Health & Medicine

Croquet tournament evokes another era at Lexington's Henry Clay Estate

Miles Griggs walked nieces Olivia Richards, 10, left, and Sophia Richards, 8, across the Ashland grounds before Sunday's third annual Henry Clay Croquet Tournament.
Miles Griggs walked nieces Olivia Richards, 10, left, and Sophia Richards, 8, across the Ashland grounds before Sunday's third annual Henry Clay Croquet Tournament. Herald-Leader

A walk on the grounds of Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, was a step back in time Sunday.

The distinctive clap of a croquet mallet connecting with a ball could be heard above Jazz Age music as clusters of players dressed in crisp whites tried to stay out of sticky wickets.

The atmosphere was that of a breezy 1920s-era garden party as 42 teams of two paid $50 each to compete in a croquet tournament while spectators, many also in white, noshed on picnic fare and sipped adult beverages.

It was the third year for the event, said A.J. Singleton, a member of the Ashland board and one of the event's organizers.

The tournament used a golf-style type of play in which points were awarded to the team that went through each wicket, or hoop, first.

Other than the scoring, Singleton said, it was much like the game folks might remember from childhood, with the only possible downside being no "sending away," or lining up one player's ball against a another and giving it a whack.

In croquet terminology, it's called roqueting.

"It's an outdoor event that anybody of any skill can play, and it makes for a festive occasion," said Singleton, himself dressed in a festive bow tie.

For Ben Wyatt, who rested between matches at a table under an umbrella with friends from Lexington Theological Seminary, it was a chance to uphold seminary tradition.

Theological students used to play croquet on campus, said Wyatt, who works for the school. Now that seminary classes are online only, he said, joining the crew at Ashland "was a chance to carry on tradition here."

Wyatt and teammate Tom Teater were serious competitors with evolving strategies as the games progressed. Wyatt used words like "fierce" and "stealthy" to describe play.

In their first round, Wyatt and Teater faced a couple of Englishmen who brought their imposing all-black mallets to the competition.

"We managed to score two points" out of a possible six, said Wyatt. "We felt pretty good about that."

Sue Andrew of Lexington was enjoying the action from a lawn chair in the shade. She thought the event was apt for Ashland.

"It's such a nice place to come, to use the lawn as Henry Clay would have loved the lawn to be used," she said. "He called this his pleasure ground, and he would have been very happy that people were out here enjoying it like this."

Did you know?

■ Rapper Sean Combs, known then as P. Diddy, held a croquet party in 2008 to celebrate his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

■ Croquet was the first outdoor sport to embrace equality, allowing both sexes to play the game.

■ Croquet reached the South Pole in 2005 when American scientists became the first to play there.

■ Croquet was a one-off Olympic sport in 1900.

■ Croquet balls were originally wood, but they now are comprised largely of cork or nylon in very hard plastic.

■ Croquet has been reinvented in many forms: eXtreme eschews the garden setting for more robust terrain, featuring hills, sand, mud and water hazards. Bicycle croquet allows just 10 seconds to complete a shot. Meanwhile, 2 million people play Japanese "gateball," a sort of speed croquet.

■ Author Lewis Carroll featured a surreal version of the game in Alice in Wonderland. A hedgehog was used as the ball and a flamingo as the mallet, and soldiers doubled over to make the hoops.

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