On a routine run of the internet a few weeks back, we were struck by arguably the worst choice of words we had ever seen in a golf course/club review. It was directed, specifically, at Grandfather Golf & Country Club’s croquet competition: “The club also has a robust croquet program,” the reviewer noted. “Whites only!”
Appalled, we rushed to the internet. Let’s be real…there are courses that still ban black membership. Just, you know, not so overtly as to actually write it into their bylaws. And we would have expected these places to be much farther south than the North Carolina Blue Ridge range. The good news: It is common practice to wear only white in competitive croquet. There is probably questionable history, and music taste, behind this but at least we’re not talking about outright racism here. Many apologies to all the croquet fans of the world for our ignorance.
This ignorance, however, led to a further examination of the croquet world. And dang. It’s a more legitimate thing than you might have guessed…especially at a place like Grandfather.
The club is known for its Ellis Maples-designed Championship course, its views of the title tallest mountain in North Carolina, as well as the absurd “Mile High Swinging Bridge.” Perhaps all fall in line behind the club’s croquet program, however. Few clubs, we reckon, feature a three-time national champion (David Maloof) as their “head pro,” if you will. There are more than 200 members of of the United States Croquet Association, and 22 of them are in North Carolina (only Florida has more). Among NC clubs us golf folk know better for golf, you can count Mountaintop, Bald Head Island, and the Pinehurst Resort among the USCA’s membership. And the rivalries may be more cold-blooded than you would assume: Grandfather poached Maloof from nearby Linville Ridge (correction: Maloof works at both clubs, as well as handling croquet at Mountain Lake in Florida. So perhaps not such a cold-blooded atmosphere in Linville. Croquet may be just as genteel as we would have assumed).
And yeah. The facilities live up to the hype. The final hole at the golf course ends with a green perched above the Linville River. A half wedge away, the headline croquet court sits in a similar position, overlooking the lake into the rising Blue Ridge Mountains. A second court—also sized to the USCA-standard 35 yards by 28 yards—sits behind it. The turf is pristine. If the first court were located any closer to No. 18’s green, some players would accidentally (or purposefully) approach to it.
Our first stupid question: Does the club’s golf maintenance staff take care of these beauties as well?
Yes, reports Grandfather superintendent Pete Gerdon, and he says the playing facility is better off for it. Obviously his team, and the crew at any high-end golf club, understand putting surfaces. And, in the sense that croquet balls should not be leaving the turf (shame on you, Croquet Gary Woodland), care for this facility is exactly the same.
So are there any real differences between a greenskeeper and an, um, greenskeeper? Gerdon, no doubt bemused by the amount of overthought we had put into this process, deadpanned as if starring in BPBM’s rendition of Between Two Ferns.
“They want it flat,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, the golf course’s greens and those of the croquet courts require almost the exact same care regiment. Both are Penncross Bentgrass, and receive the same topical applications, aerification, topdressing, and similar mowing treatment. But, we said—at this point merely not trying to sound stupid when observing the blatantly obvious—surely caring for the flat croquet courts is simpler than for the course’s notoriously tricky greens, which are frequently crowned in the style of the state’s most famous route?
No, actually, Gerdon reports. He finds the croquet courts more difficult to care for, if only because of croquet’s relative inconvenience compared to golf.
“Caring for a croquet court’s harder for us than, say, caring for the greens, because the players play a hole and move on, so we can do the different jobs as necessary,” he explains. “With the croquet courts, we have one day a week where the courts don’t open until 10 o’clock in the morning, which gives us a chance to do different jobs on the croquet court.”
Occasionally, those jobs include stripping, re-leveling soil and resodding the edges of the court to maintain the necessary zero-degree angle. Heavy rainfall comes with problems of its own. Although the courts are built using the exact same methodology as a green, a wise course architect offers routes for rainwater to drain off the putting surface. The inherent flatness of a croquet court requires more time than more gravitational methods.
Maloof is happy, by Gerdon’s account, so all seems to be going well. Occasionally, of course, the croquet king wants to take a more U.S. Open approach to his kingdom.
“We periodically roll them with our rollers for the greens,” he says. “We don’t usually Stimp the croquet courts. We do it based on what David tells me and if they say we’d like to see them a little faster, we make them a little faster.”
But c’mon. Even if you are the world’s most pretentious greens aficionado, and you hate everything about the Stimpmeter, you must be at least a little curious to know how fast Grandfather’s croquet courts roll on the Stimp. Grandfather’s bentgrass greens roll quickly for a private club, and about even for the average PGA event, as 12 ft. The croquet courts aren’t quite there…but 9-10 ft. is a lot more movement than your average muni. That’s about even with the speeds seen at Kapalua during January. By croquet standards, playing on Grandfather’s courts compared to your 1.5″ lawn is like moving from Van Cortlandt Park to Shinnecock Hills.
So definitely hit the practice green before embarrassing yourself when you visit Grandfather Golf & Country Club…no matter which turf game you prefer.
Want to combine the two? Good news: “Golf Croquet” is apparently the fastest-growing version of the game.