national tournament next year.

Janet Morley of Fremont makes a shot in at game at the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont while others observe.  

That’s a magical prospect for Michael Orgill, president of a croquet club in California who happened upon the Fremont collection during a cross-country trip and suggested the tourney. He believes croquet has something for everyone.

“A child can play it and someone who’s 85 can play it. It’s not really that physical but it’s very strategic,” he said during a recent clinic at Spiegel Grove that he helped lead.

The version of croquet played in backyards across the country is a bit different from what you’ll see in competitive croquet, or even the golf croquet played by the club in Fremont. In the latter there are fewer, narrower wickets than the recreational game, and instead of both members of each team having to get their ball through each hoop, only one must make it, at which time everyone else races to the next wicket.

People at a recent clinic also got a chance to play some super-sized croquet using large wickets and soccer balls that could be kicked or struck with the mallet. Franc Flores, of Fremont, saw the super-sized game and couldn’t resist stopping by with his sons, Alex and Antonio, both 7.

“The game looked pretty fun,” he said. “That was pretty cool, playing something different.”

Michael Orgill demonstrates a jump shot.  

Not everyone in the new club is a newcomer. Gail DeFrance had been playing for years with a group of friends in Fremont and she found the activity to be as much a social one as it was mental or physical.

“It was just an excuse to get together and get out in the fresh air and enjoy the summer and good fellowship,” she said. “We shared good food and good wine.”

They got so into it that they handed out trophies and wore all white, she said.

“It was more of a reason just to get together and have some fun,” said Renee Dayringer, a member of the same croquet circle who now is president of the Hayes club, which also provides wine and some nibbles.

Just because most people associate the sport with lawn games and barbecues doesn’t mean it’s easy. Any one of the 3,000 members of the United States Croquet Association probably could tell you that.

“The advanced forms of the sport are like chess on grass,” said Floridian Bob Alman, editor of Croquet World Online Magazine who also was at the recent clinics.

And what beautiful chess matches, especially at Spiegel Grove. There, Mr. Alman stopped in the shade, within shouting distance of the former president’s home, and proclaimed: “I can’t imagine a better public setting for croquet.”