Croquet is best known as that “golf-like” game that you play in your backyard during a BBQ. Although not totally incorrect, there is a lot more to playing croquet than that – while there are way less croquet rules than there are golf rules, we still want to cover the details to maintain the integrity of the game and ensure its spirit lasts for much longer. Nine wicket style is the most popular way to play croquet in the US and Canada and is the version we focus on the most in this article – all types can be played with the same equipment just with differing rules. Joining a croquet club will be the best way to learn the game fast, and it is often paired with lawn bowling since the maintenance of the playing surface is very similar. At the end of the day, if you are having fun and enjoying the game of croquet then don’t worry if you don’t use all of the official rules – enjoyment is the most important part!
Everything you need to know to get started in the wonderful game of croquet.
In two-player croquet, you have to hit your assigned ball through the wickets in a counter-clockwise direction. The key things you need to know about game play:
- The first player to move their two balls entirely through the course wins
- If you shoot your own ball through the correct wicket then you play another shot for the next hoop
- You may also extend your turn by hitting an opponent’s ball as well
- Once you have passed through all the wickets you must hit the finishing stake with your two balls to be declared the winner
A player may complete all of this all in one turn and win the game!
Where Do You Play?
Croquet is best played on well-kept grass and you will need a space of about 100’ x 50’ to set up the wickets. The flatter the surface the better; you want the balls to be able to roll as true as possible so when you’re lining up those nerve-racking shots your ball will roll straight through. Playing on less than ideal surfaces can be fun and challenging as well so keep your eyes peeled for potential court layout.
Getting Set Up
The wickets and stakes must be placed a certain distance apart from each other to facilitate play fairly for all. This is the same set up that has been used to play croquet for many decades.
- Place two stakes at opposite ends of your rectangular area of play.
- Place one wicket six feet in front of each stake, towards mid-field, then another wicket six feet in front of that. This set up of stake-wicket-wicket at each end represents each team’s entry and exit point of the game.
- The next two wickets for each end get placed on 45° angles, 16 feet to the left and 16 feet to the right of the last wicket you installed.
- Lastly, the middle wicket is placed in the very center of the playing area. There is only one wicket in the middle that both players “share”.
How To Score
“Scoring” in this version of croquet means you have successfully hit your ball through one or more of the wickets. However, no actual points are recorded. Instead, you are rewarded with another turn. If you score by going through the next hoop with that turn then you are awarded another turn. This continues until your ball doesn’t pass through a wicket (or you hit another ball).
Scoring could also refer to hitting the finishing stake. Once your ball passes through all the wickets and hits the turning stake you may aim for the finishing stake. Hitting that means your ball is now “staked out” and you can concentrate on your other ball. Once your other ball accomplishes the same feat, you win.
Croquet equipment can easily be purchased in complete sets. They consist of:
- 4 mallets
- 4 balls (1 blue ball, 1 red ball, 1 black ball, 1 yellow ball)
- 9 wickets or hoops
- 2 stakes
This equipment is used for either 2 player or 4 player games. In 2 player, each player uses 2 balls each and must get both balls to hit the finishing stake. The first player uses the blue and black balls while player 2 uses the red and yellow balls.
When playing croquet, running shoes are recommended to prevent slipping. Even if playing in your own back garden on a sunny day, wearing shoes will also protect you from any errant shots. Keep your toes safe from a flying roqueted ball!
If you haven’t already got your croquet equipment, check out our best croquet set review to find the ideal set for your yard!
If you have the chance to play at a club then be sure to call ahead regarding the dress code. Some of them are quite traditional and may require certain stipulations in order to play at their venue.
The Rules Of Croquet
We will go through the main rules of croquet – though once you get going you may develop your own house rules!
Going Out Of Bounds
A ball is deemed out of bounds if it has crossed the boundary line at any point around the court. The out-of-bounds ball must be replaced back on the court before the next shot is played. To place the ball, measure one mallet-head length from the boundary line. Once placed, the ball enters play and is ready for whenever the next player’s next turn is. A ball can go out of bounds at any point by being struck by another ball. You can also shoot your own ball out of bounds which will result in a loss of turn for you.
No matter how a ball exits the playing surface it should always be replaced the same way as described above.
The punishment for penalties is loss of your turn and, depending on the penalty, you may have to replace your ball and any that were struck.
- You can incur a penalty by hitting the wrong ball, in which case you would lose your turn and all other balls are replaced to where they were
- It’s not allowed to hit your ball twice on the same turn. A double tap usually happens when two balls are very close and you try to hit it hard. The first striker ball will ricochet back and hit the player’s mallet again. If this happens you will lose your turn and all balls are replaced
- If your ball rolls out of bounds then you will also lose your turn even if your ball has just passed a wicket. Your ball will be replaced according to out-of-bounds rules
Winning the game in singles play is when one player has successfully guided their two balls through all the wickets in the proper order AND hit the two stakes along the way. In a 2 player game, each player has two balls they are responsible for. The winning player in this format will have moved both balls correctly through the wickets and hit the finishing stakes. In a 4 player game, each person is only responsible for one ball. Once your one ball strikes the finishing stake then you are declared the winner and the game is over.
