Start A Club
Article by the CA Development Committee, February 2021
Table of Contents
New clubs are often started because one person or a small group of people have enjoyed playing croquet in the garden, at a taster session or at university and don't have a local club which they can join.
Contacting the CA Office or the relevant regional Federation is a good first step as they can provide advice and probably loan equipment to get the club started. There is a great deal of information on this website, and the local Federation's Development Officer (FDO) will be your main point of contact.
To get a club started you need to:
- recruit a core number of members
- locate a suitable site
- provide equipment
- arrange for the lawn to be maintained
This guide will take you through the various topics and provide links to more detailed information.
Obtaining Help and Advice
The Croquet Association (CA) is the national governing body for croquet.
The website www.croquet.org.uk provides a great deal of useful information. The CA awards grant funding to croquet clubs and may be able to provide a small grant towards recruitment costs when a club is being set up.
The country is covered by nine Federations. Each Federation has a Development Officer (FDO) who will likely be your main point of contact while you are setting up your club. The FDO will be able to provide advice, including during site visits, and will probably be able to loan equipment to help you get started and to arrange some coaching for your members.
Forming a Working Group
There is a lot to do to start a croquet club and it is a good idea to get a small group together to share the tasks and pool ideas. It will normally take some months to get everything in place before the club can open. If you know someone who already plays at a club that can be a great help. Once you have identified a site and got permission to use it including a representative of the site owner on the group can also be very helpful.
Setting up a croquet club may seem simple compared with setting up a business but the group should put together a business plan for the first few years of the club's existence including the projected membership, subscription income, other income and costs, both operating and capital. This will help with planning and will be very useful if you decide to apply for grants. Your FDO will be able to point you to examples of clubs' business plans.
Finding a Site
Grass and Facilities
The most basic requirement is a piece of reasonably level grassland. A standard croquet court measures 35 yards by 28 yards (32.0m x 25.6m) and you will need at least a yard extra on all sides to allow for the swing of the mallet. If you have room for two or more courts so much the better as this will help your club develop in the future.
A fairly rough but level piece of land such as a disused football pitch can be turned into an adequate croquet lawn over about 6 months with regular mowing, weed-killing, over-seeding, top dressing and fertilising. In general, it is better to have the club generating a revenue stream before spending a great deal of money on laying a top-quality lawn, which could cost £20,000 depending on the work required.
As well as the court itself, you need to consider whether there is somewhere you can store equipment, if there is a clubhouse or space to erect one, access to toilets and ease of car parking. Most croquet players travel in the clothes they will wear to play in so changing facilities are not essential. Flat-soled shoes without heels, such as trainers, are the only essential requirement.
Site Ownership and Tenure
A number of croquet clubs lease their premises from their local Council, often in a park or recreation ground. A former bowls club makes an ideal location as the lawn will have been maintained to an appropriate standard and there will be the other facilities required. Golf clubs, cricket clubs and multi-sports clubs may have a suitable area available. Other possibilities include National Trust or similar properties and private landlords.
Tenure is an important consideration. There is no point putting a lot of effort and money into developing a site to find it is taken away from you after a couple of years. 15 years is a minimum period of tenure for a lot of grant-giving bodies. If you are sharing a site with another sport or sports as part of a multi-sports club you will probably not have a lease but try to get a formal agreement of what the overall club is expecting croquet to contribute, financially and in other ways, and what it will do for you.
Court Construction and Maintenance
Information on the construction and maintenance of croquet courts and the equipment required is available to CA member clubs. The CA also has a Lawns Advisory Group which can give advice on the purchase of a mower and other aspects of lawn maintenance and construction. See also the Lawns resources in the club information section.
Playing and Other Equipment Required
The minimum equipment required to play croquet comprises a set of 6 hoops, 4 balls, 4 mallets and a centre peg. It is normal to have 2 sets of balls of different colours to allow 2 games to be played on the court at the same time. If 2 games of doubles are to be played this will require a further 4 mallets.
Other equipment includes a set of corner flags, scoring clips, halfway or corner markers and bisques/extra turn pegs. The markers and pegs can be made by a club member. The other equipment is available from the CA's shop The Croquet Association Shop - All You Need for Croquet and mallets are also sold by individual mallet makers most of whom advertise in the Croquet Gazette. There is a lot of croquet equipment available from large stores and the internet but be careful, most of it will be fine for playing in the garden but will not be appropriate for club use.
