Dannevirke: Venue hits the spot with croquet's elite

By Christine McKay

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Joe Hogan from Gisborne, the first-ever world croquet champion, competing in the New Zealand men's singles championships at the Rangatira greens.
Joe Hogan from Gisborne, the first-ever world croquet champion, competing in the New Zealand men's singles championships at the Rangatira greens.

Dannevirke's Rangatira Croquet Club turned it on for competitors at the five-day national championships.

"This is a great venue, with good lawns a nice pavilion and it's very central," said tournament manager Michael Hardman of the Rose Garden Club in Palmerston North.

International player Caroline Denny, from the United Kingdom, who plays for Belgium, on the Rangatira green during the New Zealand women's croquet championships.
International player Caroline Denny, from the United Kingdom, who plays for Belgium, on the Rangatira green during the New Zealand women's croquet championships.

Dannevirke was popular with players, with 12 pairs contesting the mixed doubles - the strongest field for years, he said.

"We've had nine women playing in the women's national championships, that's the highest number for some years, with just two short of the maximum number we can accommodate."

Fourteen played in the men's singles.

With participants from Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Auckland, Gisborne, Masterton, Wellington, Waikato and Nelson, and one woman from the United Kingdom, representing Belgium, the association croquet tournament was the pinnacle for the top players.

"Along with a test match against Australia and this tournament, there's very little association croquet played these days," Hardman told the Dannevirke News.

And the secret to success at this level?

"It's tactics and accuracy," Hardman, who has played for 20 years, said. "It's the percentage of risk and there are quite a few similarities to snooker. Watching the top guys playing croquet is like watching a top break in snooker. Association croquet is the long form of the game and it absolutely exhausts you."

Vince Neil, from the Rose Gardens Croquet Club in Palmerston North, was the tournament referee. He's seen here checking the precise settings during the finals of the national men's championships.
Vince Neil, from the Rose Gardens Croquet Club in Palmerston North, was the tournament referee. He's seen here checking the precise settings during the finals of the national men's championships.

The intense heat during the tournament did take its toll on players.

"Most of the 22 here have played all five days and you know when the heat is catching up with them, you see them dragging their mallets," Harman said.

Competing at the tournament was Joe Hogan, from Gisborne, who won the first-ever world croquet championships in 1989, aged 31. Hogan was a carpenter in Gisborne before he studied theology at the Holy Cross College in Dunedin and was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest in Gisborne in 1987. But after a year in a Rotorua parish, he left the priesthood and re-entered the building trade in Gisborne.

Nina Mayard-Husson and Paul Skinley won the New Zealand champion croquet mixed doubles.
Nina Mayard-Husson and Paul Skinley won the New Zealand champion croquet mixed doubles.

"We've had beautiful courts here. Dannevirke is a special place for croquet and you've produced juggernauts such as Tony Stephens," he said.

After retiring from the sport in 1999 to raise a family, Hogan returned again this year and finished runner-up in the men's national championships to Aiken Hakes.

Although a national tournament, there was also a Dannevirke connection, with husband and wife Colleen and Tony Stephens, now from Hawke's Bay, competing and former local player Paul Skinley won the mixed doubles, with Nina Mayard-Husson.

Results

New Zealand croquet championship:

* The New Zealand Men's Championship for the 1939 Captain FL Hartnell: Memorial Challenge Trophy: Winner: Aiken Hakes; Runner-up: Joe Hogan.

* The New Zealand Women's Championship for the 1912 Challenge Trophy: Winner: Pam Fisher (Waikato-King Country)); Runner-up: Liz McLay (Manawatu-Wanganui).

* New Zealand Championship Mixed Doubles: Winners: Paul Skinley and Nina Mayard-Husson (Wellington); Runners-up: Steve Jones (Hawkes Bay) and Alison Robinson (Wellington).

- Hawkes Bay Today

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