Hoop to it!
The Cambridge University Association Croquet Club brings this gentle, tactical sport to a new generation.
It was one of the first sports to be played by both men and women at the same time, has been immortalised in literature by both Leo Tolstoy and Stephen King, and, in its heyday, had its headquarters on the lush, green lawns of Wimbledon. Croquet has a long and fascinating history and it’s now being discovered by a new generation, thanks to the Cambridge University Association Croquet Club (CUACC) – whose Life President, John Solomon, is one of the greatest players of all time.
Today’s CUACC are a fun, diverse bunch, very few of whom have ever played the sport before but became drawn in by the slower pace and challenging gameplay, explains member Lachlan Chavasse (Corpus Christi, Third Year). “It’s very tactical, but it’s no good having brilliant tactics if you don’t hit the balls right. It’s a great combination of thinking and playing,” he explains. “The aim is to hit the balls through the iron hoops, but there’s an incredible range of things you can do to achieve that, such as hitting two balls together. The pace means it’s a very social game. If you play doubles, there’s plenty of time for chatting when you’re not hitting. And it’s not too strenuous.”
Many players – including Chavasse – come to croquet in Cambridge via Cuppers, the annual inter-collegiate knockout croquet competition. “My friend and I entered for a bit of fun, and I found out I really enjoyed it,” he says. “You don’t even need to know how to play.” It’s easy to enter: all you need is a team of four friends – last year, Cambridge mustered up 40 teams.
If you’ve never played, you might be surprised by the size of an actual croquet lawn – twice the size of the average tennis court – and hitting the ball with the mallet requires a lot more force than you might think. But for those who want a gentler introduction, CUACC runs regular taster and training sessions aimed at new players.
Along with Cuppers, the highlight of the croquet year comes in summer with the annual Varsity match with the Oxford University Association Croquet Club. It’s hosted at the Hurlingham Club, thanks to the generosity of alumni members. “It’s a beautiful setting and it was such a privilege to go and play there,” says Chavasse. “They organised a lunch for us and a team dinner afterwards. Sadly, we lost – but a lot of Oxford’s good players have gone this year, so I’m hoping this could be our chance!”