Ball stops will be required between the courts if you have two close together and are even more important if balls that leave the court could hit people who are passing by, go into a road or into bushes, etc. They can easily be made by a club member. One common method is to screw or nail wooden blocks (about 3" x 3" x 2") at each end of lengths of timber (about 8' x 3" x 1") and place them just off the court where protection is required. They can be moved for mowing.
Croquet clubs are sociable places so some catering equipment is almost essential. What you need will depend on the facilities you have in terms of a clubhouse or other storage. Some clubs have to bring hot water in flasks for drinks and may just have a gazebo, others have a clubhouse with a bar and kitchen.
Some chairs will be needed for members between games and for spectators.
If you are going to maintain your court(s) yourselves you will need a suitable mower, a white-lining machine and other equipment.
What Code of Croquet Will Your Club Offer?
There are two main codes of croquet, Golf Croquet and Association Croquet. Association Croquet has a longer history and used to be played almost exclusively until about 20 years ago. Golf croquet has grown in popularity and is the code many people start with.
Summaries of the codes, along with simplified rules are available below.
- Golf Croquet Synopsis
- The Basic Rules of Golf Croquet
- A Synopsis of Association Croquet
- The Basic Laws of Association Croquet
The full rulebooks are available from the CA shop.
Recruiting and Retaining Members
Your catchment area for recruiting members will depend on the location of your club. Most players live within a few miles of their club. If you are in a village it will probably be easier to get your message out to potential members. If you are in a town you will have a larger number of potential members but reaching them may be more difficult. Your recruitment strategy will be influenced by the local demographic.
Recruiting New Members
Personal contacts are usually the first place to start.
Posters can be placed in shops, libraries, etc., adverts can be placed in parish magazines and local newspapers, and local Councils often have websites where you can put an advert.
Try to get a journalist from your local paper interested as an article, if possible with a photograph, which is usually more effective than an advertisement as well as cheaper.
Try approaching local organisations that have the sort of people you want to attract as members, such as U3As, WIs and large employers, and see if you can advertise to them or even make a presentation at one of their meetings.
Social media can also be used especially if you are trying to attract younger members.
It may be possible to get a small grant to help with recruitment costs through your FDO.
Try to arrange some taster sessions as these can be very effective, advertising them in your promotional material. Your FDO may be able to lend you the necessary equipment and may be able to get some experienced players to come along to explain the game to your potential members.
Growing Your Membership
After you have obtained enough members to make the club viable you will almost certainly want to grow your membership. All clubs lose some members each year and this is most likely to happen in the first few years as members join and then find that croquet is not for them. Recruitment is therefore a continuing process.
Retaining the members you have is important: it is easier to retain rather than recruit members. Most clubs have a social programme to encourage membership. This will include social events during the playing season like tea and cake afternoons, BBQs and sessions to try different codes of croquet. Out of season, you can keep members involved with rambles, quizzes, an annual dinner and other events.
The costs of starting and running a croquet club will vary considerably depending on location - the part of the country and town or rural, the agreement with the landlord and whether club members can maintain the lawn and buildings or whether a contractor is employed to maintain the lawns. Quoting figures is as likely to mislead as to be helpful.
The various costs to consider include:
- The site. A new club is unlikely to own the site itself. It will either lease the site from a landlord or share the site as part of a multi-sports club. Some landlords may be prepared to accept a very low rent, others may charge a commercial rate. In some cases, the club may be liable to pay Business Rates but sports premises are often nil-rated.
- Court maintenance. If club members can maintain the lawns themselves this will normally be the cheapest option. The set up costs are greater because of the equipment required but most years the running costs will be a few hundred pounds. However, some advice will be required from an experienced groundsman or greenkeeper and you may need to employ a professional to carry out some of the processes. If a contractor is going to do all the lawn maintenance their charges will frequently run into 4 figures but they will provide the equipment.
- If the club members are going to maintain the lawn it will be necessary to acquire a suitable mower. It may be possible to buy a second hand one. A new one will cost £3 - 6,000.
- The club will also need a machine to mark the white lines around the court, a sprayer, a spreader and various minor items like a wheelbarrow, tape measures, buckets and so on. Some mowers can take attachments to scarify and aerate the lawn otherwise such machines will need to be acquired although it may be more sensible to pay a contractor to do these less frequent treatments.
