By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
It might not be visible from the road, but tucked away at the end of Mosquito Control Road in Ponte Vedra Beach sits the Ponte Vedra Croquet Club (PVCC) with three full-sized courts and four three-quarter sized courts.
Known as the North Lawn and the South Lawn, the surface is perfectly flat with a putting green finish that is maintained daily. It took PVCC founder John Curington one-and-a-half years to transform the space into a facility that is dedicated to the sport of croquet.
“Croquet is unfortunately a stigmatized sport in which people think it is a children’s game. It is not. It is a serious sport,” said Curington. “Players interact with opponents, seeking scoring opportunities at each wicket.”
Most of all, skill and strategy attract players to the sport, said Curington, who is a United States Croquet Association (USCA) charter member and a 2006 Hall of Fame inductee. In 1999, he also helped to build the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach.
“I have walked off the croquet court a winner, not because I out-shot my opponent, but because I out-thought my opponent. Likewise, I have walked out with my head low because I played like a fool and was outsmarted even though I thought I was hitting my shots pretty well,” he said. “It is the strategy that attracts me to the sport more than anything else.”
Croquet is played on a tennis court-sized lawn, and the main investment is a mallet (a long-handled stick with a head like a hammer), Curington said. He noted that croquet is a sport of inclusion.
“Unlike most sports, we don’t divide players according to sex. We only differentiate people by their handicap. So, we have top women playing at the top levels of croquet,” said Curington.
Curington opened the facility seven years ago after buying the former Anastasia Mosquito Control District substation and building his vision. The club currently has 50 members, but Curington would like to increase the number to 300. In addition, Curington would also like to see the site used as an event venue with its 3,000 square foot pavilion, lounge, restrooms, and picnic area.
Ponte Vedra Croquet Club membership is open to the public and Curington said the demographic tends to be early retirees and seniors. And while a certain amount of athleticism is needed for some of the more difficult shots, a person need only be in reasonably good health and have the time to learn the sport, he said.
The club offers free introductory lessons on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m. and Sunday afternoons at 3:30 p.m. There is no charge for instruction or the use of the club equipment.
“We would like to bring more people in and introduce them to the sport,” said Curington, who has been playing for over 30 years. “We get a lot of former golfers and tennis players because those sports are hard on the knees, back and shoulders. Golf has the twisting action. This is an easy swing. Croquet is an easy pendulum swing.”
Club member Marc Stearns, a former golfer, echoed the same thoughts. He and his wife, Marycarol, joined two-and-a-half years ago and regularly play in tournaments. They will travel in August to England to attend the World Championships at the Sussex County Croquet Club. He said the United States is sending a team of six players to compete in the tournament.
Stearns said he enjoys PVCC because it includes a mix of folks who like to play for social reasons and those who take a more hard-core approach to the sport. Stearns said he falls into the latter category.
“I analyze every shot I take,” said Stearns, who is also the PVCC Golf Croquet Tournament Manager.
The PVCC Golf Croquet Tournament, a USCA-sanctioned event, will take place Nov. 3 – 6 at PVCC. Stearns expects players (at a cap of 40) to compete from not only the Ponte Vedra Beach area but also from New York and South Florida. The event is open for the public to watch the tournament.
Both Curington and Stearns underscored the social aspect of croquet and its inclusiveness. To that end, PVCC holds “Apres Croquet” or “Wine and Wickets” from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday afternoons after play to encourage member fellowship.
[Author’s Note: For more information about PVCC, visit pontevedracroquetclub.com or email email@example.com. For more information about the November tournament, contact Stearns at MStearns2@bellsouth.net.]
Photo courtesy John Curington
Randy Cardo, a top player from Palm Beach and Quogue, Long Island, in addition to being on the board of the Croquet Foundation.