Which is the Right Lawn Speed?
Samir Patel suggests that a lawn speed of 10 Plummers is normal and >10 is desirable for top-level events.
Having measured lawn speeds at most recent tournaments in which I have played, the following may be relevant.
Figures below are speeds once the morning dew has cleared. Clearly nothing can be done about rain; heavy downpours can add 1-2 seconds. Lawn speeds (in seconds) relate to the time taken for a ball to travel 35 yards and coming to an absolute halt; this takes longer on a fast lawn than on a slow one, so a "10 second lawn" is faster than a "9 second lawn". This is the traditional lawn-speed measurement (aka "Plummer"). Measurements can also be made with a stimpmeter type device (see www.oxfordcroquet.com for details of both the "Lambertometer" and for calculations for converting "Plummers" to "Lamberts" or "Nels"). I prefer the traditional lawn-speed measurement, simply because it only needs stuff you tend to have to hand at a croquet lawn - a ball, a mallet, a watch and a person to swing the mallet (although the competence of the latter is sometimes an issue).
I think that 10 seconds should be considered a "normal" pace for a lawn. It is a comfortable pace and allows most strokes to be played without undue force; no player with a reasonable technique (i.e. pendulum-like swing) should find it difficult to rush a ball the length of the lawn. At the a-class end of the scale, 9-10 second lawns seem to turn the game into a shooting competition, with the breaks and peels appearing to be relatively comfortable.
Slower lawns (8-9 seconds) clearly require greater force to be put into shots; I think that it is about 7-8 seconds where break strategy needs changing because some shots become unplayable. (For example, at this pace, the roll from hoop 1 to 2 and 3 becomes a test of strength rather than accuracy, and so there is merit in putting the hoop 2 pioneer further south, so there isn't so far to go if you don't get a rush after 1). Clearly the point at which certain shots cease to be available will vary from player to player, but it is around 8 seconds where casual conversation at tournaments tends to turn to slow lawns.
Significantly below 8 seconds, lawns quickly become unplayable; or at least breaks as we'd understand them become almost impossible and the game becomes something of a test of strength rather than accuracy. Although I have seen a TP on a lawn that was subsequently measured at around 5-6 seconds (at that required the ball to be airborne for much of the 35 yards), I broke a mallet trying to do the same earlier that day.
Up to around 12 seconds shouldn't cause many players too much problem. The extra pace starts requiring more accuracy, but all shots are available - even the Hogen roll becomes one requiring care rather than brute force. Good break play gets rewarded, with approaches across the face of a hoop or across rush-lines becoming dangerous (since a similarly casual bad shot is likely to leave a 30 degree hoop rather than a 15 degree one)
Much above 12 seconds, lawns start to become difficult. This occurs less often, but having watched a B-class tournament on 15-second lawns, I think some of the players might have described them as "unplayable", if it wasn't for the fact that the previous weekend saw the top players completing triple peels.
As has been reported, Cheltenham for the Opens in 2003 recorded 17+ seconds. At that pace all but the top few players struggled, with only a handful looking like they were expecting to complete delayed TPs, but damage to the lawns was reported afterwards. Nailsea has watering system (I think), but produced (presumably by turning it off) lawns playing at around 14-15 seconds in the middle of the day (although there was a significant amount of dew in the mornings and evening which slowed up the lawns) for the 'Ell last year, and I haven't heard of any long-term damage.
Personally, I would like to see clubs aiming for 10 seconds for day-to-day play, with that as a minimum for tournaments and >=12 seconds for the top tournaments. It is interesting (but not necessarily unexpected) to note that clubs with watering systems (e.g. Southwick, Parkstone, Cheltenham) tend to be in the 8-10 second range, while those without (e.g. Surbiton, Compton, Bowdon) tend to be in the 10-12 second range.
2009: Samir adds
The lawns at United haven't suffered any damage despite having been cut to 14 seconds for two consecutive years. I've put some photos from last year (before and after) on the CA site to show how fast the lawns recovered. Clubs should not be scared into thinking that making their lawns fast might damage them.
2009: Chris Clark adds the following analogies and Keith Aiton expounds with his tongue firmly in his cheek
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