It is believed that the first ancestor of croquet, Paille Maille, was played in Southern France six hundred years ago. Shepherds used their crooks to knock balls made of skin and generic stuffing through hoops of bent willow branches. The game was imported into England probably during the seventeenth century, where it became popular with Charles II. The game lost popularity during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and virtually disappeared until the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The game of croquet was introduced into England in the 1850's from Ireland, where a game called crooky was played in Portarlington, Queen's County, Kilkee, in County Clare. It has been fantasized that the game had been introduced into Ireland by French nuns.
The first "modern" equipment was developed about this time. Villagers constructed mallets by inserting broom handles into pieces of hardwood. A certain Mr. Jacques came into a set of croquet equipment and began manufacturing equipment at that time. The Jacques family is still the leading manufacturer today. He is considered to be the person who brought the game to widespread notice.
Popularity grew in England in the 1860's and was introduced into the United States in the 1870's. At first it was played only by high society in New York, but became the most popular lawn sport in America. The National Croquet Association was formed in 1882 to help develop and control the game. In the 1890's, however the game lost much of its popularity, partly due to its association with gambling, drinking, and generally unsavory behavior. It was banned in Boston.
By the turn of the century, however, the game was reviving in both England and the United States. The United All-England Croquet Association was formed in 1896. In Norwich, Connecticut (home of croquet in America), in 1899, the rules were standardized, court and ball dimensions set, and the game generally revived. Since then, the popularity of croquet in America has only increased. Some of its most noted proponents include Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, and Darryl Zanuck.
The most popular form of croquet, nine-wicket croquet (the game played in every back yard in America and the forerunner of eXtreme croquet) was first developed in the 1920's by Alexander Woollcott and Herbert Swope. In 1966, a team was sent to England in a match against the Hurlingham Croquet Club, using English rules. The team was blown out. The next year, a British team came to the Westhampton Mallet Club in New York, played with American rules. The match ended in a three-to-three draw. The next year, the series was back in Hurlingham under English rules, and again the United States team was shut out, 8-0. Most traditional croquet tournaments are now played with six-wicket rules.
The first true example of eXtreme croquet appeared in the 1920's, when Herbert Swope, publisher of the New York World, built a new course on his Sands Point, Long Island estate. The course was so large that players had to shout to one another. It had sand traps, bunkers, rough, and Long Island Sound waiting in the distance.
In the United States, eXtreme croquet took a step forward in the late 1970's with the development of "Guerilla Croquet", invented by collegiate champion Hans Peterson and his partners at Croquet Magazine, Bob Alman and Michael Orgill. Another entry into the eXtreme category came from Nevada's Black Rock Desert, where trucks with oversize tires smash six-foot balls through giant hoops.
The first known eXtreme croquet club, the Krocketklubben R.Å.S.O.P., was started in Sweden in April, 1975 by students at the Linkoping University of Technology. They continue playing today (see Links), and after 25 years they still enjoy the distinction of being the grandaddy of all modern-day clubs.