SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Away from the hustle and bustle of a very busy weekend on Mount Desert Island, one of Hancock County and eastern Maine’s biggest croquet tournaments provided a much quieter setting on the shore of Somes Sound.
Sixteen players came to the Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor last week for the 27th edition of the Claremont Croquet Classic. The tournament kicked off Monday morning and concluded Saturday with the championship matches.
The tournament, which is organized by Dave Nelson of Southwest Harbor, features double-elimination brackets in both singles and doubles flights. Players can compete for both titles in the double-elimination tournament, and winners have their name etched on the Claremont’s board of champions outside the hotel.
“It’s a great occasion to get together, and we always draw a good field of players,” Nelson said. “We always have a good crowd and usually get some new people playing, which makes for a fun week for everyone.”
Crowds of as many as 40 people gather at the Claremont to watch hours upon hours of croquet over the five days on each of the hotel’s three courts.
John Fox, a 2013, 2014 and 2016 doubles champion from Chicago who spends his summers vacationing on MDI, has been playing at the Claremont for more than a decade. He first learned about the tournament and the sport from Nelson after the two got off to inauspicious beginnings when they first met.
“We actually met because our kayaks crashed into each other over on his shore,” Fox said. “He helped us out and eventually told us what was going on over here with croquet, and we all fell in love with it almost instantly.”
Since that day, the Fox family has established quite a reputation for itself at the Claremont. Will was a singles champion in 2014 and 2017 and teamed up with John for the aforementioned three doubles titles in addition to winning the flight with his mother, Ellen, in 2015 and with Janet Quarters last year.
Will competed in both championships again this year. The doubles final matched Will Fox and Holly Hosmer against Mark Hitchcock and Florin Neacsu. Fox edged Nelson in the tournament’s final match to win the singles title after dropping the doubles final in a tight battle.
“We try to mix up the doubles teams as much as we can to avoid putting two former champions together,” Nelson said. “It helps to add a level playing field for the tournament. Everyone seems to like it.”
The tournament is usually held the first full week in August, but this year’s edition began July 30. That marked a slight break from tradition, but the tableau of hard-fought matches and champions being by the water on an August afternoon remained the same.
“You really can’t ask for anything better than this,” Fox said. “It’s a great game and good company at a beautiful place, and there’s a reason all of us keep coming back every year.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story listed incorrect names of the doubles flight winners. Mark Hitchcock and Florin Neacsu were crowned doubles champions in the the tournament. The Islander apologizes for the error.