Playing with Mallets
Welcome to the Brutal, Take-No-Prisoners World of Competitive Croquet
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96
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One of the best ways to begin playing is to take the three-day course offered by the USCA at its West Palm Beach headquarters. For a modest fee, you'll receive 18 hours of on-court instruction such as that given by Mike Weimerskirch, who is patiently guiding his charges through the third and final day of their schooling. By this time they're familiar with the basics and eager to gain a mastery of the more advanced techniques--the peel, cut-rush, cannon, bisque, take-off and pass-roll shots--and Weimerskirch is delicately attempting to redirect their enthusiasm back towards fundamentals. "You've got to learn to crawl before you can walk," the instructor says in a later conversation. "The important part of the game isn't so much the hitting. It's course management, a thorough understanding of the rules, thinking ahead. We try to emphasize the total game. You can be a great striker and get your lunch handed to you by a 12-year-old kid who just plain outthinks you."
Weimerskirch's remark about the 12-year-old kid isn't just hyperbole; at the 1994 National Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, little Jaques Fournier of Phoenix outshot seasoned competitors three times his age and finished an astonishing fourth in singles.
The media-friendly angle of the little boy excelling at the old rich man's game is exactly the kind of thing the USCA needs to propel itself into the national sports limelight, a place it apparently wants to go. Although there is, at the moment, no professional croquet circuit per se (most players spend their own money to compete and the typical award for a victory at a major tournament is usually a wristwatch or a magnum of wine), the USCA is actively pursuing corporate underwriting. ESPN televised highlights of the 1994 and 1995 championships and will do so again this year.
"Tennis started modestly," says Dean Reiniecke, a former USCA official. "So did golf. It's not that difficult to imagine the stands filled with thousands of spectators for a championship croquet match."
That day may come, but right now down on the USCA court, some of the students are getting a little restless. While a good percentage of the group attentively follows the practice game Weimerskirch is directing, a small dissident contingent expresses itself. "Oh, the hell with this," one elegantly turned out woman says, sotto voce, to her companion. "The whole reason I'm doing this is so I can kick Arnie's butt the next time we play. I'm interested in a little payback." Weimerskirch laughs when he's told of the exchange. "That's the croquet spirit all right," he says. "Killers, that's what they are. Natural-born Palm Beach killers."
For information on instruction or membership in the USCA, contact:
United States Croquet Association
115885 B. Polo Club Road
Wellington, Florida 33414
Phone: (407) 753- 9141
John Kehoe has written for The New York Times and Esquire.
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