Let it be known that Sonya Sedgwick is no publicity hog — it comes with the territory of growing up as a youngster in small town Dannevirke where her father, Tony Stephens, was a "rock star".

"Dad was well known because he played snooker, billiards and he had been a pole vaulter," she says of Tony Stephens who, at 14, gave up croquet to take off on a runway that Rio Olympian Eliza McCartney has turned into a phenomenon in New Zealand.

However, it's the love of a sport, croquet, that Tony and wife Colleen steered them towards and the rapport Sedgwick has built with the elderly players from the time she was a teenager that has prompted her to step into the limelight in time to promote the Women's Golf Croquet World Championship to be staged in Hawke's Bay from today until Saturday next week.

The sixth edition of the championship has lured 56 competitors from eight countries to vie for the bragging rights over eight days at the headquarters, Heretaunga Croquet Club in Hastings and the Marewa Croquet Club in Napier.


The Kiwis, after a wild-card qualifying tournament at Rangatira Croquet Club, Australia and Egypt have 13 contenders each while Spain, Ireland and Scotland have two each, England for and the United Sates three.

Sedgwick, who, in her late-20s, represented New Zealand in association croquet in the former Transtasman challenge, alongside her mother, before going on to become a national champion in the 1990s.

She has been playing golf croquet for almost six years now after leaving home in her heyday to live and work in England, Switzerland and America before returning home 11 years ago to raise her three children who also play. However, she only took it up more seriously in July after a hiatus.

The Stephens family used to live next to the Rangatira club so it doesn't come as surprise that Sedgwick, with her siblings, used to roll down to the manicured lawns to hone their skills from the time they were North and Dannevirke North school pupils.

"We had a beautiful, big pavilion, like the wharenui (meeting house), with all the manaakitanga [gifting and hospitality] so old people are awesome to be around," she says.

Sedgwick always felt the warmth and welcoming nature of her elders but her interaction while working in the Maori circles helped reinforce their values as well as make it a "whakapapa [affiliation] to croquet".

"It's the same feeling for me ... sort of, you know."

Sedgwick, who is an educator contracted to Hawke's Bay Regional to facilitate enviro schools' programmes, didn't come across the usual eyebrow-raising response from the public because she played alongside predominantly elderly people.


"I was a third generation croquet player so it was quite normal for me so when I played croquet no one said anything."

Besides she didn't see her rivals as older people.

It pleases Sedgwick to see teenagers not only playing but excelling in the code.

Helen Reeves, of Hastings, returned from the NZ Golf Croquet Championship in Nelson, where she was runner up by one nett game to hometown national champion, Eleanor Ross, 17, in the bowl section of the round-robin knockout competition held from January 9-25. Blokes dominated the elite medal final.

Sedgwick likens the traditional association croquet to snooker and billiards or "a beautiful dance".

"Golf croquet is more like you have to punch the lights off your opponents," she says with a laugh off the more contemporary format that has emerged in the mould of other abbreviated codes — twenty20 cricket, Fast5 netball and sevens rugby.

She recalls someone catching a ball at her Heretaunga club, which had bounced off a black pipe, hurtling towards fans.

Sedgwick says when the Egyptian men invade the greens mesh fences have to be erected "because it's dangerous".

She believes the association format is more difficult to grasp and doesn't think it'll find as much traction as the golf one.

"It's like a lot of people play pool but they don't play billiards."

She qualifies golf croquet as a "percentage game" based on individuals' abilities.

"I've been doing a lot of sport visualisation and imagery going into the tournament this week to really keep my mind strong but I'm eating quite a bit to maintain my weight because it'll be really hot."

Sedgwick is trying to refine the art of bouncing double-jump shots before the ball passes through the hoop.

"I've been watching [on YouTube] some of the big players around the world, some of whom I've known for years who have gone from association to golf," she says of South Africa-born, England-based Reg Bramford as well as the younger breed of players and Egyptian, Australian women.

Tony Stephen was the winner of the US Open Trophy (US National Croquet Champion 1994) at Pinehurst in 1994 for association croquet. Photo/file
Tony Stephen was the winner of the US Open Trophy (US National Croquet Champion 1994) at Pinehurst in 1994 for association croquet. Photo/file

Sedgwick is blessed with her father's competitive genes, able to push herself into a "mental zone" to back herself to foot it on a global stage.

"It's like when you watch people on YouTube do superhuman things in pro basketball where they aren't looking at the ball going in and all that."

Orchardist Tony Stephens, an inaugural New Zealand Hall of Famer of the code, was 16 in the 1960s when he first won the association format New Zealand Open in Auckland before going on to win the US Open men's doubles crown.

Sedgwick found association croquet a little confusing at first but it has grown on her.

She will enjoy a sense of anonymity for the most part of the next eight days.

"I'm considered a little dangerous because they know what I'm capable of so we'll see."

She hasn't wasted time, competing in Wellington and picking the brains of her more savvy rivals.

Clubmate Reeves is very excited to about competing in her first world champs in eight years of competing.

"I'd like to make the first cut to make the play offs," she says, bracing herself for Egyptian hard hitters. "I'd love to make the final eight but final 16 will be good, too."

Reeves embraces strategy rather than aggressiveness for fear of losing her accuracy.
However, she isn't defensive in her more sedate approach.

She feels New Zealand have a very good chance of winning the crown with Jenny Clarke, of Christchurch, but the overall field has an ominous look about it.

Iman El Faransawi, an Egyptair air hostess who started playing croquet when she was 5, was world champion in 2007, and runner-up in the 2005 and 2009 World Cup.

Myriad players — from engineers, lawyers to interior designers and housewives as well as former elite hockey, squash and tennis players — are in the running for the crown.