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Big-league croquet in the Bay Area.

Big-league croquet in the Bay Area

One man stands alone on the greensward.Before him lies an iron wicket, just 1/8 inch wider than the ball he's cautiously lining up with his hardwood mallet. From the sidelines, laughter and conversation float across the lawn, but for the moment he concentrates only on the angle at which his mallet will hit the ball.

This is no back-yard croquet with the dogchasing balls into the shrubbery. This is Association Croquet: first played at the All England Croquet Club (now known as Wimbledon) in the 1870s, and today-- after windsurfing--the fastest-growing participant sport in the West.

Since the U.S. Croquet Association formallybegan in 1977, it's expanded from 5 to over 250 clubs. Northern California hosts the sport's fastest growth in the West, with almost a dozen tournament-quality lawns and eight formal clubs open for membership to anyone willing to take the game seriously.

The game: not to be taken lightly

Regulation croquet takes back-yard croquetinto the big leagues. Tournament-quality lawns--84 by 105 feet--are level and clipped to putting-green perfection. Mallets, made of very dense hardwood, have handles nearly a foot longer than the home-game versions, and one mallet can cost as much as 10 full sets of back-yard equipment. The thick cast-iron wickets are only 1/8 to 1/4 inch wider than the 1-pound balls that must pass through them.

It's a demanding sport, requiring concentrationand strategy. While the goal is the same--to play your ball through all the hoops in correct order and strike the center peg first--the rules and strategy are more complex than for the home lawn version (see "It's cutthroat croquet' in the July 1985 Sunset).

Where to learn, practice, compete

Three tournament-quality lawns areavailable to the Bay Area public. The two in Napa and Sonoma counties have resident pros to teach you the basics, coach you to modest proficiency, and prepare you for tournament play if you're game.

Meadowood Resort, 900 Meadowood Lane,St. Helena 94574; (707) 963-3646. Croquet lawn is open daily from 10 to 6; equipment rents for $5 per hour. Two-hour group introductory clinics cost $15 per person; 1-hour private lessons $40; group lessons by arrangement; court use fee $10 per hour. Reservations are required for all lessons. Showers and changing rooms; reduced prices for Meadowood guests.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, 4401 Slusser Rd.,Windsor 95492; (707) 528-1181. Lawns are open from 10 to 5 Mondays through Saturdays, by arrangement Sundays (equipment is available). Lessons, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9:30, cost $15 per person per hour for three to six people, $20 apiece for two; private lessons are $30.

Sigmund Stern Grove, Sloat Boulevard and19th Avenue, San Francisco. Two new lawns were recently completed at the 19th and Wawona corner of the park. The San Francisco Croquet Club calls these courts home and conducts free clinics to introduce newcomers to the game and the club. You can join them on Saturday, July 18, from noon to 3 for informal lessons and play. Clinics fill well in advance. Call Ed Breuer at (415) 421-0310 for reservations; if the clinic's full, you're still welcome to watch.

Major tournaments in the Bay Area

You can watch world champs and othertop-ranked players competing at these three tournaments:

California Open, June 26, 27, and 28.Singles play at Sonoma-Cutrer from 7 to 5, with finals at 2 on Sunday. Anyone can enter ($85), call (707) 528-1181 for more information. Admission is free.

Wine Country International CroquetChampionships, July 27 through August 1 at Meadowood and Sonoma-Cutrer. Singles compete in week-long eliminations, with finals at 1 Saturday at Sonoma-Cutrer. Entry costs $5 Monday through Thursday, $20 (includes wine and hors d'oeuvres) on Friday and Saturday. Call (707) 528-1181 for more information.

Domaine Mumm Croquet Classic,September 3 through 6 at Meadowood. World's highest prize-money tournament, with $15,000 at stake. Spectator packages ($25 per person) include lunch and beverages; call Meadowood for reservations.

The West has its own croquet publication;for a year's subscription to the triannual Western Croquet Newsletter, send $10 to Box 5111, Santa Rosa, Calif. 95402.

For more information about the game,rule books, or a listing of clubs, write to the U.S. Croquet Association, 500 Ave. of the Champions, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. 33418, or call (305) 627-3999.

Photo: Will she or won't shemake that shot? All eyes watch her try to peel both balls through the hoop during group lesson at Meadowood

Photo: Grip choked down low on the mallet, he's preparing to make a split shot and run the inside ball through the wicket in singles tournament play at Sonoma-Cutrer
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Jul 1, 1987
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