Competitive croquet is a lot more complex than the average family backyard game. The grass court at Green Boundary Club in Aiken is leveled with a laser. The standard competition balls are only 1/16th of an inch smaller than the hoops, or wickets, they must go through. Just like golf, the players have handicaps.
For the first 75 years of his life, Jerry Devitt was not hooked on croquet. Just five years ago he was introduced to the sport at Green Boundary. He has steadily gotten better and competed in several tournaments around the country.
The game is played with two or four players. The object is to score points by hitting colored balls through the course of six hoops, against a center peg and back around again. The player or team that finishes the course in the least time with the most points wins. The most points possible is 26.
The mallet is held with both hands a little below the hips and swung between the feet to hit the ball. A competitive croquet player must master hitting the ball at an angle.
Devitt described the sport "as playing chess on grass" because of the amount of defensive or offensive strategy a player has to use to beat their opponent.
Not only is it a good way to meet people and socialize, but "it's a good form of light exercise," Devitt said. When playing one tournament, a player must play six to 12 people over three to four days. In each game, the players circle the court twice, adding up to about two miles of walking per match. That totals up to a lot of stooping and bending and walking.
Croquet is a sport for everyone. When men play women, gender does not make a difference. When grandparents play their grandchildren, age does not make a difference. According to Devitt, the person with the most skill will win.
"I got my clock cleaned by a 70-year-old lady," Devitt chuckled.
Devitt does not want people that might be interested in the competitive game to be afraid of the seemingly complex rules.
"Don't worry about all the fancy ways to play," he said. "There are simplified ways. ... In Aiken, we play as competitively or as fun as you want," he said.