Golf Croquet (“GC”) is the simple form of croquet that forms the basis of many people’s experience of the popular garden game. There are no bonus shots – each side plays alternate strokes and each tries to be the first to score the next hoop. This gives GC an interactive and social aspect that makes it a more accessible game than its more traditional cousin, Association Croquet, which is based on break play (like snooker, billiards and pool) which can mean that one player can spend a lot of time sitting down, unable to do anything to influence or interrupt the striker’s progress.
For a more detailed description of the game, see What is Golf Croquet?
GC is believed to have been played in large gardens in England from about 1900 and was played widely enought to encourage H.F. Crowther-Smith to publish How to win at Golf Croquet in 1913. Sets of rules can be found dating back to 1902 and it seems that GC remained sufficiently well-established after World War I for the Croquet Association to formalise official rules in 1934 and for a GC championship to be instituted in 1935. However, until recent times, GC was generally regarded as a rather inferior form of croquet and all “serious” competitve croquet players were expected to focus on Association Croquet (“AC”), the game played with exactly the same equipment but, as noted above, based on break play and multiple-stroke turns.
The turning of the tide occurred in 1988 when it was discovered that GC had been played competitively in Egypt since the 1950s and had reached a very high level involving hard hitting and running hoops from prodigious distances. The discovery was fortuitous and occurred when Geoff Roy, a British Airways pilot, who was also an English tournament croquet player, was assigned to routes including London to Cairo. On one of his trips, he decided to spend a day off in Cairo and found himself in Gezira Island which is in the middle of the Nile and forms the Zamalek distict in the centre of the city. The island is dominated by embassies and a large sporting complex that used to be the main recreational area for British administrators and forces personnel in the first half of the twentieth century.
To Geoff’s surprise, he walked past three fully-occupied croquet courts and introduced himself. He was immediately made very welcome and offered a game. The Egyptian players were keen to make contact with the wider croquet world and presented Geoff with two Egyptian-made plastic croquet balls (of regulation weight and size) to take back as proof of his discovery, rather like the dove that returned to Noah with a twig. Egypt soon joined the World Croquet Federation and Amir Ramsis Naguib, the president of the Egyptian Croquet Federation, is also the current President of the WCF.
GC has since prospered mightily outside Egypt, first in England from the early 1990s and then throughout the rest of the croquet world. On continental Europe, it is now the predominant form of competitive croquet. The first GC World Championship was held in Italy in 1996 and won by Khaled Younis (EGY). The Egyptians won the next seven GCWCs (1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008) but standards outside Egypt were steadily rising and the next two GCWCs, in 2011 and 2013, were won by Mark McInerney (IRE) and Reg Bamford (SAF). Bamford’s achievement was remarkable for several reasons, in that it was achieved in Cairo against the top Egyptian player, Ahmed Nasr, involved a recovery from a seemingly-impossible deficit of 6-2 in the final game and meant that he became the first person ever to hold the GCWC and ACWC simultaneously.
However, the consensus was that Egypt remained the strongest GC country, especially in depth, and this was supported by the fact that Egypt had won the inaugural GC World Team Championship held in South Africa in 2012 and regained the GCWC through Ahmed El Mahdi in New Zealand in 2015 – although, interestingly, a New Zealander had defeated an Egyptian in the Under-21 GCWC that preceded the main event.
Since then, there have been further indications that the GC balance of power may once again be moving away from Cairo. The 2016 Golf Croquet World Team Championship was held in England and New Zealand defeated Egypt in a dramatic final. The reputation of the New Zealand youth squad had been steadily growing and the semi-finals of the 2017 Under-21 GCWC held in Melbourne featured one Australian and three New Zealanders. All demonstrated very aggressive tactics based on extraordinary and consistent accuracy in long shooting.
What is more, the youngsters made a significant showing in the main GCWC. The new U21 World Champion, Felix Webby, reached the semi-final and took Ahmed Nasr, twice a World Champion to a fifth game. The final between Nasr and Reg Bamford was seen as something of a “decider” given their earlier meetings in the 2008 and 2013 finals and Bamford prevailed again.
The next U21 GCWC and GCWC will be held in England in July 2019. It will be fascinating to find out if the younger players really have rewritten the tactical rules and made GC a game for the young where the older players are definitely second favourites.