Yes, there really is such a thing as Handicap Play in Golf Croquet. And, yes, you should be playing it. The handicap rules allow for competitive games between players who would otherwise be badly mismatched. And they add a new layer to tactics for both the weaker and the stronger player. We’ll explore these tactics in future articles, but for a start here are the rules and a method for setting initial handicaps.
In a handicap game, the weaker player is given extra turns. An extra turn must be played with the ball used in the preceding turn, and cannot be used to score a point for the striker’s ball. If you have more than one extra turn, you may play them in succession.
If you play a striking fault and then wish to play an extra turn, the opponent does not have the choice of whether or not to replace the balls — the balls must be replaced.
In a 13-point singles game, the number of extra turns equals the difference in handicaps. For 19-point or 7-point games there is a table in the rules showing the adjustment.
For doubles games, you compare the weaker and stronger players from each side. For each pair of players, divide the handicap difference in half (rounding up to the nearest whole number). For example, take a 13-point game where one side has handicaps of 2 and 7 and the other side has handicaps of 3 and 4. The player with the 3 handicap gets one extra turn (3 minus 2, divided in half, and rounded up), while the player with the 7 handicap gets two extra turns (7 minus 4, divided in half, and rounded up).
Using the same players in the example above, but playing a 7-point game, the 3 handicap still gets on extra turn, but now the 7 handicap gets only one extra turn. (If you don’t have the conversion table handy, to go from 13-point to 7-point, divide the extra turns in half and round up to the nearest whole number; this works where the handicap difference is less than 12.)
Setting an initial handicap
In the Appendix to the rules there is a table showing how to set an initial handicap based on the results of a test. The test is a useful practice exercise in itself, so it’s well worth doing. Simply play the first 6 hoops with one ball, starting from the normal starting position in corner IV, counting how many strokes it takes to finish (when you score 6). Do this three times and total the strokes, and find your handicap in the table.
While it’s fine to practice the test before taking it, once you decide to begin the test it’s important that you complete it. The goal isn’t to find your best score, it’s to find your true average score, so it does you no good to throw out your worst scores.
Note that this is just an initial handicap. Your results will depend on the difficulty of the lawn and hoops and whether you’re playing better or worse than normal when you take the test. But it gives a good starting point, especially for games against other players at your club who have used the same method to find a handicap. The goal is to allow every player roughly a 50/50 chance to win any handicap game, so if you find yourself either winning or losing a substantial majority of such games you should adjust your handicap accordingly.