Foul Strokes Or Faults
If the striker’s ball goes the wrong way through a wicket will not earn you that wicket. You must ensure that your ball is always working in the correct direction depending on which side of the court you’re on. If your ball should come to rest within a wicket heading the wrong way, then it must pass fully through the wicket in that same incorrect direction. You can also go around the wicket to enter from the proper direction.
If the striker ball hits another ball you will be awarded two bonus shots. The ball hit is called the roqueted ball. On a roquet shot, you have the option to take a croquet shot or just a normal shot for your first of two bonus strokes.
A croquet shot means you can pick up your ball and place it right next to the roqueted ball. To take your croquet shot you may place your foot on your croqueted ball to keep it still while you send the roqueted ball flying. You can only take a croquet shot on the first of your two bonus turns. If the roqueted ball ends up out of bounds then it is brought back on the field from the nearest point it crossed. A croquet shot should be used advantageously and not just as extra shots to give punishment to the other ball.
Top Tips For Playing Croquet
Hitting The Ball
To hit the ball accurately in the game of croquet there are a few steps that will increase your chances of a successful croquet shot.
- Approach your ball from about six feet away while walking on your intended line of play. This is called stalking and will help you get the correct alignment
- Straddle your target line so your toes are pointed toward the target and the ball is between your feet
- Swing the mallet with your shoulders as much as you can. Avoid using your wrists for power as this will create a less accurate shot
- Following through with your shot will also help keep your mallet on track to strike your ball on the perfect line – just like playing golf
- Always keep your eye on the ball. Even after you have hit it, keep looking down to instill good habits for never lifting your head and shoulders
Gripping The Mallet
There are 3 main grips that are commonly used throughout the game to get a good croquet stroke. Choose based on personal preference and comfort. Some players even change their grip depending on the shot at hand. If you are new to the game though we recommend using only one until you become very comfortable with it.
Standard Grip — The most popular grip has your left hand gripping the top of the mallet with your knuckles facing the target. Your right hand will be on the backside of the top of the mallet just under the top hand. Your palm should be braced on the back of the mallet handle facing the target with fingers and thumb pointing down. Your hands can be set slightly apart but the closer the better.
Solomon Grip — This grip starts the same way as the standard by gripping the top of the mallet handle with your left-hand knuckles facing the target. Your right hand follows that and also grips the handle just under your left hand with knuckles facing the target. Both your thumbs will be on the upside of each hand and your palms will be facing each other. Hands should be close together to allow for a larger, more powerful swing.
Irish Grip — This grip can be a little awkward at first but is used for accuracy in a croquet stroke. Place your left hand at the top but with your palm supporting the back of the handle. Your palm should be facing the target with your fingers pointing down. Your right hand should follow suit just underneath. Both palms should be facing the target.
Variations Of Croquet
More than one way to enjoy this game!
Doubles play is very easy to do if you have the equipment. A doubles game requires four mallets and four balls. All of which are normally included in a standard croquet kit. Each player is assigned only one of the four balls and that color corresponds to the order of play as well. Blue, red, black, yellow is the correct order of play. The objective is still the same whereby all players are trying to move their ball through all nine wickets and back to the finishing stake. The first team to do so wins the game.
As a variation of 9 wickets croquet, golf croquet can take a lot less time. The setup is much different: there is only one stake and it sits in the very center of the court and there are then 3 wickets set up in a triangle formation on either side of the stake. The objective of golf croquet is to score your ball through the wicket and moving on to the next hoop in a certain order. If you successfully get your ball to pass through then that is one point for you and the first one to 7 wins.
When a player plays their ball through the first wicket then all players move on to the second wicket and so on throughout the course. There are a maximum of 12 wickets (same 6 wicket course played twice) so if no one reaches 7 then the player with the highest points wins.
Fun facts about your new favorite lawn game!
Where Was It Invented?
The history of croquet is not fully certain. There are records of a crude version of the game being played as early as 1300 in France. The game we know it as today is credited to Ireland around the mid-1800s. It was made famous by the Irish bringing the game over to England and once there it exploded. John Jaques is the first brand name in croquet, and the first to sell complete croquet kids – and the name is still used today. This made the game accessible to almost everyone and people were able to play outside of a club on their own property.
Why Is It Called Croquet?
The name originates from its Irish beginnings. There they played a game called crooky. This was in reference to the shape of the sticks used to hit the balls. Similar to early golf clubs. Even earlier than that, the game was referred to as paille-maille in 13th century France. Once the game made it to England the name croquet was adopted and caught on fast.
What Are Croquet Balls Made Of?
