Many people have played croquet at home in the back garden with family and friends. The obvious advantage of playing at a club is the chance to meet new friends. Whether you want to compete in tournaments or just play socially, a croquet club is a great environment in which to enjoy the game regularly.

Newcomers to competitive croquet find that it's often very different from what they might expect. Here are a few of the ways in which the club setting can enhance your enjoyment of the game.

Equipment

Championship-standard equipment is very hard to come by for domestic use. Club hoops tend to be sturdier, made of cast iron or welded steel, rather than the thinner ones found at home. They're designed to sit rigidly in the ground, and have a much narrower gap between the uprights. The clearance between ball and hoop is at most 1/8 inch. In top events, that clearance may drop to zero.

Balls for garden croquet are often lighter in weight, and almost always softer, than the balls you'd play with in a club. This makes club balls more durable, and allows for a greater variety of shots to be played.

The third big difference in equipment is the quality of mallets. Many newcomers to club croquet are surprised that most mallets have square heads, rather than the traditional round style. Mallet design has evolved considerably over the last 20 years, and the latest trend is for bespoke mallets made entirely from carbon fibre, with metal-weighted heads.

Few newcomers to club croquet have firm ideas on what mallet will suit them. Club mallets are available for all new members, and expert advice is available for those who wish to invest in their own.

Rules

Croquet has developed in such a way that successive changes to the rules haven't always been communicated to players at home. That means that many thousands of variants of the game are played - rules get passed down through the generations, and local rules are invented to suit the individual nature of the players' garden.

Most common among garden players is the rule which dictates the four balls be played in sequence (Blue, Red, Black, Yellow, then Blue again). This constraint is no longer in the official rules - the flexibility of choice makes the modern game much more tactically subtle.

Croquet's reputation as a vicious game stems from the rule allowing another ball to be sent out of bounds. It's another rule which no longer applies. Experienced players can much more effectively taunt an opponent by keeping them close rather than sending them into the distant shrubbery.

The final great myth is that players are allowed to rest a foot on their ball, while despatching the opponent. This style of play, known as 'Tight Croquet', was outlawed almost as soon as it had been invented. Purists frown on it - it's not actually very effective - but, nevertheless, it crept into use, and can still be seen among garden players today. Those who lament its lack of use in modern croquet need not despair, it's a core technique in the Japanese game of Gateball.

Playing conditions

For some, the biggest advantage of joining a croquet club is that someone else cuts the grass for you. A club lawn is, typically, maintained to a much higher standard than any domestic gardener could hope to achieve. It's likely to be bigger, flatter, and with much shorter grass. That makes the surface faster - balls will travel much further for less effort.

A fast lawn changes many aspects of the game. Shots which would be impossible at home become feasible, and this allows all sorts of new tactics.