SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Visitors to the Claremont Inn may notice something strange about the lawn.
Instead of mirroring the steady downslope of the concrete path, the grass descends in waves.
These unassuming flat plots of grass are croquet courts, which will come alive when the Claremont holds its 40th annual croquet tournament, beginning this Sunday, July 31. The tournament, which has contests for both singles players and doubles players, will run until the following Saturday, Aug. 6.
The hotel has held the competition every year since 1977, when owner Allen McCue was the runner-up in the first doubles tournament. Since then, the contest has become a staple not only of the Claremont but of the island community.
“My father, I guess, was fairly shrewd about this. He thought that establishing croquet here would give this establishment something that other places didn’t have, and that would give it an identity,” said William McCue, current owner of the Claremont. “And it did.”
“It’s a real identity now,” Clark Point Croquet Co. President Alan Madeira said, referring to the tournament. “It’s famous. And it being 40 years consecutive on the same court is unheard of. It doesn’t happen.”
The Claremont is expecting around 20 singles players and 20 doubles teams to compete. About eight games are scheduled each day until the finals. There is a time limit of 60 minutes for each match before the semifinals.
Semifinal matches will be limited to 90 minutes. Finals matches will have no time limit.
Croquet is a game that developed in the late 19th century during the Victorian era. The game as it is played today developed at Wimbledon, where players would don all-white outfits, a tradition that is still upheld during the Claremont’s tournament.
“Wimbledon is where croquet really originated in its modern form,” Madeira said. “It was a croquet club before it was a tennis club, so today it’s called the All-England Croquet and Tennis Club.”
The goal of the game is for a player or team to get their balls through wickets in a double diamond formation and swing back around to the start of the field and hit the home stake. A player or team gains one stroke for each hit through the wicket. They also can gain two strokes for hitting another player’s or team’s ball.
The game ends once all of a player’s or team’s balls go through the wickets and hit the home stake.
The Claremont plays with four balls – two for each player or team – a deviation from how most croquet is played around the country. The colors are blue, red, black and yellow, and balls are hit from the home stake in that order. A player or team either plays with the blue and black balls or the red and yellow ones.
The tournament previously has hosted players such as Ben Rothman, who is currently the top-ranked croquet player in the United States, according to the New York Times. Rothman competed in and won the singles tournament in 1999-2004, except in 2001 when he was a runner-up.
He returned to and placed at the Claremont in the doubles tournament in both 2007 and 2009, placing first and second in the respective years.
Madeira, who plays with an 86-year-old woman as his doubles partner, said the beauty of the game is that anyone who wishes to compete and win can, regardless of age.
“It’s not the youth or the age – anybody can beat anybody,” he said.
To learn more or to sign up for the tournament, call 244-5036.