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Dr Ian Plummer

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Laying Out the Lawn

This section deals with the measuring and marking out of an area of grass, putting in the hoops and adjusting their size. There is a separate section on Lawn Care and Maintenance.

A full-size croquet lawn is much larger than people expect; 35 yards by 28 - twice the size of a tennis court. Croquet however can be enjoyed on any size lawn, just scale the dimensions. The sides of the lawn are in the ratio of 5 : 4 with the unit of length being seven yards. The corner hoops are seven yards in along each boundary from each corner. The peg is in the middle of the lawn and the 'centre hoops' are seven yards out from the peg along the long axis of the lawn.

lawn layout and dimensions

The dimensions of a full-size croquet lawn (or court) for tournament play are given by Law 2 in the Laws of Croquet. The diagram below gives a representation of the measurements as needed when using a tape measure.

Lawn measurements

The measurements above are given in whole feet as well as whole yards, hence 52.5 feet is 'fifty two and a half feet' e.g. 52' 6" which is is equivalent to 17.5 yards = 17yd 1' 6 ". Click on diagram for image to print.

Click here for measurements for setting out two half-size lawns on a full-size lawn.

Marking the Boundaries

[Details on marking out an area of turf so as to have right angle corners will be added in this position. Tape measure, stakes, cord].

line marking trolley
Line marker for grass

If the lawn has been correctly marked out then the two diagonals will be the same length: 134.46 feet or 44yd 2' 5.58". The Laws of Croquet do not define how the lawn boundary is marked (Law 2); generally it is string or white marking. Do note that the white marking must lie outside the court. It is the inner edge of the marking that defines the boundary. Only the outer rectangle is marked. You do not mark the yard line, baulk lines or corner spots.

aerosol line marker
Aerosol marker

A typical wet line marker is shown left. (Click here to search for information). These require drums of marking compound which is mixed with water and put into the tank. Straight lines are obtained by stretching cord between the corner stakes and following the edge with the marking wheel. If the previous marking is still visible there is no need for the cord. Some groundsmen add a little very dilute weed killer to the mix to burn in the initial line. This is not recommended: it prevents the lawn being moved if there are rabbit runs etc. and it can totally kill the grass allowing the soil to blow away and leave a trench. If the marking compound is too alkaline then weed growth can be encouraged in the lines.

A more expensive marking method uses aerosol paint cans which spray a line behind them. The delux method utilises a laser guided marking trolley which follows a straight line altomatically to a reflector placed at the next corner.

Measuring Out the Hoops

Many people have their own method of marking out a lawn. Some are ingenious, some complex or both. [See Measuring a Court with Minimal Walking]. Below is the obvious method.

Equipment needed: string, tape measure (longer than 28yd, ideally longer than 35 yards), bisques or marking sticks. The better method is to measure off the distances along both long sides of the lawn (e.g. at 7, 10.5, 17.5, 24.5 and 28yds) then stretch string between opposite markers then measure the hoop positions down the string.

Putting Hoops into Fresh Ground

Cast hoops are never knocked directly into fresh ground - the force required is excessive and may cause the hoop to break. The hoops are driven into prepared 'pilot' holes. Similarly hoops are only hit with a soft-faced mallet, for example a hide or rubber one.

Assume that the hoop positions have been marked on the lawn by say bisques (sticks). The aim is to get the hoops vertical, with the correct gape and aligned parallel to the lawn's North and South boundaries. If the ground is very hard and dry it can make it significantly easier to make the pilot holes if you soak the ground where each hoop will be inserted with a couple of buckets of water over an hour or so.

If you have string for marking out it is best to string it across the lawn where you want the hoops. The hoops can then be introduced to the turf parallel to the string and hence at right angles to the boundary. The hoops are only used to make marks in the turf which are then excavated with a separate tool.

There are three basic tools which can be used once the hoop carrot positions are marked to make the pilot holes.

  • a hoop drill - this is a casting which has a pair of carrots joined by a plate of metal with a pommel on top to be struck. In theory you put it in place and tonk it into the ground. These are tedious. The pommel usually fragments leaving sharp shards of metal and then breaks off completely. These devices normally only work for one brand of hoops as the carrot spacing varies between hoops from different manufacturers. Note one of these currently costs £46 as opposed to £35 for a hoop.
  • a dibber - a conically-ended stake made out of metal or wood which echoes the profile of one of the hoop carrots. The stake can be about 3-foot long so that it can be comfortably hit without having to bend down and its length gives leverage to loosen it from the ground.
  • a coring device - the principle is that a core of earth is excavated approximately matching the carrot's profile. If a hoop has to be moved the cores from the new holes can fill the old ones.
hoop clamp
Hoop clamp designed to hold a welded hoop at preset gape whilst it is knocked into the ground. Hoop uprights indicated in purple.

Whichever device you use check it is vertical as you drive it in. Typically a 5lb lump hammer or sledge hammer is used. These hammers are never used on the hoops themselves. (Well almost never - if because of circumstance you have to use one on a hoop place a wooden plank on top of the hoop and hit that.) If necessary walk around the dibber etc. when you hit it so as to get a better idea of whether it is vertical. You want to produce holes which are slightly smaller than they finally need to be so that the hoop will be gripped when it is inserted, hence there is no need to drive it in too deeply.

