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This isn't Grandma's kind of croquet game

May 21, 2013 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

The description of the challenge sounds alluring: "an addictive game of skill and strategy" that is played on an outdoor and level lawn, not unlike a golf green, with court dimensions of 105-feet long by 84-feet wide with a definite out of bounds that is used as part of the sport.

The wickets are a paper's width wider than the one pound ball that is struck with top-spin by a custom made mallet that is 30-inches tall and weighs almost three pounds.

Good players can place the ball within inches of their target from 70 feet away.

The winner must score 26 points and games can last two hours or more.

This is not your grandmother's croquet game.

But there is one (and only one) player in Wyoming who plays croquet at a high level.

Riverton's Steve Mossbrook is the 45th-ranked player (Association Croquet Rankings) in the nation. He'll be competing this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Invitational in Denver's Washington Park.

Mossbrook started playing competitive croquet 30 years ago just before he left Atlanta to come to Wyoming. Just after moving here in 1984, an Atlanta friend talked him into playing a tournament in Minnesota.

"I had a ball. It was more fun than I could possibly imagine," Mossbrook said.

Mossbrook always has played croquet with mallets that he makes himself, and he uses the No. 2 green at the Riverton Country Club, with permission, of course, to try out his mallet designs.

Inside the mallet's head there is some technology.

"The game is likened to billiards, or chess on grass. The shotmaking is a lot like billiards," Mossbrook said.

Prior to starting his local Internet company, Wyoming.com, Mossbrook played in tournaments around the country for seven years but had to give up the sport as grew his business.

But for the last four years, Mossbrook has resumed competitive croquet. He is the treasurer of the United States Croquet Association.

With the day-to-day operations stabilized at Wyoming.com, his love for the game dictated where he and wife Sandy purchased a "snowbird" home last year in Rancho Mirage, Calif., home of the Mission Hills Croquet Club.

"The driving thing on that (move) is that they have the finest croquet lawns anywhere on the planet. I've got more and more involved," Mossbrook said.

Students of the game can learn the shotmaking in two weeks, but it takes two years to learn enough strategy to become competent because it is an incredibly strategic game according to Mossbrook.

"The beauty of the game is that there is nothing else like it. You have to think six to eight shots ahead. At the high levels, one mistake and you will lose the game," Mossbrook says.

There are singles, doubles and mixed doubles. The game appeals to young and old.

"One of the better players in the country is a kid in North Carolina who is 13 years old. Before I left Mission Hills, I lost to a fellow who was 93," Mossbrook said.

Women, except at the very highest levels when strength becomes a factor, play equal to men.

But people playing serious croquet are aging, according to Mossbrook, and the number of competitive players is dwindling -- although the quality of top flight players is improving.

Perhaps Wyoming will get its second, and maybe third and many more croquet players soon.

"The idea is that I can play for a really long time. It's about like golf in terms of stress on the body. It's a lot of walking," Mossbrook said.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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