The sun shines brightly on a perfect summer evening. The lawn is a lush, green carpet, meticulously maintained for one of the residents’ favorite pastimes.

As the clock strikes six, the gentle clinking of croquet balls begins to echo across the grounds. The air buzzes with excitement and friendly banter as the residents gather for their weekly match. This isn’t just any game; it is a beloved tradition, promising a “wicket good time” for everyone involved. Today, like every sunny Tuesday, is a day filled with laughter, competition, and the timeless joy of croquet.

Far more than just a game, the game of croquet is a way of life at Woodlands Retirement Community.

Every year, anticipation builds within the community as residents eagerly await the annual croquet season. What started as a casual pastime has blossomed into a beloved tradition, drawing participants and spectators alike.

For many residents, croquet is a cherished event that fosters camaraderie and excitement. Players, ranging from seasoned enthusiasts to enthusiastic newcomers, prepare for months, honing their skills and strategizing for the friendly competition. The lush green lawn becomes a hub of activity and laughter, with brightly colored balls and mallets striking in perfect harmony.

Woodlands Croquet Club captain Michael Grady prepares for a shot during practice at Woodlands Retirement Community.

Spectators, too, play a vital role in this tradition. They gather around the court, offering cheers and encouragement, creating a vibrant atmosphere that resonates throughout the community. The season serves as a wonderful opportunity for residents to socialize, share stories, and create lasting memories.

This yearly competition is a highlight on the community calendar, symbolizing the spirit of unity and joy that defines our home. Whether playing or watching, residents find immense pleasure and a sense of belonging, making it a treasured part of our community’s culture.

A New Leader Takes the Helm

This year, the annual tradition is headed by a new face serving in the coveted role of league commissioner.

Jim Morgan takes over leadership duties of Woodlands’ croquet club from longtime player and enthusiast Jane Fotos. Jim has been a resident of the community since 2022, following a distinguished political career and time as a business owner. He grew up playing versions of croquet on his family’s farm but admits that he never truly grasped the fun and strategic nature of the sport until he came to Woodlands.

“I grew up playing conventional backyard croquet where you sort of made the rules up as you went along,” Morgan said. “The boundaries were wherever you said they were at the time, and you could hit your opponent’s ball way over there someplace. So, I had played before, but I have learned so much since then. The commissioner role is totally new to me, but I am learning from everybody as we go along. I have learned so much from players like Erv Jones, one of our best players and my go-to for croquet questions, and our previous commissioner Jane Fotos.”

The annual croquet season at Woodlands will get underway in June and run through August. Matches take place every Tuesday and feature a wide array of skill levels and strategies. And it is that strategic part of the game that Jim says is perhaps the biggest draw of the sport for players like him and others.

“It is kind of like golf in that it doesn’t make a difference what others do; it is what I do,” Morgan said. “It is my skill and thinking against everyone else. Of course, anybody that needs help can always ask for it, and we are happy to work with them – as long as there is no help from the sidelines during the game.”

Serving alongside Jim are this year’s captains for the 2024 Woodlands croquet season, which are Geoff Ezell, Michael Grady, Willard Hunter and Gary Prater.

Wickets, Mallets, and a Colorful Ball

So, what is croquet, you might ask?

First, imagine a game where you hit balls with a wooden hammer. Now, imagine you must hit your ball through nine small arches (called wickets) set up on the grass in a special pattern. The goal is to hit your ball through all the wickets in the right order, then back again, and finally hit a stick to finish. You take turns with your competitors, trying to be the first to complete the course. It’s like a fun mix of mini-golf and hockey!

While that is a simplified explanation of 9 wicket croquet, the version of the game played at Woodlands, in action, it is a game far more complex and strategic. From pinpoint ball placement to long-distance shots, and even some friendly whacks knocking your competitors out of the way, croquet is a game that is simple to play yet difficult to master.

In competition, teams of six players selected by team captains take part in weekly matches to collect seasonal points resulting in a champion at the conclusion of the season. Every Tuesday, a series of three 35-minute games takes place, with the final finishing order in each game determined after a player navigates the course or after time expires.

Players are always excited to have time on the court at Woodlands.

A team champion is determined at the end of the year. After the regular season, a special doubles tournament and other specialty games fill the calendar to conclude the Woodlands croquet season. Throughout the year, you will find residents on the course honing their skills, with practice times during the season divided equally among the teams.

The sport, which is self-policed, has its own etiquette to accompany the official rules, making it a sport that brings with it many nuances.

“We like to make the sport as inviting as possible for new and returning players,” Morgan said. “We have captains who are chosen based on their knowledge of the game, who select players and arrange them by ability, allowing players of similar skill levels to play one another. Points are awarded depending on where in each game somebody finishes, and then those points are added up at the end of the year to get the champion. After that, it is doubles season, which is luck of the draw.

“There is certainly a lot of science to the game. I didn’t realize just how big this sport was across the United States, England, Canada, and around the world until I began playing here. There are large associations and annual meetings – I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

Special Help from A Local Golf Pro

To help keep the playing surface in pristine condition, Woodlands employs the help of local professionals to provide their expertise and a little sweat equity to make sure that the course is of near-professional level.

Earlier this year Bobby Cline, the grounds superintendent at Huntington’s Guyan Country Club, visited the Woodlands campus and provided his professional feedback on maintaining the roughly 2,500 square foot grass course.

Bobby Cline, grounds superintendent at Guyan Country Club, measures the playing surface of the croquet court at Woodlands.

He worked closely with the maintenance and landscaping team at Woodlands to introduce a new routine to maintain a smooth, consistent playing surface throughout the year. It is just another way in which Woodlands takes the sport of croquet to another level.

A Busy Lifestyle

As the sun sets over Woodlands, the residents slowly dispersed from the croquet lawn, their laughter and cheerful chatter lingering in the air.

The game has been a delightful highlight, but it was just one thread in the vibrant tapestry of life at Woodlands. From art classes that spark creativity, to spirited competitions that fuel friendly rivalries, from leisurely afternoons spent in the library to enchanting evening performances, and wellness activities that nurture body and soul, each day is brimming with opportunities.

Croquet is more than just a game; it was a reminder of the joy, camaraderie, and fulfillment found in the myriad of activities that make Woodlands a truly enriching place to call home.

Discover the liberating possibilities of a worry-free lifestyle at Woodlands. Call today at (304) 697-1620 to learn more or schedule a personalized tour. Your journey to secure, active lifestyle begins here.

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