Once the initial pilot holes have been made introduce the hoop into the hole and knock it about half the way in. Test its width with a ball - if it is OK continue to drive it in until the tops of the carrots protrude about 1/2" above the ground. There is no need to make the hoop deeper at this stage as the ball cannot reach the carrots. As the season progresses and the hoops are re-seated they will be driven deeper in. If the hoop is the wrong gape or tilts use the techniques described below for adjusting it.

The device shown opposite is manufactured in America for using with welded hoops. The intention is that the hoop gape is fixed whilst the hoop is knocked into the ground. This is being sold in the UK by the Croquet Association. I would not recommend its use in fresh ground without pilot holes for the carrots.

Setting Hoops

For competitions and tournaments the gape of hoops is defined by the organising body. The methods for adjusting the gape of cast metal hoops is given in this section. Apart from the correct gape, hoops should be vertical and square to the edges of the court. For adjusting the gape of a hoop to a precise setting two simple tools are needed:

  • A spike - a large screwdriver or a pointed metal rod about 3/8" diameter, 12-18" long with a comfortable handle. It is used for scraping soil in the base of hoop holes to adjust the gape and alignment of hoops.
  • A rubber mallet - a 3½" diameter rubber mallet with a 1-foot long handle (cost ~£5). This is used for routine maintenance of the hoops. For laying hoops in new ground you can get the grandfather of this: 5" diameter, 12" long rubber head on a pickaxe handle (cost ~£30). These are sold for tamping down paving stones. The advantages with the rubber mallets are that they will not mark or shatter the hoop and they hit the hoop with a 'dead beat'. The hoop does not ring or vibrate after the blow and hence loosen itself.

To Adjust the Gape or Tilt of a Hoop

The first idea to absorb is that it is the spacing of the holes in the ground which sets the width of a hoop. If you take a wide hoop out of the box and knock it into closely spaced holes in the turf then the hoop will end up narrow. Consequently it is pointless (and hazardous to the hoop) to use chest expander manoevers on it. The art is to tweak the holes.

using a spike to move a hoop hole result of scraping

Use a spike (described above) to move the soil in the base of the carrot holes to change the width or angle of a hoop. For example: if a hoop is too narrow, scrape soil from the outside of the bottom of the carrot holes to the inside (see figures a and b).

Lightly spring the carrots of the hoop apart as you guide it down the holes (to trap the soil on the correct side of the carrots) and firm the hoop in (see figure c). You can alter the width by 1/4" or more this way.

You can also correct slanting or sloping hoops by similarly excavating soil from the front or side of the bottom of the carrot holes in a similar manner

When the Hoop has Sunk too Deeply in the Lawn

Many clubs use grass cuttings to pack the holes and seat the hoop. I find this extremely unsatisfactorily. Once the hoop has taken a knock or two it may as well be seated in foam rubber. It produces only a temporary effect as the packing needs to be redone each time the hoop is inserted. As the cuttings accumulate you end up with liquid silage. An alternative is to use soil but eventually a hill will form around the hoop from the added material.

I attempt to use the existing compacted soil. By moving it around and decompressing it (see below) you maintain firm hoops without an appreciable build up of debris which can eventually lead to hoops on hills.

Remove the hoop then use a spike to pierce the soil in a circle say ½" beyond the periphery of the hole. Push the spike in ~6" deep then lever soil back into the void of the hoop hole. This breaks up compressed soil around the hoop. Tread over the hoop hole to remove the puncture marks and insert the hoop.

This should also be done when the lawn is being left over winter to encourage the grass to grow and bind over the hoop holes.

When All Else Fails

If either of the above cannot produce a large enough effect then you can consider using a little topsoil to pack the hole. Obviously over the years it will accumulate and you will have a hill. Some infrequent, localised, hollow-tyning around hoops can remove the accumulation of material. If a hoop cannot be restored at this stage the hoops should be moved sideways 9" or so. The old holes are spiked to force the soil into the voids as described in the last paragraphs.

The Oxford Club normally moves its hoops to three different locations over the season but they are lifted every evening and replaced by heavy-handed students.

Finally the Peg

The peg is the last item of the lawn setting to be placed. Generally it is best to position it by inspection rather than by measurement! It is essential that the peg lies on the line joining the centres of the penultimate and rover hoops. It is very embarrassing if those hoops are run in a single stroke.

You will have marked the peg's intended position in the centre of the lawn: check that it lies in the line joining hoops 1 and 3 and then 2 and 4. It obviously is useful to have a helper at this stage. Once a good, but by no means accurate, position has been found the alignment between penult and rover is checked. This is normally achieved by lying 10' away from (e.g.) penult and sighting through that hoop to symmetically frame the rover hoop within it. The peg should lie in the middle of both.

Make a pilot hole for the peg in the desired position. The extension is aways removed when the peg is knocked in.


Video showing one method of setting hoops: using of a hoop clamp, water being used to assist the hoop's entry, the use of a spike for fine tuning the gap and the renovation of old hoop holes.

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Updated 29.ix.15
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