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Lawn Care
Croquet Court Building Advice

Jacques Fournier asked:

"I'm looking for some court-building advice. A friend of mine might build a court or two in Phoenix, Arizona. I think the court my dad built in Phoenix in the 80s was built to PGA or USGA golf green specs with a several inches of gravel below several inches of sand. Does anyone who how many inches of what specific material is recommended? Also, a common complaint in the past from those outside the U.S.S.A. is that our courts are too easy because the hoops give a lot when there is a sand base. I assume that's probably been mitigated somewhat by superhoops, but given that it hardly ever rains in Phoenix (Sonoran desert), is there a layering that would be preferable to golf green recommendations? Has anyone built a court in recent years that is considered a tough but fair court, and what did they use?" (December 2015)

David Kendrick responded:

I belong to a joint tennis-croquet club. There is a major development being considered, prompted by a desire by some to convert some of the tennis courts from grass to other (hard) surfaces and to expand and smarten up the Clubhouse in order to attract more (tennis) members who might otherwise join other local clubs.

Part of the concept involves relocating 2 or 3 of our croquet courts to an area that is currently grass tennis courts. Our ground contains a lot of clay and we have had to install extra drainage over recent years to keep the existing croquet courts playable after heavy rain. Hence, we would need good drainage under any new courts.

To help the planners decide whether the cost of moving croquet courts could be justified, the Croquet Section was asked to prepare a document specifying the work to be done in converting tennis courts to two croquet lawns. This would be used to obtain quotations/estimates from 3 contractors. Not much time was given for preparing the specification (and we had no expertise in the area), but the important thing was to have the same basis for the 3 initial quotations - details could be changed in any eventual contract, both to correct any errors that came to light, to improve items (e.g. the specified grass seed mix or the drainage system) and possibly to improve affordability.

We used a number of information sources to help us. The CA website provides a useful booklet by Jeff Perris (Croquet Lawns: Their Construction, Maintenance and Development - CA login required) and there are a number of interesting articles on Dr Ian Plummer's Oxford Croquet website concerning Lawn Construction and Maintenance.

Groundsmen seem to be very keen on the US Golf Association (USGA) Putting Green Specifications which have been in use for over 30 years and aim to provide a well-draining and maintainable grass surface. This specification and other related documents are easily found on-line. Given the number of golf courses there are and their commercial status, it isn't surprising that much has been written on the subject (compared with what's available on croquet court preparation). One relatively short article about the applicability of the USGA spec in UK is:

http://www.bigga.org.uk/about-us/magazine/back-issues/01-2003/rebuilding-gtri-scotland/00290.html

This gives the cost of having a contractor prepare a new green and surrounds as £35,000 (in 2003). One of the other documents suggests £50 per square yard - or over £50,000 for one croquet court. Doing it properly isn't cheap.

For our specification, given our clay ground, we specified a pipe-based drainage system, with the sloping pipes embedded in gravel-filled trenches. The whole area is then covered in a 150 mm layer of clinker, with a 25 mm blinding layer on top of that (a finer material, such as pea shingle, to prevent the top-soil migrating into the clinker). On top of it all is the freshly mixed top soil (or root zone) which (when levelled) receives the grass seed. One (of the many) discrepancies between the various documents is what the root zone mix should be. The USGA Spec gives a very detailed (and doubtless expensive) breakdown, but we ended up requiring a 300 mm layer of about 70% sand and 30% loam (this might be too sandy?). We specified a grass seed mix to get comparable quotations but, if we eventually go to a contract, would take more expert advice on the current best option for our conditions. Naturally there is to be a sprinkler system, linked in to our existing one.

Coming back to Jacques' question, in the Phoenix situation I would imagine that drainage is not a requirement (would this mean no gravel layer required?), but that a sprinkler system would be essential. The grass mix specified would be dependent on local conditions - perhaps local golf courses would be a good source of information on what does best in the climate there. The suggestion that Egyptian conditions might be similar seems worth following up.

Hopefully our experience to date will be of some interest to readers - and perhaps there are "experts" out there, who could give better guidance to those of us who don't really know!

Chris Clarke adds:

I think I should say that clay is the best possible medium to build a world-class croquet lawn since it provides the firm ground that it so critical to making hoops difficult. The downside of clay is drainage. It should be possible to put herringbone drainage in that does an adequate job. At my club, we simply accept that the lawns will flood occasionally, but that is NZ; English clubs would probably require drainage.

The use of 70% sand and 30% loam is likely to produce a very pretty green lawn, but not a very challenging one. I appreciate that the production of a pretty, easy playing surface will be the priority of most clubs.

