Choosing a Backyard Croquet Set
Finding the perfect croquet set isn't easy!
I have a beautiful yard for summertime outdoor play. My challenge: find a yard toy that both adults and children can enjoy that would take advantage of this expanse of undulating green, with tall trees here and there, knoll, and stone features. Hmm, challenging. A bit too lumpy for softball, badminton, or volleyball, and small children can't play those games easily.
I didn't have to search long for the idea - my memory serves me well. I remember hours and hours of summer fun playing croquet. But searching for the best croquet set was not so fast and easy. My ideal croquet set had to have two things: all-wood construction and color-coded mallets. You'd be surprised how difficult it is to find a set with both of these features.
In the end, I had to be creative to get exactly what I wanted, without going totally vintage with a used set. I was skeptical of finding a used set that wasn't damaged. After all, adults wielding wooden hammers invites "lively play".
The yard awaiting a croquet set
Photo by Kathryn Beach
The Search at Amazon for the Perfect Croquet Set
Process of elimination
Since small children would be playing this game, I first looked at Melissa and Doug's croquet set. This is a very cute set for very young children, but not acceptable for older, more serious croquet players. The balls are much too light for accurate play on a grassy lawn, especially one like ours with lots of dips and curves. More importantly, there are only 6 wickets (as in tournament play), not 9 wickets as in backyard play, and there are only 4 balls and mallets.
At about the same price ($35) I next checked out the Halex Select 6-Player Croquet Set in a Deluxe Carry Case. I didn't even look at the 4-player set, I want at least enough equipment for 6 people. The mallets and stakes are hardwood. The mallets are sized for small children (24") and any adults who don't mind bending. Most of the comments on Amazon point towards this being a good enough for the price set, especially for small children. However, enough people had breakage problems to make me want to steer clear.
One last (hopeful) look at a relatively cheap set, the Franklin Advanced Croquet Set ($50). I didn't look long; only 2 reviews, one person gave it 5 stars and one gave it 1 star, with mention of broken mallets while pounding in the first stake and plastic mallet heads. Ugh. Time to bite the bullet and look at spendier models.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aunto/3690073399/
First there are the Rules of the Game
and the layout of the playing court
Here are the standard rules and court layout for backyard croquet, as determined by the USCA.
For me the operative clauses are "you can adjust the size and shape of the court to fit the available space" - ours may be L-shaped! - and "those playing in a game can always create their own rules and variations; however, any variation to be used must be announced before the start of the game."
This is especially useful when playing with young children. One rule might be to agree to bend the rules for kids with agreement from all playing adults. But adults will be held to task!
Croquet Sets for $100 - $200 - Croquet is played around the world
Baden G201 Champions croquet set costs $99.99 - while it got 1 five-star recommendation for the quality of the mallets (padded handles and brass fittings for screwing handles to heads), the review was written after only one use, and while nothing breaking during the first use is much better than all the cheaper sets, it's still not stellar. There were four other reviewers, all of whom had issues with parts breaking, some in the first day of play.
Earls Court Player croquet set has wooden balls! but they are lightweight and the set as a whole seems to be equally disastrous, if not more so, than the cheaper sets; twice the defects for twice the money? At $200 one should not have reports of balls dented the first day of play, paint chipping, poles breaking, and ... no color coding on the mallets.
Photo Credit - Croquet in Edinburgh, Scotland Croquet is very popular in the UK.
The Monterey croquet set is an unknown, there are no reviews on Amazon and I was unable to find this set any anywhere else either. The pluses are that it's a 6-player set made in Maine, the mallets are solid ash, the carrying case (Amazon says it's made of cotton in one description and nylon in another) holds the mallets without removing the handles, and it comes with instructions. You can also order an optional hardwood stand.
You can take a chance with an unknown, or for $20 more you can go with my favorite, the Forest Industries Eastport.
Roquet - the art of hitting your opponent's ball
Forest Industries Eastport Croquet Set - Best of Show!
At $219.95 the Forest Industries Eastport croquet set is the one I've settled on as the best of the lot, shy of spending $1500 - $2000! It's a 6-person croquet set with 9 wickets, hardwood mallets (maple), and a storage box made of ash with rope handles. The mallets are color-coded and they fit in the storage box without disassembling.
The poly balls come with a lifetime guarantee, and the whole set is manufactured in the USA with a one year guarantee. Very cool. Buy a set, give it a hard summer-long test, and get your money back if not completely satisfied.
Two added features make this croquet set very attractive - the mallets can be personalized with engraving, making the set a great gift item, and you have the option of buying a hardwood wheeled stand instead of the storage box.
If you buy the set and are unhappy with the poly balls you have 3 choices - return the whole set, buy a set of heavier poly balls from Amazon, or shop on eBay for vintage wooden balls.
Another angle on future croquet tournaments
Photo credit: Kathryn Beach
Vintage Croquet Items for Less
Find vintage wood croquet balls, mallets, stakes, and wooden stands.
The Front Forty
Photo credit: Kathryn Beach