Chess on grass hits Kew Beach green

When Pippa Middleton plays croquet, she enjoys the sound of ice clinking in a cup of Pimm’s.

From left, Don Short, Nikki Holwell, and Jim Chorney break from a round of croquet at the Kew Gardens Lawn Bowling Club. Short, who got croquet started at Kew, discovered the sport after jumping an unusual hoop – by winning a prize on the TV game show Bumper Stumpers, which landed him at a Disney World hotel with a real croquet green. The winning puzzle? The licence plate of a deposit-bottle collector: HRS YRQB. Short remembers the answer well: “Here’s your quarter back!” PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
From left, Don Short, Nikki Holwell, and Jim Chorney break from a round of croquet at the Kew Gardens Lawn Bowling Club. Short, who got croquet started at Kew, discovered the sport after jumping an unusual hoop – by winning a prize on the TV game show Bumper Stumpers, which landed him at a Disney World hotel with a real croquet green. The winning puzzle? The licence plate of a deposit-bottle collector: HRS YRQB. Short remembers the answer well: “Here’s your quarter back!”
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

Writing in Vanity Fair last month, the madly-hatted sister of the Duchess of Cambridge made the 1850s English pastime sound every bit as refined as its nickname: “chess on grass.”

But here in the Beach is another kind of croquet booster.

“This is croquet, come and play sometime!” Don Short shouted two weeks ago, on a warm Wednesday night at the Kew Beach Lawn Bowling Club.

“Go through a hoop, you get one free shot – hit another ball, you get two!”

If Short’s style is more carnival barker than English upper crust, it doesn’t mean he has to drop the dapper hats.

Short was sporting a wide-brimmed one with a stitched leather band, not to mention a Cambridge Croquet shirt with a crossed mallets logo when he tried to show a local reporter the ropes.

On weekends and Wednesdays this summer, Short is inviting all kinds of beginners to give Kew Kroquet a try.

Basically, croquet involves swinging a mallet to carefully hit a ball through a series of hoops. Like a giant game of billiards, geometry plays a role.

“One of the shots you have to learn – people just can’t believe,” he said, getting down on his knees and lying his mallet flat on the green.

Unlike the croquet people often play in backyards, in a normal game, when a player strikes another’s ball, they don’t stick a foot on it.

Instead, they place their ball so it’s just touching their opponent’s, and knock it so their own rolls straight to a target, and their opponent’s careens to disaster.

That’s where the geometry comes in.

Like a big ‘T’, Short angles his mallet so the handle is perpendicular to an imaginary line between the centre of either ball.

Short tells the beginner to line up the shot and swing the mallet from the shoulders, like a pendulum, then listen for the satisfying ‘thwack.’

“Perfection personified!”

Joining Short on the green is Jim Chorney, his first recruit.

“There’s a lot to this game,” said Chorney, adding that it will take all summer to figure out the strategy.

A few minutes later, Nikki Holwell walks across the green. She is wearing a Tilley Hat that looks pretty bomb standard until a closer look – it’s covered in tournament pins. One says “Canadian Open,” another “US National Team.”

Holwell, who also happened to play pro squash, began playing croquet with Short in North York, where he started another croquet club before moving to the Beach two years ago.

Suddenly, the game takes a “wicket” turn. Holwell knocks the competition not quite out of the park, but way on the other side of the green, where she will knock it again later for an easy free shot.

Like Short, she stops to help the reporter line up a shot.

“If it really works out, you’ll be aces,” she said. “This is the one where you keep your head down, and you don’t lift it up until you hear the blue ball hit the yellow.”

The mallet swings, thwacks the blue ball, but it rolls right by yellow, silent on the green.

“It trembled,” she says.

Weather permitting, Kew Kroquet will run most Saturdays and Sundays at the Kew Beach Lawn Bowling Club from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Wednesdays from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more info, email croquetguy@gmail.com


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