You don’t have to be a golfer. You don’t have to have a golf course.
But you do have to have a sense of fun to play Croquet Golf.
Bill Dugdale of Chadds Ford is the founder of Nine Holes Anywhere, a company that makes equipment for the game his father and uncle invented.
Dugdale’s father, Glen, and uncle Geordie Laird were bored one day in 1969, and they grabbed a croquet set and created a mini golf course. It turned out to be quite fun, and they kept playing, but the mallets kept breaking. Laird, who was a Boeing engineer, designed rugged mallets using the best materials available then that were tough enough to withstand a full golf swing.
Although he was later killed in a car accident, the Dugdale family continued to play Croquet Golf.
“We grew up thinking everyone had these sets, and when we got older and wanted to buy them, we couldn’t find them,” Dugdale says. Since he likes to tinker in his shop, he, too, began creating mallets.
“Enough people are asking about it, so I thought, ‘Why not make them?” “”
His wife, Sydney Van Dyke, an illustrator, partnered with him in the company and designed the logo.
A Croquet Golf set, which sells for $750, includes six croquet balls, four 33-inch mallets with a handmade shaft and composite head, a set of nine three-dimensional flags topped with a bottle opener and equipped with a bell that rings when the ball hits it, and a canvas carry bag.
The bottle opener is a clue to the nature of the game.
A nine-hole course can be created on as little as an acre, since a typical hole is 20 to 75 yards in length. The course can be easy or advanced, depending on the players” preference.
“You can make a fun course – you get to see corners of your yard you don’t see,” Dugdale says with a laugh. “You can tweak the holes and make it more challenging.”
Players take a traditional golf swing, but the ball doesn’t become airborne like a golf ball; it lofts a little bit and then bounces and rolls.
“The traditional kind of golf swing is the same swing, but Croquet Golf is much more equalizing than the game of golf – someone who’s never played golf before can come up to speed faster,” Dugdale says. “I’ve played with my 4-year-old. You have a small advantage if you’re a good golfer, but if you’re reasonably coordinated, it’s a lot of fun.”
Players both drive and putt with the mallets – and some have been known to get down in the grass and use them like a pool cue.
The game works equally well at the beach, and Dugdale is experimenting with a glow-in-the-dark ball for night play.
Dugdale organized a founders tournament at his home in June 2011 for the older players and their families who had first played the game with his father and uncle. About 50 people attended, and a tournament in September attracted 80 players.
Nine Holes Anywhere has sold sets as far away as California and England.
The price of the sets reflects the work Dugdale puts into handcrafting the mallets.
“The approach I”m taking is to become the Gucci or the Ferrari,” he says. “I”m not in this to make a million. I know the price is high, but there’s a lot of work that goes into them.”
Dugdale, a Wilmington native who attended Tatnall School, has a day job with a money management firm.
“This is just my hobby,” he says. “I”m thrilled people like it. What people like about this is there are no tee times, you can let your dog follow you around, and there are no rules – it’s a ton of fun.”