What on earth is Crolf? And why is the sport so popular in Devon?
- Credit: Archant
What started out as a bit of family fun in the garden has become a major sporting tournament with a mass following. CHRISSY HARRIS discovers the joys of Crolf
With their hammers and wooden balls at the ready, flanked by spectators enjoying picnics and Pimms, the world's Crolf players prepare for battle. They've trained in gardens and fields all over Devon and beyond to be here, ready to take on their opponents and be crowned 2019 Crolf Open Champions.
This beautiful game is a blend of croquet and golf, created by Robbie Richardson one afternoon at home in Holne with his wife, Sarah and their three daughters.
"We wanted a game we could play with the kids," says Robbie, recalling that sunny day back in 2001.
"It was important that it was fair. We could give a handicap to the children and we could all play evenly."
Robbie, a farrier, set about creating the components for his new game: metal 'hools' or three-way hoops that you hit a wooden ball through with a long-handled wooden hammer.
Carwithen's game of Crolf, as it became known, was an instant hit - in every sense. Today, it's believed around 5,000 people worldwide enjoy taking part in the sport, which can be played on any surface, flat or hilly; in tiny back gardens or in huge fields.
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The culmination of the Crolfing calendar is the annual British Open Championships, now in its 14th year.
The event at Ugbrooke Park, near Chudleigh, attracts players of all ages and backgrounds, keen to show off their skills and - more importantly perhaps - to enjoy themselves.
"You start to have fun straight away," says Robbie, explaining how this sociable game can be both seriously competitive and hugely entertaining. "We'll be having a barbecue at home and then someone will suggest playing Crolf," he adds. "You just know you're about to start laughing."
Fellow enthusiast Richard Palmer, landlord of the Rugglestone Inn, Widecombe, agrees it's all good wholesome fun on the Crolf course.
The pub regularly puts together a team or two for the championships and also has a Crolf set for people to use in the beer garden.
"It's a bit tongue in cheek and light hearted," says Richard, adding that players take it seriously when the points start to matter. "It's open to all abilities and ages. You don't need the skills you have with golf. It's a really open playing field."
There are nine rules (or laws, as Robbie prefers to call them) to make sure play in the game, described as 'cross-country croquet,' is fair.
The aim is to hit the wooden ball (about as big as an orange) around the hools in the fewest hits possible.
"You do get better, the more you play," says Richard, who took part in this year's championships.
"You get all sorts of people taking part. Everyone brings along a picnic. Some people really go to town, setting up candelabras and tablecloths. There are glasses of Pimms around. It's a great atmosphere."
Crolf's international appeal has seen teams fly over from the US to take part in the tournament.
Robbie, who makes all the Crolf sets in his workshop at home in Holne, says the game's simplicity has made it so successful.
"Basically, the best player will win," says Robbie. "It's terrible if luck takes over completely!"
Robbie hosts a regular Devon Crolf event on the first Thursday of every month in his village, where 24 players come together to practise their skills and enjoy a barbecue.
Robbie admits half a bottle of Merlot can help the game flow, but it's not essential.
"Laughter and the sound of wood hitting wood is what Crolf is all about," he says. "That and hunting around for the ball!"
To find out more, see crolf.co.uk
TIME TO TAKE UP CROLF
- Crolf can be enjoyed by as many players as you want.
- Place the six hools (three-way hoops) anywhere in your garden to form a course…and that's it.
- The more ups and downs you have, the better. Don't worry about the trampoline being in the way, the more obstructions the better the course.
- "I sold a set to someone who had a tiny back garden but they had worked out how the fish-pond and trampoline were going to be hazards," says Robbie.
THIS YEAR'S CHAMPIONSHIPS
- Some 22 teams took part in May's event, sponsored by Exeter Finance, at Ugbrooke Park.
- The first half of the course is usually completed before a picnic lunch, with the second half in the afternoon.
- The game is followed by a cream tea and the trophy presentation.
- This year's winners were the team captained by the Hon Alexander Clifford.