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Croquet competition

St. John's College's John Gerard, of Princeton, New York, and teammate Nick Garklaus of Long Island, New York, watch as U.S. Naval Academy midshipman Brock Zimmerman of Carlisle, Alaska, lines up his shot during a croquet match on the lawn at St. John's College in 2004. The Northwest Indiana Croquet Association hopes to bring national competitions to the Region, once a new site is finalized and developed.

CHESTERTON — Croquet enthusiasts have run into a sticky wicket at Sunset Hill Farm County Park, but a Chesterton park might work instead.

Michael Sawyier, a founder of the Northwest Indiana Croquet Association, said Sunset Hill had some complications.

“It was difficult for us to squeeze in the field anyway,” he said.

“We were basically trying to shoehorn our development in sort of a strip alongside this extensive prairie grass field, and it was a pretty difficult fit,” Sawyier said.

“The whole park is supposed to be for recreational purposes, but I guess the prairie grass has its own rights.”

The prairie grass is protected from development under terms of a grant the park department received for the property.

Also, the house that club members hoped to use as a clubhouse doesn’t have functioning toilets.

Some of the Porter County Park Board members supported the croquet court idea, but other key players didn’t, Sawyier said.

“There were many difficult issues there,” Sawyier said.

Walter Lenckos, superintendent of the county’s parks department, said the Sunset Hill site isn’t abandoned, but the croquet club is exploring other options first.

Sawyier’s great-uncle, Robert Murray, owned Sunset Hill before it was given to Purdue University and then to Porter County. “So there was that personal aspect, but that’s not the way to go about site selection.”

Sawyier plans to address the Chesterton Park Board on Sept. 4 with a “dynamite presentation” on what the club’s landscape architect calls the “perfect” site.

He declined to name that park until closer to the meeting.

The Northwest Indiana Croquet Association, for which Sawyier serves as attorney, should be getting its 501(c)3 nonprofit status soon from the Internal Revenue Service, he said.

The club plans to use its own money to develop courts to the standards used for international competition. The grass is cropped closely, and the lawns are well watered — 55,000 gallons of water every other day during the growing season, Sawyier said.

The courts would not be ready before spring, he said.

Although club members are eager for courts for their own use, they would be open to the public.

“We want to promote the sport of croquet in Northwest Indiana, that’s what we’re all about,” Sawyier said.

Croquet at this level of competition would be new to the Chicago area, but not elsewhere. The largest croquet club in the country is a nonprofit organization with a license from the Sarasota County Parks Department in Florida.

“We think it will be good for the whole area,” Sawyier said.

The local croquet club hopes to host national tournaments at its new site when it materializes.

Among the benefits of croquet is that older players aren’t intimidated by younger players the way they are in sports that are more physical. Croquet is a game of strategy and skill, not brawn.

The Sept. 4 initial presentation starts the courtship with the Chesterton Park Board and the community.

“Now it’s a matter of taking care of the details and convincing people that we’re not an elitist organization,” Sawyier said.

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Porter County Government Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.