The croquet equivalent of the Ryder Cup is taking place at Pinehurst this weekend.
The Solomon Trophy, which pits the United States against Great Britain, is being held at the main clubhouse through Monday.
Six of the best players from each country take part in the competition, which includes 12 doubles and nine singles matches. The winner of each match is awarded one point. The first to reach 11 becomes the champion.
Four of the players representing the U.S. live right here in North Carolina.
“You’d never know it, but North Carolina is a hotbed for croquet, which is kind of an oxymoron,” said Tournament Director Mike Taylor, a member of the Pinehurst Croquet Club.
This year marks the 22rd time the match has been played since its inception in 1985 and the first time it’s been hosted at Pinehurst. The United States has won just twice.
“The British team has dominated to say the least,” Taylor said.
It’s not hard to see why the Brits are so good at croquet. The sport was born on the British Isles during the mid-19th century. The United States Croquet Association wasn’t formed until 1977 even though the sport has long been a popular American pastime.
“Here in the United States pretty much every country club is built around golf,” Taylor said. “They have a few of those in Britain, but most of the country clubs there are built around croquet, so people start playing at a young age.”
David Maugham, a member of the British team, picked up the sport when he was a preteen.
“Historically, (the Solomon Trophy) was a way to developing the game in America,” he said. “There wasn’t a huge pool of players at first, so we dominated for the first 20 years because of that disparity.”
But as the game has gained popularity in America, its teams have continued to get better.
“Croquet still isn’t a huge sport in this country, but it’s a lot bigger than people realize,” said Taylor, who has been playing for seven years. “It’s a really great game.”
Maugham, a 30 year veteran of the sport, is drawn to the mental aspect of croquet.
“I quite like the fact that the game is more about playing yourself than it is about playing the opponent,” he said. “It has a healthy tactical element in that you have to think about where you want to balls to go so it’s most advantageous to you and least advantageous to your opponent.”
Pete Trimmer, another British player, enjoys the complexity of the game.
“It’s got a really good balance between physical, tactical and psychological skills,” he said. “There’s arguably no better mix of those three in any other game.”
Croquet is offered to all Pinehurst members. The club plays at 9 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. They teach clinics to those interested in joining Saturdays at 10 a.m.