David Kendrick responds:

If you have a clay layer with herringbone drainage channels cut into it, all the recommendations I've seen put a complete layer of stones (gravel, clinker, whatever) across the top of the clay and drainage channels) then a complete layer of root zone (top soil) on top of the stones. Excess rainwater in the top layer permeates through the stones to the clay layer where it finds the drainage channel and gravity takes it away.

I assumed that the hoops are held in the root zone layer. Hammering them down into the stones doesn't seem to be very sensible and there seems to be no way that they will get down as far as the clay layer.

Or are you suggesting a very shallow root zone directly above the clay, with lots of deep narrow drainage channels to take the excess water away. This would allow the hoops to reach the clay, assuming they miss the drainage channels. We put this sort of drainage into 2 existing courts (that were frequently waterlogged) a few years ago - it gave improved drainage (not perfect) but it took about 4 years to get rid of the 35 yard long depressions where the drainage channels settled. (These are the courts that are being proposed for moving!)

If 70% sand gives a nice pretty playing surface - but not the ideal for quality croquet, what is your recommendation?

Ken Shipley writes:

I have on my bookshelves a book that served as a reference for me when I was greenskeeper for a lawn bowling/croquet court that has since been closed.

Before giving you the name of the book, let me preface it by reminding you that it is very common in Canada for lawn bowling and croquet clubs to share greens and club facilities to the mutual benefit of both.

The book is "Bowling Green Maintenance and Management" by Lloyd Woods.

Lloyd built four beautiful courts in Victoria BC for the 1994 Commonwealth Games, and the early chapters of the book focus on court construction. Of course, lawn bowlers are not preoccupied with the need a soil structure that will keep croquet hoops firmly in place, so some of the other contributions to this discussion may be more useful to you in addressing that concern. Still, the book covers many other aspects of maintaining a good court that can be helpful.

Chris Clarke responds to David K:

If I was building from scratch, I'd probably do what you have suggested since importing clay sounds like hard work. If I had existing clay soil and needed drainage, I'd put standard herringbone drainage in, ensuring that the pattern didn't overlap any area that a hoop is liable to be put. The layer of stones would only be put over the drainage channels. You are spot on to say it can take 4 years for the drainage channels to become completely level.

It may be worth asking Surbiton what they did since I believe that they have herring bone drainage and also fairly firm lawns.

The 70% sand mixture probably provides the best answer for 90% of clubs. It is fairly easy to maintain and providing water charges aren't high (it can need a fair bit of watering - up to 6 hours a night at Mt Manganui) then it can be also be fairly cheap to maintain. Once again, in the UK, less water would be required.

A 2-lawn club has just been started in Rangiora by Peter Parkinson. I'm sure his budget would have been under 10K, so I'll try and find out what he has done.

Steve Jones writes:

Toombul Croquet Club in Brisbane has achieved a very interesting drainage regime. All water coming on to the lawns (whether it is from the sprinklers or the sky) is drained and recycled, making its way to a holding tank. A very handy arrangement for drought-prone areas.

Unfortunately I do not know the details by which this is achieved but I’m sure Carmel Donley would know.

Owen Edwards writes:

Suggest that the project be divided into

  • Construction of one court or
  • Two or 4 court multiples

If possible:

  • construct one or 4 courts as one flat area
  • make them dead flat, and
  • large enough so that the court/s can be moved (e.g. sideways ) to distribute wear

During construction:

  • Install sprinklers if required.
  • Install drainage (if required)

Drainage humps can be minimised depending on method of grass installation (seed or sprigs or roll-out turf). Roll-out would be better but more expensive

Drainage humps probably can be minimised depending on depth of pipes (e.g. the lower the better?)

Be careful about using recycled water from drainage as it may accumulate fertiliser and/or pesticide residue etc. (Get professional advice on this )

Best of luck

Martin French adds a comment about hoops:

I have some partial info – I was asking Amir Ramsis when I was in Cairo about their hoops (which have very long cylindrical carrots, which only taper to a point in their final 100mm). I asked why I could see two sorts of these hoops at the Egyptian Federation HQ, one with carrots I measured as 255mm (10”) long and the other with carrots that looked to be about 13 or 14” long. I asked why the two lengths, and Amir said the shorter ones (still long compared to the 7” of a typical UK carrot) were for their “silt courts” and the longer ones were for their “sand courts”. Though the two clubs on Zamalek island are only 1 km apart, apparently one club has silt, the other sand.

These hoops both stayed reasonably firm (with a frequent tap down by the ball boy) despite the ferocious hammering they received from the players.

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Updated 9.ii.17
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