Croquet comes in several forms, including association, golf and garden croquet. In 2013 association croquet was the form most often played in New Zealand’s 134 clubs. It is a singles or doubles game in which each side hits two balls in a set sequence through 6 hoops and then against a peg in the middle of the lawn. The winner is the player or pair that completes the sequence first or is ahead when time is called. A skilful player can set up a series of shots that are taken as one turn, getting his or her balls through several or even all hoops. Golf croquet allows each player or team only a single shot before the other side has a turn.
Croquet was one of the first sports to be played by women and men together, and although there have previously been single-sex clubs in New Zealand, all are now mixed. It is also a game played by a very wide age range: children can start before they turn 10, while older people continue to play into their 90s. Tony Stephens was 16 when he won the New Zealand Open in 1960, and competed in the same event in 2013.
In 1925 the English publication Croquet commented with some surprise on the number of New Zealanders playing the game. Despite having barely one-thirtieth of the population of England, New Zealand had at least 800 more players – about 2,500, all but a few dozen of whom were women.
A national championship was first held in 1913. The centennial competition in 2013 was attended by players from eight countries, and was won by Toby Garrison (ranked ninth in the world). Garrison was one of several New Zealanders with world rankings at the same time, including Aaron Westerby (sixth), and the 2012 world women’s champion, Jenny Clarke (eighth). Gisborne’s Joe Hogan was the first world champion in 1989. Premier international teams competition the MacRobertson Shield was first won by New Zealand in 1951.
Croquet was brought to colonial New Zealand from England, where it was strongly associated with the well-to-do. The first New Zealand club was formed in Christchurch in 1866, but croquet’s basic requirement – a large, flat, manicured lawn – made it impractical for many people.
By the early 20th century croquet was flourishing. In the Wellington region, for example, there were 22 clubs. The New Zealand Croquet Council was formed in 1920. Some clubs shared facilities with bowling and lawn tennis clubs, as all three sports required a large flat lawn, and in some areas local councils provided grounds. The range of people playing the game has continued to expand. When an English team visited New Zealand in the 1950s they commented on the high level of participation by working-class people. Interest in the game declined in the second half of the 20th century, but began to rise again in the 1990s.