To get started playing croquet, you're going to need the following:
The stakes are color-coded: blue, red, black, and yellow to match all four of the balls. Stakes are typically made of wood, metal, or plastic. The hardier the material, the less likely they'll be to topple over during intense play. Save yourself some trouble and choose good, hardwood stakes.
The term "sticky wicket" does not originate with croquet - it actually comes from cricket. These wickets or "hoops" are driven into the ground by hand or a large wooden mallet. A good hoop should have uprights that are 5/8-inch in diameter with a gap between 3-3/4 inches and 4 inches wide with a 12-inch crown. Wire hoops are the most inexpensive, but they're more easily bullied and hard shots will force their way through to score, giving power players an unfair advantage. Look for something made of steel, plastic, or wood.
The color coding of the balls matches up with the sequence on the stakes - blue first, followed by red, black, and finally yellow. A regulation-sized croquet ball is 3-5/8 inches in diameter and weighs 16 ounces, but unless you're looking to go pro you can find the right weight to fit your needs. Many garden sets feature 12 ounce balls, which are the optimal size for beginners and young children. Just make certain that the weight of your balls and mallets is reasonable otherwise the mismatch will make for an almost impossibly challenging game that's more likely to end in damaged equipment than a satisfying victory. Nearly all modern balls including those of tournament quality are made from solid plastic or composite. These are far more durable than old-fashioned wooden balls too.
There are few regulations governing mallets, so size and shape are mostly a matter of personal taste. 3 lb. mallets are most common, but anywhere from 2 lb., 12 oz. to 3 lb. 4 oz. range is common. A heavier mallet will make long, straight shots easier, while a lighter mallet will assist with stop-shots and more delicate strokes.
- If you're relatively new to the game, pick a length that's too long for you and adjust your grip to a comfortable height.
- It's much easier to trim the end of a long mallet than to grow an extra inch on a stubby mallet (we don't care how much sunshine and fresh water you give it).
- An old trick: let your arm fall to your side and have someone measure from the ground to your wrist. Add an inch to this and that's the proper length for your mallet.
- Serious players use a square cross-section head because it's believed to make hampered shots (when the hoop is in the way of your swing) easier due to the reduced head width.
- Beginners will want a wooden-shafted mallet made of ash, hickory, or New Zealand tawa while more experienced players keep the weight of the handle at a minimum for better pendulum action. In this case, find a fiber-glass, carbon-fiber, or aluminum shaft.
Wooden mallet heads with brass rings or end-face plates are designed to keep the wood from splitting. You can also buy your own brass rings and slide them over existing mallets. In addition to adding a bit of weight and binding the wood, it also will make your mallet look much, much cooler. But rings won't protect the wood of the head from wear so the best possible solution for serious players is an end-plated mallet protected with tough plastic.