Croquet, the genteel pastime of family and friends, is played on the verdant lawns of a warm summer night – the conversation light and playful, just like the game.
For the croquet community, however, it is as intense a sport as any other.
On Saturday, the bocce courts at Delaware Park off Parkside Avenue had wickets sticking out of the ground, which had been manicured to croquet standards. People dressed in all white silently rested their hands on mallets, their faces stern with strategy.
This weekend, the competition is thick as the Buffalo Croquet Club hosts its Inaugural 6-Wicket Invitational, which began Friday and will end Sunday. The event has attracted some of the world’s top-ranked players and presidents from the croquet clubs of Bermuda, Rochester and New York City.
Since it formed in the late 1990s, the Buffalo Croquet Club has been playing 9-wicket croquet, a style unique to the city. This year, it adopted the nationally recognized 6-wicket style, which is regulated by the U.S. Croquet Association. This helped tournament manager Ryan Thompson garner interest.
“It’s fantastic,” he said after winning a match. “We’ve overcome everything and defied the odds to bring the tournament together. I think everyone is extremely happy, and we’re already gearing up for next year.”
Thompson, an Elmwood Village resident, said next year’s tournament will be held Aug. 4-6. He originally thought about bringing an invitational to Buffalo after playing in one hosted by Rochester’s club last year. He and Buffalo Croquet Club president Bill Rupp made it a reality by sending out emails and reaching out to contacts.
Before moving back to his hometown of Buffalo, Thompson lived in New York City and was part of the New York Croquet Club, which plays in Central Park.
“A lot of people know each other in this niche croquet world,” he said. “A lot of us are lifelong friends, and I knew that if we did this inaugural tournament here, that we’d have a lot of friends to support us. And some of them happen to be the best players in the world.”
Among the 29 players was Johnny Osborn, one of the country’s best players and the son of the late Jack Osborn, founder of the U.S. Croquet Association.
“You know, it’s absolutely awesome that Buffalo has started a club with so much enthusiasm,” said Osborn, who lives in West Palm Beach, Fla. “We have players in this tournament ranging from 10 years old to 90 years old. It doesn’t get any better.”
The 10-year-old is Ty Mortman, who traveled here with his mother, Sunghee Ahn, from West Palm Beach, Fla.
“My mom got me into it,” he said.
Both have been playing golf croquet for three years and 6-wicket for 10 months, since Ahn was introduced to it by an acquaintance. Now she and her son are members of the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, which sends emails about various state tournaments. This is the first one they’ve played out of Florida.
“I wasn’t really good or into it, but I wanted to play with my son,” she said. “This game, there’s no gender difference, no age limitation. You can play with a grandmother, you can play with a son. And then you can play forever.”
Paul Neubecker of Inwood Place said the tournament was the most fun he’s had in a long time. The Buffalo Croquet Club member said the world-class players make it look easy.
They may have a chance to play together again.
“The community is ripe for croquet,” Osborn said, “and I hope to be here many years from now.”