- Playing equipment. The CA provides new member clubs with a set of equipment (4 mallets, 4 balls, 6 hoops, a centre peg and 4 scoring clips) which is on loan for the first five years but then becomes the club's property if it continues its membership. Your FDO may have some to lend you or a neighbouring club may be able to help. As soon as possible the club will need to acquire further playing equipment of its own. It is not easy to find second-hand equipment which is in good condition. Buying new will add up to about £1,000 for a set.
- Other equipment. Crockery, cutlery, kettle, chairs, tables, tools for buildings maintenance and possibly gardening tools if there are flowerbeds and shrubs to be maintained. The mower used to cut the lawn will not be suitable for cutting grass surrounds so a different mower will be needed for this. Many of these items may be donated by members or can be purchased cheaply.
- Insurance. You are strongly advised to obtain public liability insurance. If your club joins the CA this will be included as a free benefit of the club's subscription. You will also need insurance for the equipment, and maybe for the premises depending on the agreement with the landlord.
- CA subscription. Club Membership of the CA provides a number of benefits of which the main financial one is insurance. There are reduced subscriptions for the first three years of membership after which the club's subscription is related to the number of lawns and the number of members. Your Federation will also charge a small annual membership fee but apart from advice from the FDO, the Federation will organise the leagues and tournaments that your club will first want to enter when it starts competitive play.
- Utilities. Electricity and water depending on the club's facilities.
- General administrative costs. Stationery, printing and other such expenses.
- Building a reserve. In the first few years of the club's life, it will probably be pleased to break even but once it is more established it will be important to build up a reserve to meet unexpected costs and for the replacement of equipment.
Subscriptions and Other Income
Members' subscriptions will be the main source of income for the club and the subscription will need to be set at a level depending on the club's costs and the number of members recruited.
It is a good idea to set the subscription as low as possible to start with to encourage initial membership. Joining fees are not normally a good idea as they discourage membership and bring in little income. Croquet is a cheap sport compared with, say, golf.
Annual subscriptions will vary considerably between clubs but are generally under £200 and often much lower. Most clubs have a stock of mallets that members can use and will provide the hoops, balls, etc. Most members will want to buy their own mallet after playing for a year or so but one mallet is enough rather than a bag full of golf clubs.
Depending on the club's facilities, catering income is often the second most important source of income generated from social events held for members and their guests. Income can also be generated by charging guest fees for visitors and by hiring the courts out to other organisations such as WIs, U3As and local businesses. If you have 3 or more courts of a good standard in due course you may want to host tournaments which will again generate income.
External Sources of Finance
Capital funding may be available from a number of different sources. Finance for running costs or the replacement of equipment is most unlikely to be available. Most funders will expect the club to make a large contribution to the costs of a project, frequently 50%.
To raise money for a project, clubs often start by approaching their own members for gifts or long-term loans. The CA makes grants and loans available to clubs for development purposes and is generally the next port of call for clubs as other funders will like to see that the club's governing body is prepared to support the project.
Local Councils and local sports bodies may be willing to provide grants. Sport England is are also worth considering, generally for larger grants. Information on the main sources of finance will be available on the CA website as schemes vary from time to time. Local funders will need to be investigated by the club. Local businesses can also be approached.
Establishing the Club
After several months of work, the initial steering group will have identified a site and obtained initial permission from the owner to use it, located playing equipment to get the club going and found sufficient interest from potential members to conclude that a club has a good chance of becoming established. Some members may have started playing informally on the site. It is now time to establish the club more formally.
These steps include:
- Joining the CA and the local Federation,
- Appointing a committee,
- Drafting a constitution
- Drawing up appropriate policies on data protection, child protection and health and safety.
Pro formas for the constitution and the policies, which can be adapted to the particular circumstances of the club, are available on the CA's website for member clubs.
At an early stage, it will be important to provide some coaching for your members. Each Federation has a coaching officer who may be able to arrange for some basic coaching sessions for your members.
If you have another club not too far away some of its members may also be willing to help. There are also several Croquet Academies, which run courses your members can attend, and they may be able to arrange sessions specifically for your club. Remember there are two codes of croquet, Golf and Association, and you should give your members the opportunity and encouragement to play both codes.
You will find that some of your members want only to play croquet socially, others will want to be more competitive and this should be encouraged. Maybe start with some internal competitions before moving on to friendly matches with other local clubs. All the Federations run various leagues and tournaments for club teams which is the next step. Some of your members will want to start entering tournaments as individuals. If a few of your members are able to attend coaching courses to obtain a CA coaching qualification or referee's qualification that will be a great help. You don't have to be a good player to be a good coach or referee.
