Sometimes it seems that croquet sets have two functions: To be used, and to be broken. They're purchased with the best of intentions. But watching four other people take turns hitting a ball, poorly, can lose its luster. So the hits get more vicious, and then someone usually cracks a mallet and the game disintegrates. Balls and wickets are halfheartedly retrieved, and some stray piece reemerges four days later in the form of a crunching sound underneath your lawn mower.
A decent set--with its fancy canvas bag and hefty solid mallets--will make you think twice about letting any piece become lawn flotsam and mower pulp.
Johnny Mitchell, president of the United States Croquet Association, recommends a Canadian company, Oakley Woods, whose recreational sets range from around $100 to $400. "I like really sturdy equipment," Mitchell said, noting that his organization doesn't officially endorse any one manufacturer. "A lot of the sets you can buy have little mallets, or the wickets are barely bigger than a coat hanger."
And as for what sort of mallet is preferable, Mitchell says, don't get ones where the head screws on and off. "To me, those are the cheaper versions," he says. "When they're more solid, they give a better hit."
For balls, Mitchell says smooth vs. milled balls is a matter of personal preference, though he would recommend the latter. "The word "croquet" comes from a shot where two balls hit each other and are sent in two different directions," he explained. "For that shot, I like the milled surface, because it helps the two balls grip each other."
There are other croquet manufacturers who make sets that fit the bill. Baden makes a set for $120, with equipment that fits Mitchell's specifications. For a bit less money, Franklin makes a set for $60.
Yes, even $60 seems pricey for a lawn game. But think of what you'll save in lawn mower blades.
James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.