Croquet was all the rage in the mid-1800s and has deep history in Geneseo. Here’s how to bring it into 2021.

By Brett Ford

The game of croquet has been interwoven in the fabric of Geneseo, even before the institution was founded in 1871.

The American Croquet Company called the village home in the 1860s and 1870s, as the sport peaked in popularity. Employees produced and distributed croquet sets in a factory — right next to the College’s President’s House — and became the largest manufacturer of croquet sets in the United States. 

One of the first and most widely accepted unisex recreational activities, croquet’s popularity reached its peak in the late 1800s and early 1900s. “It was a game that women could play and that men would play,” says Anna Kowalchuk, Livingston County Historical Society and Museum administrator.

Croquet became so popular it was included in the 1900 Summer Olympics, hosted in Paris. The 1904 Summer Olympics, hosted in St. Louis, Mo., incorporateda version called Roque.  

Though the game is centuries old and its popularity has faded, there are still those who remember playing the game at family gatherings, targeting wickets and competitors’  balls. The objective of the charming yard game is to strike a ball around the playing field, strategically traversing through a predetermined series of wickets and completing the circuit where you began. 

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this age-old backyard game:

Set your rules
Though croquet has commonly accepted and applied rules and regulations, most recreational players create their own variations or house rules. Many play for fun, but for some, the game is a science, so depth and intensity of rules will differ depending on who is playing, says Kowalchuk.

Grab your equipment
A traditional croquet set comes with eight colored mallets and eight corresponding balls, wickets, and a pair of stakes. Your course setup depends on the desired length of the game, but the suggested route is typically a slalom-style that comes to a bottleneck near the finish stakes. 

Fix Your Form
The most common swings of the croquet mallet are golf-style and straddle-style swings, with the mallet hinged at the chest. In the 1800s, the swing style was sometimes dictated by the attire of participants. “You would have your gentlemen who would typically dress in pants and jackets, but the ladies would sometimes wear large hoop skirts,” says Kowalchuk. “And, of course, that made the straddle-style swing difficult.”

Be strategic
Many people have referred to croquet as “lawn chess,” says Kowalchuk. As such, you always want to think one or two steps ahead and plan your approach based upon what you’ll do next. Players seek to extend their turn as many strokes as possible by advancing through wickets or making contact with another player’s ball.

Have fun with it
“Croquet was flirtatious by nature because it was one of only a few recreational activities considered suitable for both male and female participants,” says Kowalchuk. Today’s players try to maintain the social aspect of the game. Compete, of course, but keep it lighthearted and fun.