Once the club is firmly established you should consider registering as a Community Amateur Sports Club.
Appendix 1 - Useful Links
Croquet Association www.croquet.org.uk
Croquet Association shop The Croquet Association Shop - All You Need for Croquet
Regional Federations can provide help with development, equipment loans, coaching support and local advice. In addition, they organise competitive leagues for clubs in your Federation. Follow the link for details and contacts.
The Croquet Academies are regional hubs that provide a range of courses to develop your croquet skills on and off the court. Follow the link for details.
Appendix 2 - Case Study: Cheam Croquet & Bowls Club
Cheam Croquet & Bowls Club was started in 2012 in an unusual way. The Croquet Association was approached by the London Borough of Sutton which asked if the CA would be interested in starting a croquet club on the site of a bowls club that was closing. The number of members of the bowls club had dropped to a level where the Council felt it did not justify the cost of maintaining the lawn. The bowls club was told that it either had to maintain the lawn itself or pay the Council a much higher maintenance fee. The club had decided it could do neither of these.
The CA passed the offer on to the Federation Development Officer for the South East Croquet Federation (SECF). He knew of three people who lived in Cheam who were members of the Reigate Priory club and asked them if they were interested in starting a local club. They were. When the FDO visited the site he happened to meet a member of the bowls club who said that some of the members would like to continue to play bowls if the lawn was to stay open.
A working group was formed, chaired by the FDO and consisting of the 3 croquet players, 2 bowlers and 2 representatives of the Parks Department. Over the next six months and a number of meetings, it was agreed that the club would maintain the lawn and buildings but would not have to pay rent if it met certain conditions on public access. These were to hold an annual open day to promote croquet and bowls, to run a 6-session croquet course for members of the public each year and to allow some access for members of the public to play croquet and bowls. The term of the lease was agreed at 20 years. The Council agreed to lend the club an old mower, a scarifier and some pipes which could be used for watering the lawn.
A publicity campaign was planned, posters and leaflets were printed (with the help of small grants from the CA and the SECF) and distributed to shops, supermarkets and libraries and adverts placed in parish magazines and in the local paper which sent a journalist to write an article and take some pictures.
It was agreed to keep the initial subscription as low as possible (£70) and that if the club managed to recruit 40 members it should be able to cover its estimated costs. The FDO recommended holding some taster sessions to be followed a few days later by a meeting of those interested in joining. If enough people joined the club was up and running. If not, it was a good try.
The FDO lent some equipment for the taster weekend and further items were borrowed from Reigate. The weather was beautiful for mid-March and about 100 people came to try out croquet and/or bowls. Amazingly by the end of the weekend, 40 people had applied to join, some even paying their subscription even though the club did not yet formally exist. The meeting was held and about 50 people were present. All of them wanted to join and it turned out that most of them were additional to the 40 who had already signed up, so the club ended up with 80 members. For a one lawn club, this was way over the recommended number of members of about 30. Immediately the club started a waiting list for joining to play croquet
The initial meeting then changed into the first General Meeting of the club. A committee was elected, largely the croquet and bowls members of the working group, and a constitution was approved using the pro forma available from the CA.
The club now had some 80 members mainly people wanting to play croquet and a few who wanted to play bowls. The vast majority of the croquet members had never played at a club before but among the few who had were a qualified Golf croquet coach and referee and an Association croquet coach. A frantic few weeks ensued while playing and coaching sessions were organised and some social events planned. The club was very fortunate to find that a number of the members were willing to pitch in and help with mowing the lawn, repairing the buildings which were in a poor state and organising social and fund-raising events and providing catering.
Since then the club has continued to thrive. It was decided to limit the number of croquet members to 70 and then 65 to preserve the lawn. The number of bowls members has stayed at about a dozen and the club now has a similar number of social members. They are mainly people who can no longer play but want to stay in touch with friends they have made through the club and take part in the various social events which are organised throughout the year. Most members play Golf croquet but there is a small band of Association players and the club has won SECF leagues and tournaments in both codes. The club was able to purchase a new mower from its own resources and installed an automatic watering system with the help of grants from the CA and other donors. It was awarded the CA's Townsend Award in 2015 for the improvements it had made in providing a good playing environment.