Clover Fork croquet crew compete ‘365’

“We’ve got a serious problem,” Greg Brooks, commissioner of Clover Fork Croquet Club, said recently. “Absolutely.”

Almost every weekend during good weather he and his buddies are out “strategizing and politicking” on the course, also referred to as “the Old Lady.” Every year they spread two tons of sand over it. Club members buy special clothes for play. Cracked balls aren’t tossed out: they’re buried in the “Garden of Champions.”

Basically, he said, they’re addicts. But luckily for Brooks, the course is convenient. It’s located just outside his door — in his front yard.

The club even has a Facebook page and a bunch of loyal fans.

“We have followers from Indonesia, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Italy, you name it,” Brooks said. “It’s amazing how many people play croquet — even over in the Middle East they play it and they follow us on Facebook.”

The Country Manor resident said all the trouble started seven years ago.

“We bought the croquet set one Sunday after church,” he said. “My wife saw it in a sporting goods store and made the remark that we have the perfect yard for it. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll get it.’

“She’s probably regretted it ever since,” he added with a deadpan chuckle.

“I pulled into my driveway and my neighbor — his name’s Jack — he was on his front porch and said, ‘What you got there?’

“He saw me unloading my car, and I said, ‘We bought a croquet set.’

“He literally ran over and got right in my face and said, ‘You know I’m undefeated, don’t you?’

“I said, “Well no, you idiot. I never knew you played.

“He made me aware he used to play years earlier. So we set it up that day and the next day was July the 4th and the Town of Farragut had a parade and they reroute the traffic on our street and he and I played one-on-one against each other for six hours as the floats came by and people saw us out in the yard playing croquet.”

Things have changed since Brooks bought that first set.

“Everything we have now has been made by hand by one of our members — the stakes, the mallets, the wickets — they’ve all been made,” he said. “It stays set up 365 days a year. We only pull it up on Halloween night so the kids don’t trip over the wickets.

“It just slowly started. People would watch and more people would watch. I’ll do yard work some Fridays and some people will be walking in the neighborhood,” Brooks added. “People will stop me and say, ‘Are y’all playing tomorrow?’ We’ll have people slow down and take pictures and stuff. Most of the people in the neighborhood have gotten accustomed to it because we’ve been playing for seven years.

“Sometimes there’s the occasional tailgating that goes on.

But it’s men-only. “There’s no women on course. They don’t have anything to do with it,” Brooks said. “They think we’re idiots.

‘My two sons, 27 and 21, make fun of me. They think we’re stupid.”

Broooks said his wife, Nancy Brooks, owns Studio Capri hair salon at Sola Salon Studios. “She works on Saturdays,” he said. “It works out well. She’s not in the way.

“We have a core group of eight to 10 who play all the time: Jack Williams, Guy Davis, John Kenny, Jesse Booher, Adam Priest, Robbie Pryor, Richard Goff, Clark Gross and me. It’s a tightknit group,” Brooks added. “We have attorneys, bankers, salesman, blue collar builders, engineers, architects … it’s a hodgepodge of guys, but out there, everybody is the same.

“There’s been some hurt feelings a time or two. You’ve got to have a thick skin. You’ve got to have a real thick skin because you can really mess somebody’s game up.”

Holding his hands 6 inches apart to illustrate the difference in golf versus croquet, “Imagine you’re playing golf and you land this far from the hole,” he said. “And you’re getting ready to putt for a birdie and I come up there and knock you off the green.

“People can make deals. You’ll be friends with a different color ball on one wicket and the next wicket, it’s your enemy,” Brooks added. “It’s constant strategy, a lot of politicking and coaching going on, a lot of manipulating. It’s intense.”

There’s no charge to play on a normal weekend, he said, but five times a year there’s a major.

“Every July 4 we have a Wickets and Rockets Tournament,” Brooks said. “The Clover Fork Classic is in October. The tournament the day after Thanksgiving, while the women are shopping, is called the Turkey Shoot. In March or April is the Dogwood Tournament. Then we have the Masters, a tradition like no other. CBS actually stole that from me.

“I’ll hang the banner up in front of the house between the columns to let the neighborhood know about the major and we have a $10 entry fee,” he added. “It’s divided up among the top three and whoever wins gets a trophy. When we have the majors, we dress up. Some guys wear knickers. We’ll wear fedoras and ties. We dress up pretty good for the majors. Once you’ve won four majors, you qualify for the Hall of Fame and the privilege of sitting at a certain folding table. Only have two who are in the Hall of Fame so far.

“It’s an elite group. Only the best of the best.” Is he in it?

“Of course,” Brooks laughed.