Your First Tournament
Once you have been playing for a while, you may wish to enter a tournament. Tournament play allows you to take your croquet up to a more competitive level, and is often one of the quickest ways to improve.
This can be a daunting experience, but don't be alarmed - just make sure that the other players at the tournament are aware that this is your first event, and most will be happy to show you the ropes. And always remember - both you and the other players are all there to enjoy yourselves!
Before playing a tournament, you need a CA handicap. If you haven't already been given one, your club should have an appointed Club Handicapper who can do this for you. Don't worry, this is a quick exercise, normally taking about 15-30 minutes at a lawn. It would also be wise to ask a club member for a quick rundown of any rules that you may not have experienced during friendly club play.
Individual competitions are open to playing-members of CA-Member Clubs when they register as Standard CA Members, which is a no-cost option their club secretary can arrange. However, Premium, Overseas and Young Person members of the CA are entitled to priority entry and lower entry fees, so you may wish to join the CA as a direct-pay member if you get the bug!
Entering the Tournament
The CA publishes the Fixtures Book, a list of all open tournaments during the playing season. You should look through this list to find an event in a suitable area and at a suitable standard. It is likely that you will want to play in an event near you (or possibly even at your own club). Picking the right standard is harder. It is best to get the advice of an experienced player at your club to help you choose, but if that isn't an option, go for a handicap tournament aimed at your handicap range (e.g. if you are playing as a handicap 18, a tournament described as 'H14-22' would be ideal).
You could enter your first tournament with a fellow club member - that way you can be sure of at least one familiar face! If you are not confident of going it alone, you may prefer to enter a doubles tournament. This allows you to have a more experienced player to guide you through the event. Check whether you need to enter as a pair or whether the manager will find a partner for you.
Once the fixtures book has been published, online entry is available for most tournaments, but for tournaments at clubs not participating in the system, you should submit a Tournament Entry Form to the relevant tournament secretary.
Players who are not CA members will have to join the CA (note that club members can freely join as CA Standard Members - refer to your club secretary if needed).
When You Arrive
When you arrive, introduce yourself to the tournament manager. If at any point during the tournament you are not sure of anything, this is the person to ask for advice. The manager will tell you who to play on which lawn and when. It is usually easy to spot the manager - spot the person looking most harassed! Other people worth identifying are the Tournament Handicapper and the Referee of the Tournament (known as the RoT).
Playing a Game
At the start of a game, it is customary for the lower handicapped player to toss a coin. The winner of the toss has choice either of which pair of balls they wish to play or which side plays first. Play will then proceed as you would expect.
If at any time you are not sure of the laws or you believe that a fault may have been (or be about to be) committed by either yourself or your opponent, do not hesitate to call a referee or, if you are not in play, ask your opponent to call a referee. It is normal to call a referee by holding your mallet upside down in the air. If it proves difficult to locate a referee, either check the list of referees from the manager or find the Tournament Referee (RoT).
At the end of a game it is usual (but by no means obligatory) for the winner to offer a drink to their opponent. However, immediately after the game always clear the balls and clips from the lawn, return any bisques to the box and report the score to the manager.
At the End of the Day
Before leaving at the end of a day's play, always report to the manager to let them know that you are leaving, and to find out at what time you will be needed on the following day.
At many tournaments, players arrange communal dining in the evening. If no one asks you to join in, assume it's because they didn't want to impose or simply didn't think of it, so ask around.
At the End of the Tournament
Once the tournament is over, you should complete your handicap card. This will ensure that your handicap always reflects your changing ability. Your Club Handicapper should also be able to give you advice on this. In any case, it would be wise to obtain the help of a friendly player to help you complete your card. Many players will complete their card at the end of each game in the tournament. If your handicap has changed, inform the Tournament Handicapper (who will sign your card), update the online database with your new handicap (or ask your club secretary to change it on your behalf), and make sure your club knows of the change.
If you qualified for a Merit Award, make sure you filled-in a claim form (available from the manager) and got it signed as necessary
It's generally acceptable for you to leave the tournament at any time you are not required for play - just make sure you tell the manager. Most tournaments have a presentation to the winners and sneaking off minutes before this might be seen as poor form, but needs must.