Driving up Parkside Avenue along Delaware Park this weekend, you may have noticed an unusual sight. Next to the lodge on the old lawn bowling court, a few dozen people dressed in white are playing croquet.
Not the sort of croquet people play in their backyards, but rather six-wicket croquet, a game that has a small but passionate following of players around the world.
This weekend, Buffalo hosts its second annual six wicket invitational. The top prize is a bronze Buffalo trophy "and free entry into the $200 tournament next year," said Ryan Thompson, the tournament manager.
The weather hasn't exactly been cooperating with the tournament, which started Friday and ends Sunday. But, if the all-white clothing gives the impression the players are fair weather players, think again. They played through the rain that swept through Friday before eventually sheltering under a tent and the nearby Parkside Meadow restaurant, to enjoy a pint.
Douglas P. Moore, who flew in from Bermuda to play in the invitational, said, "I looked like wet rat." But he didn't mind.
Croquet can be played in the rain. It's the puddles that can cause problems, Moore said.
One of the courts was soggy and muddy, and led to to some schedule rearranging Saturday. The players, who somehow managed to keep their crisp attire white and clean, said they weren't bothered by the messy green.
Among the elite players on hand for the tournament was Chris Patmore, a world-ranked croquet player. He attempted to explain the game to a novice:
Six-wicket croquet is played with a ball and a mallet. Many people use wooden mallets but the top players use ones made of carbon fiber. The balls are hit through wickets, the hoops that go in the ground. Backyard croquet players have wickets that are large and fairly easy to hit a ball through. Six-wicket croquet uses wickets that are just 1/32nd of an inch bigger than the balls.
"Croquet is a game of precision and power," Patmore said.
"Power?" Moore questioned with a laugh.
Croquet requires skill and strategy – a mix of chess, pool and golf – but isn't a particularly demanding sport athletically.
"I would say precision and execution," chimed in Peter Timmins, president of the New York Croquet Club.
The tournament drew 29 devoted croquet players from around Western New York, New York City and Bermuda, and while they play all day Friday through Sunday, the nights involved cocktails and dinner parties. Saturday, they were scheduled for a party at Acqua Restaurant overlooking the Niagara River.
Among the players Saturday was Josh Mergler, a Buffalo locksmith, who has been playing croquet since 2003.
With long red hair, earrings and tattoos covering his right arm, he doesn't fit croquet's stuffy, upper crust reputation.
"I'm the antithesis of the societal normal of a croquet player," Mergler said, smiling.
He's not big into wearing all white, but on Saturday he wore white overalls and a white shirt. His Croc sandals, though, were pink.
Mergler enjoys the strategy and the camaraderie of the game. He plays in the evenings once a week during the summer at the Buffalo courts.
"It's a night out that is not the normal night out," he said. "We play under the lights."