Holding court in summer whites, croquet reigns supreme

Paul Clark

Nobody showed up for free croquet lessons on July 13, but Jim Seward was instructing anyway.

Jim Seward launches a ball toward his next wicket in a recent game of golf croquet at the Black Mountain Croquet Club

Joining him, his wife Mary and new player Peter Mudge at the Black Mountain Croquet Club’s court near the golf course was the Sewards’ grandson, James “Riley” Chavis. Through patient coaching and tips that showed their worth, Seward taught Riley proper stance and stroke, all while playing a round of golf croquet.

“Take your time,” Seward advised Riley, his partner in the game. “Go right between them,” he said, indicating the space between two balls already played that scribed the best route to the next wicket. “Get your feet out just a little bit more,” he suggested, prompting Riley to open his stance to allow a wider clearance for the back swing.

Riley sent the ball right through the wicket. “All right!” Mary Seward said, congratulating her grandson.

Jim Seward and others offer free lessons three times a week during summer on the court - Tuesdays and Saturdays at 1 p.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m. In the last month, the lessons have turned seven or eight novices into regular players, Seward said.

“All it takes is a little interest,” he said. “Pete is our shining example,” he said, pointing to Mudge standing in the shade with the rest of the players. “He came out here to play a week ago, and now he’s playing very well.

“This game is a relatively simple game,” Seward, wearing croquet’s traditional white shorts and shirt, said of golf croquet. “You don’t have to be 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds to play. And ladies can play as well as men. The other game, American Six Wicket Croquet, is compared to playing chess of a pool table, because there’s a lot more strategy. Different shots. Generally, there are a lot more choices of what you can do (than in golf croquet).”

Seward estimates there are more than three dozen people in the Black Mountain area who play on the Black Mountain court. Not all of them live in town, but they come here to play because there are so few court in the area.

The United States Croquet Association lists several croquet clubs in North Carolina. Clubs play at the Blowing Rock Country Club, the Burlingame Country Club in Sapphire and the Eseeola Croquet Club and the Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville. There are several clubs in Cashiers and Highlands, including the Cedar Creek Racquet Club, the Chattooga Club, the Cullasaja Club and Trillium Links and Lake Club. In Asheville, there’s the Deerfield Croquet Club.

Mary Seward, playing with Mudge against her husband and Riley, thwacked her ball solidly, sending up a plume of water as it spun through a puddle still standing from a recent rain. “You hit that water, you absolutely stop,” her husband said.

The water, squishing midcourt beneath the players’ shoes, added a difficult dimension to the game – how much harder should they hit the ball to get it through the standing water.

Mudge launched a ball to within inches of his next wicket. The players congratulated him on a well-placed shot, as they would with each other’s achievements throughout the game.

Peter Mudge, center right, congratulates Riley Chavis on winning the game, while Riley's grandparents Mary and Jim Seward celebrate the game.

See a video of the players playing at blackmountainnews.com.