John Donohue knew little about croquet when he first moved to Jekyll Island. During a stroll through the historic district, though, he noticed a group playing on the lawn in front of the Jekyll Island Club Resort. The game piqued his interest, and like many who spot the players, he stopped to watch. “It made absolutely no sense to me,” Donohue recalls.
The players, all dressed in white, were members of the Jekyll Island Croquet Club, a group that meets regularly to play. “The game on Jekyll had sort of morphed because they didn’t have new membership; and it had become this sort of form of croquet played here,” Donohue says.
He later saw a high-level competitive croquet match, and quickly the game had him hooked. “Suddenly, the light went off on how they were setting up plays and setting traps for their opponents and giving them tices to play into or setting up attacks to take control of the lawn,” Donohue says.
Donohue today serves as the president of the Jekyll Island Croquet Club, which has about 40 members, many of whom are retired and some who live in the Golden Isles part time.
What attracts many to the club, Donohue says, is the strategic thinking the game of croquet requires. Players are trying to both score goals and defend the goal at the same time. They must think many moves in advance in order to score the most points and outmaneuver their opponents.
“You have to run the hoops in order, and once a hoop is run, you move on to the next hoop and continue past that,” Donohue explains on a recent bright, windy day out on the lawn. “So the balls remain where they lie, and you go on to the next hoop and contest that hoop.”
In the form of croquet being played that day, the players team up as doubles. “The idea is to score more than one hoop at a time, to set up plays, almost like you would with billiards where you’re trying to run the table,” Donohue says. “If you go through the hoop, you get an additional shot, and if you were to roquet, or make contact with another ball on the lawn, you then get additional shots for doing that.”
Because the game relies less on athletic prowess, all ages can compete equally on the lawn. “One of the nice things about croquet is people play well into their 80s,” Donohue says. “Croquet presents you with being able to use both your physical skill sets but also the strategic skill sets.”
The Jekyll Island Croquet Club formed in the early 1990s. Today it is a fully-sanctioned club of the United States Croquet Association and the Croquet Foundation of America.
“Croquet had a big resurgence in the mid-70s through the mid-90s,” Donohue says. “And when they refinished the [Jekyll Island Club] here, they put in a lawn, and it used to host a fairly significant invitational tournament, where top players in the country would come here and play.”
The club invites other groups to visit the Golden Isles and play here. They also travel to play against others. “We’re now part of the First Coast Croquet League, and that is an interesting group,” Donohue says. “We’re the northern-most club. The southern-most club is in Palm Coast, Fla. The rest of the clubs are generally in the Jacksonville area.”
The game of croquet is all about perpetual improvement, and Donohue says playing against other teams keeps players sharp. After all, other clubs will know new strategies that can be studied and adopted.
The club invites people interested in croquet to come out on Thursday afternoons, between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., and play. “We have additional mallets and equipment, and some of the more experienced players will work with those people to teach them about lining up shots, proper shots, swing techniques, the stance and shooting,” Donohue says.
Croquet, he says, is about teamwork. No one player should be the star of the show. “When I watch new players, I can tell a lot about their personalities just on how they approach teamwork,” Donohue says.
It’s also a fun way to enjoy the afternoon on the lawn of a historic hotel that dates back to 1883. The white outfits the croquet club members wear harken back to what players wore to play traditional lawn sports long ago.
“When the tourists are coming by and tours are being done, and you’re looking
at this hotel and people are on the lawn playing, it adds an element,” Donohue says. “It takes you back to the period of the hotel.”