Let’s start with a bit of history. Association Croquet was first played in 1856, with hoops made of willow rods and mallets made of broomsticks. It was an Olympic sport just once, in 1900 in Paris, and as virtually all the competitors were French, their homeland won every event, but the three women taking part failed to pick up any medals.
In 1910 Golf Croquet was developed. It is played as either singles or doubles using four balls. The ball colours are: Primary, blue, red, black and yellow (in that order), and Secondary: green, pink, brown and white. The balls are paired as blue and black, red and yellow. According to aficionados of the sport, croquet is the only game where men and women are treated as equals. In 2013, Reg Bamford of South Africa became the first person to hold the Association and Golf Croquet World titles simultaneously.
And now, it’s played here on the Algarve. There are a few clubs across the region, but outstanding in its facilities, position in the market and reputation for professional excellence is the Algarve Croquet Club (ACC). Established in 2021 and based at the stunning Benamor Golf Club in Tavira, it is the only croquet club in Portugal to have two full size international standard lawns. And to compete internationally.
Members of ACC are themselves international, coming from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, America and several other countries. As yet, there are only a couple of Portuguese members but the club is looking to encourage more to take up the sport, and join. Club Secretary Stephanie Shreeve welcomes all newcomers and is fast to explain the on-going programme. “Members play frequently,” she says. “We have a Ladies’ Day on a Wednesday morning and Men’s Day on Thursday. And every second Tuesday we have Sundowner in the afternoon. Competitions are on the on-going agenda – we have just had the Benamor Open where one of the best croquet players ever, Stephen Mulliner, came to compete. It was a singles and doubles event.”
Open all year round, during daylight hours and even in the rain to meet the interests and demands of members, the Club willingly gives lessons to newcomers. A complete novice would be invited to visit and give croquet a try. Club mallets are available for beginners to use but once taking the sport seriously, members tend to buy their own.
That Benemor has a very good clubhouse with a restaurant and bar doubtless adds to the appeal of ACC membership; the opportunity to meet up with friends with whom one shares an interest is always attractive.
As with so many groups here, especially those with a shared interest, charity plays a part in activities. Every year Dusan Turcer and Stephanie did a 24-hour croquet marathon to raise money for the Bombeiros of Vila Real de Santo António. This year, they raised a big €2,597. “The two of us play croquet for the full 24 hours,” Stephanie explains. “Members come to play us throughout the day and night. There’s a Christmas party on 10th December and a fun Christmas tournament on the 13th at which classic Christmas jumpers are worn.”
Croquet is a great game for the whole family, including children. Membership is €300 per person or €500 per couple for the year. For that, members have access to the lawns all year and also get discounts at certain restaurants in the Tavira area and well as dentists and opticians.
Need to knows
In golf croquet, Wikipedia explains, a hoop is won by the striker of the first ball to go through. Each player takes a stroke in turn, attempting to hit a ball through the same hoop. The sequence of play is blue, red, black, yellow. Blue and black balls play against red and yellow. The winner of the game is the player/team who wins the most hoops.
Golf croquet is the fastest-growing version of the game, owing largely to its simplicity and competitiveness. It is easier to learn and play, but requires strategic skills and accuracy. In comparison with association croquet, play is faster and balls are more likely to be lifted off the ground.
Algarve Croquet Club
Quinta de Benamor, Conceição
Words: João Eduardo