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SHOWCASING LOUISIANA: Red Stick Croquet Club

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:15 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Even as dark clouds threaten to ruin a peaceful morning, click-clucks break the quiet on the green at city park. It’s not golf or tennis. It’s croquet.

“I didn’t even play as a kid.” laughed Red Stick Croquet Club Vice President Jayne Willingham. She is just part of a foursome that plays here almost every Monday morning.

As a competitive sport, croquet is on the upswing in Baton Rouge, but it’s not the friendly game of your youth.

“On this side of the line, everybody is friends,” said Club President Carl Jarratt. “Get on the other side, they’re your opponent.”

As a sport, croquet dates back to the 1600s. Originally, it was played by peasants with makeshift mallets used to knock wooden balls through willow hoops called wickets. When it was adopted by royalty, its popularity exploded. It was played at Wimbledon long before tennis. Today, there are competitive leagues around the world.

The Red Stick Croquet Club has been smacking balls around the green since 1999 but has seen a spike in membership in the last year.

“During COVID, this was a great outdoor activity when we were still under lockdown,” Willingham said.

It’s a low-impact, easy-paced game that many seniors have adopted to get a little exercise.

“When you get so that you can’t play golf or tennis anymore, croquet is the sport,” said Jarratt.

But don’t let the lackadaisical pace fool you. Acton on the green can be cutthroat. Players try to hit their balls through nine wickets. They earn bonus strikes by hitting an opponent’s balls and can send them sailing across the court.

“There’s more strategy, I think, in the game than most people believe,” Willingham said.

It is not the image of royal sport most people have in mind.

“For the most part, we’re lady-like and gentlemanly.” Willingham laughed. “But we have a tournament going on right now and it gets pretty competitive.

The club plays three days a week. Monday is for the ladies. Thursdays and Saturdays anyone can play. You don’t even need a mallet. The club will loan you one and teach you all you need to know to get started.

”It’s not super-strenuous, but it’s still a lot of fun.” Willingham said.

And that makes it a sport anyone can excel at.

“Another thing about this game.” Jarratt said, “a guy my age, 85, can lick one of these young whipper-snappers.”

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