The Empire strikes back: Hoya croquet

May 3, 2007

Two framed pictures of Archie Peck and David Bent hang on the wall of the “Croquet House,” a townhouse on 37th street where five Georgetown University Croquet Society members live. To the average American, these names mean nothing, but to Georgetown’s croquet community, these two professional players are role models and legends.

“I always tell people that croquet is a combination of chess and billiards,” junior Brandon Feldman wrote in an email interview. Despite a fourth place finish top last September, Feldman is the collegiate golf croquet player in the nation.

“The guys ahead of me were all in high school.”

In golf croquet, the type played by the GUCS, six wickets are set up on the court, four in a square and two in the center. Teams of two compete against each other, with the first to get a ball through each wicket scoring one point.

Feldman, now the GUCS Senior Vice President of Equipment, founded the club three years ago with four hall mates from New South after they bought a cheap croquet set from Target.

“[We] pursued an interest in croquet as a weekend activity … which somehow was cultivated into an official SAC Club and a legitimate Croquet team,” Bob Laws (COL ‘08), the Chief Operating Officer wrote in an email.

The club had its true genesis during the winter of 2006, when nine of its members packed into two cars to make a pilgrimage to the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. If the National Croquet Center, the largest croquet facility in the world with 12 full-size courts and a 19,000 square-foot clubhouse, is the Mecca of the croquet faith, then Archie Peck, one of their instructors that weekend, is its Mohammed.

Peck, a 40-year veteran who won four croquet singles titles, more than any other player, is renowned in the sport, GUCS Vice President Bill Lane (COL ‘08) and Treasurer Stu Dekker (MSB ‘08) said.

“If you ask insiders,” Lane began.

“Oh yeah, everyone knows,” Dekker interjected.

Peck taught Georgetown students the official rules of croquet during intense 9-5 sessions each day.

“It’s easier to teach younger people. They grasp the game a little faster,” Peck, the NCC’s Director of Croquet, said. “[The Georgetown students] had a ball.”

Following the trip to Florida, GUCS competed in the 2006 Collegiate Nationals, held in Haverford, Pa., and fared well, with one team placing third overall. They competed again this year, against “powerhouse schools,” as Dekker put it, like Navy and St. Johns, but didn’t do as well, despite the fact that Dekker’s team beat the duo which would go on to win.

“We’re a little salty about that,” Dekker said.

At tournaments, the team wears all white, from their shoes to their Polo shirts, which sport the club’s name. As for equipment, Dekker said that “the university bought us what I’ll call very medium quality mallets.” To remedy this, the more serious GUCS members ordered monogrammed mallets from New Zealand.

In tournaments, strategy can often be more important than physical skill.

“At that level of play, the game isn’t about making ‘good’ shots anymore, rather ‘smart’ shots,” Laws wrote. ”’Smart’ shots win games.”

“I’ve always said that a better strategist will always beat a better shooter,” Peck mused.

“It can be a frustrating sport when you’re playing at tournaments,” Lane said. If you’re taking an important shot, he pointed out, a small crowd can gather, with all eyes on you. “It does get intense.”

Still, there is an enjoyable social aspect to the game.

“Even at competitions, you usually talk to the opponents during the match and hang out with everyone afterwards,” Feldman wrote.

Opportunities for trick shots also gratify GUCS members. Demonstrating such shots on the floor of the living room of the Croquet House, Dekker stuck a red ball in a wicket on the living room floor and hopped a blue ball over it, mimicking a jump shot.

“That’s where it can really get exciting,” he said.

The jump shot isn’t Dekker’s specialty, though.

“Not to brag, but the William and Mary coach said I had the best stop shot he had ever seen,” he said.

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