All balls these days are made from solid plastic. This gives them ultra-durability and also keeps them in perfect shape. A croqueted ball that is warped will not roll straight and will adversely affect your shots. Other balls used to be made out of wood before plastic was invented as wood was a material that was in great supply. Plastic material also allows the grooves on the croquet ball to remain intact throughout years of use. Each croquet ball weighs exactly 1lb.
How Big Is A Croquet Lawn?
A croquet court or lawn for 9 wicket croquet requires a rectangular surface denoted by the yard line which measures 100’ x 50’, although when being played recreationally the yard line is just a suggestion. Your exact playing size will depend on how much space you have to set up in. Other types of croquet require more space. For example, a golf croquet court recommends 105’ x 84’. However, any size will do as long as you keep these ratios and keep within the yard line if playing in a smaller area.
A court that is 50’ x 40’ is a perfect size for residential use and also a great size for beginners and novice players.
If you fancy a few extra shots of croquet, you may want to learn more about croquet associations.
International Association Croquet
International Association Croquet is the most popular croquet association around the world and is used for large tournaments. It is recognized by the World Croquet Federation. The game starts with six hoops with 3 wickets on each side. There is a stake that is placed directly in the middle of the field. Each player or team is responsible for getting their ball through the six hoops and then hitting the stake, and the first player or team to do so wins the game.
Play starts on what is called the baulk line (measured from the yard line) and each player hits diagonally across to the first hoop. A coin toss determines which color each player will be and their starting order. The blue ball always goes first followed by red, then black and finally yellow. If playing doubles then you and your teammate can decide who should play when it is your turn. Blue and black are on one team against red and yellow.
American Association Croquet
American Association Croquet is very similar to the international version with a few changes made by the United States Croquet Association. The field of association croquet is set up the same way with six hoops and one stake, but with some difference in play:
- The starting procedure is a little different as players start in front of hoop 1 and then play in order of whichever ball they have been assigned.
- Another difference is that the order of play does not change, even in doubles. The order of play is always determined by color. So even if you and your partner want to hit your partner ball when it’s your turn, you cannot. You must play the blue when its blues turn and the red when its reds turn and so on.
- One of the biggest differences has to do with ball roquets. A roqueted ball cannot be roqueted again until that ball passes through a hoop. Until that happens it is deemed to be “dead” and cannot be hit by another ball. The roqueted ball can still become a croqueted ball though which will put it back in play. This can be confusing as the players must keep track of which balls are dead and which are alive.
American Garden Croquet
Garden croquet is best used to introduce new players to the game. It is much less intense and not as penalizing to the player if they are less accurate. The main difference is that if the striker’s ball goes out of bounds you do not lose your turn. Simply replace the ball a mallet’s length inside the yard line and continue play. The starting point is also different from traditional international croquet. Each player starts from three feet away from the boundary directly in front of hoop 1.
Frequently Asked Questions
The basic rules of croquet are to hit your assigned ball or balls through the wickets in a predetermined order. The first one to complete the course before their opponent’s balls is declared the winner. You can only use your mallet on your own ball, the striker ball, when it’s your turn. You will be penalized with extra shots for the other team if you hit another ball and you can only hit your opponent’s balls if you hit the striker’s ball first. The order of play is determined by what color your ball is. Wickets can only be passed through in one direction.
To set up a croquet course you will need a pitch, wickets and stakes. The amount of each will depend on what type of croquet you are playing. Nine wicket croquet is one of the most popular ways to play and you will need to set up the nine wickets a certain way. Croquet involves two stakes at opposite ends of the playing area. Then place a wicket six feet in front of each stake and another in front of that. 16 feet to the left, place another wicket, and also 16 feet to the right both on a 45° angle from the last wicket. Lastly, place a middle hoop right in the center of the field.
Croquet is the most popular in England. However, the game is still growing and is also popular all around Europe including Ireland and France. Croquet played outside Europe has also spread to Australia and the Caribbean. Within the US and Canada, it is still considered a backyard leisurely game but that could change very soon.
Poison balls in croquet are also referred to as rover balls and is when a ball has passed through all the wickets but has yet to strike the finishing stake. At this point, if the poison ball or rover ball hits an opponent’s ball then that ball is deemed to be out of play. Passing through the last wicket and hitting another ball can be done on the same shot. If an opponent’s ball hits a poison ball then the poison ball or rover ball is out of play.
There are three different ways to hold a croquet mallet and get the perfect croquet stroke. The first is standard where your left-hand grips the top with your knuckles facing the target and your right hand under the left supports the back of the grip. The Solomon grip is derived from the standard as both hands grip the handle with both knuckles facing the target. The third is the Irish grip where both palms are on the back of the grip and your fingers are pointing down.
The game of croquet has been popular for hundreds of years now and because of that, there are many different croquet rules that people have come up with. Whichever way you play the game it should be fun and relaxing for everyone to enjoy. It’s perfect for family get-togethers or pressure-packed games with more advanced competitors. Get out there and enjoy any croquet game you like, that’s the beauty of this activity.