Member Profile – Jon Carrington

This suddenly felt like it was not going to be the interview I was intending.

I’d arranged to meet Jon Carrington for our chat in the café at Laylocks Garden Centre. I noted that as he approached me, there was a subtle change in his gait.  We ordered our early morning drinks and took our seats, but then Jon revealed that he has been recently experiencing a recurrence of gout.  He put the latest episode of gout down to having “a glass of wine.”  Jon said he believed that the first ever episode of gout he experienced was down to a ‘heavy weekend’ in the past. He then, rather unnervingly, went on to tell me about all the types of alcohol that exacerbate gout and how he has had to change from drinking bitter to cider in order to avoid sparking off the condition. He’d obviously done his research because it appeared that Jon really knows his onions when it comes to the metabolic processes at work in the development of gout and he reeled off the fact that the condition is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the blood and that bitter already contains uric acid. “That’s why I switched to cider,” said Jon, matter-of-factly.

“That’s your battle with alcoholism dealt with,” I said. “Now let’s talk about croquet!”

Jon eyed my small notebook as the waitress arrived at our table and then modestly expressed surprise that I even wanted to write an article about him. “Good job it’s a small notebook. I’ve only been playing for two years, what is there for me to say?” This from a man who for the forthcoming season is 2nd in England in the Golf Croquet Ranking List for 2024 and is ranked 13th in the world! 😉

I had to point out to Jon that he is most certainly of much interest since in that short time as a newcomer, he has not only reduced his handicap to one, but has also won many games in national competitions. Jon had to reluctantly concede that his success in Golf Croquet so far, has been ‘well above average.’

Jon’s progress in the game in such a short space of time seems to me and many others within the club to have been quite phenomenal. Again, Jon reluctantly agreed that he may have been perceived to be the player that had ‘improved quickest’ but said “I think Billy (Cooke) is going to do that as well.”

Jon says that ‘hand-eye coordination’ is the most  important attribute for players in croquet but that his own, while being ‘reasonable,’ “Isn’t phenomenal.”  He said that he played golf in the past  but he admitted to being ‘no good’ and had never entered a golf competition in his life.

When Jon lived down in High Wycombe, a year before moving back to Worcestershire in 2018, he tried his hand at croquet with his wife Elizabeth, just for one session at a local club which was offering what we would call at Broadwas, a ‘taster session.’ His instructor at the time said that for someone who had never swung a mallet before, Jon was ‘quite good.’ Because he was working at that time, Jon never followed the session up despite giving his instructor what he felt was ‘a good run for his money.’ At that time, Jon was working as a manager over a team of sales representatives for a pharmaceutical company.

Jon was born in Birmingham and lived in Halesowen until the family moved to Bromsgrove when he was three. He was educated at South Bromsgrove High School and then went on to obtain a degree in Environmental Biology from Sunderland University. After university, he moved into pharmaceuticals, working as a sales representative before moving into managing teams before ending his career and ultimately retiring in 2018 after the company he worked for restructured. Jon subsequently moved to Worcester with wife Elizabeth, a podiatrist, and daughter Xanthe, who is now 13 years old.

It was after finishing working as a volunteer in the community shop in Lower Broadheath after his move back to the county, that Jon decided to respond to a flyer for Broadwas Croquet Club which had been posted inside the shop, probably by John Steel.  

Jon remembers his first game at Broadwas was on Lawn 1, in August 2021. It was a mere one year later that Jon entered a national C-Level GC competition, following it up with participation  in the  national B-Level competition in 2023.

Jon during a competition in 2023

I asked Jon what drew him into Golf Croquet so completely. He said “The tactics are fascinating. The first few games that he was involved in when he joined the club he described as a ‘joyous learning curve.’ Jon compares the tactics of the game to chess – he actually played for Bromsgrove Chess Club’s third team when he was only nine and was also school champion.  He enjoys the strategy of croquet. Jon said “There’s an element of a puzzle to croquet. It’s not just a matter of trying to hit a ball through a hoop. You might not get a chance if you end up putting a ball in a stupid place – you’re just going to be knocked away. It’s also not a matter of – can you play the shot you’re aiming for? More important is, have you chosen the right shot in the first place? It doesn’t matter how well you can execute shots, if you haven’t chosen the right shot to take, and that will quite often depend on your opponent.”

Soon after Jon joined the club, he had frequent coaching sessions with Jeff Faulkner. “Jeff has been my coach and I STILL class him as my coach. The player I am today is down to Jeff entirely.” Whenever Jon is away on competitions, he even emails his results to Jeff headed “Hi Coach.” It was only in 2022 that Jon started practising by himself – once he knew WHAT he should be practising. By that time, he had stopped playing golf altogether because he preferred the superior game, Golf Croquet.

Amazingly, Jon’s first external competition was a B-Level tournament held at Camerton and Peasedown Croquet Club, near Bath.  Jon applied for admission into that competition to enable him to  earn a ‘dynamic ranking’ (dynamic grading) in order to be able to qualify for the often oversubscribed C-Level competition. Once he had earned his grading, Jon was then able to enter several C-Level competitions. Incredibly, up to that point, Jon hadn’t even played in external competitions for Broadwas, other than a friendly at Cheltenham. Jon didn’t appear to be fazed by entering such a high-profile B-Level competition. He said “It was only playing a load of people I had never played before. At that time, I hadn’t played most people in our club. I’m very competitive, but ultimately, if I lose, it’s just a game of croquet.”

When I asked Jon where he finished in that first competition, he limped off to his car in order to fetch his old handicap cards. On his return he was able to confirm that although he won one of his group games – beating someone who was a six handicap – he didn’t qualify. However,  Jon went on to meet ‘Coach’ Faulkner in the knockout round and beat him 7-6. The recall of that victory raised a chuckle from him.  Jon eventually finished 12th out of 16 players, which at B-Level in only his first full season in GC, is no mean feat.

Jon receives his first B-Level winners trophy at Guildford

Jon joined the Broadwas blocks competition in May of 2022 and the handicap card showed that he even beat Fran Wall 7-4, 7-1 in one blocks match – again – no mean feat.  Later, when Jon  played his very first C-Level tournament held at Ealing in June of that year, he reached the final in the competition,  narrowly losing top spot the  on the 13th hoop. 

Almost unbelievably, despite his success in the C-Level, Jon didn’t play for Broadwas regularly during 2022, playing only once for the club’s  GC Handicap Team in the last match of the season away at Glamorgan, winning all four of the games he played in.  In the forthcoming season,  Jon will be captaining the Broadwas GC Level Play Team in the West Midlands Federation, having been a member of Eileen Holt’s Handicap GC Team in 2023. Jon also played in a couple of matches for  John Guy’s West Midlands GC team. In one match, he played opponents with  two, three, four and five handicaps, and thrashing them all.

In all, Jon has entered around 16 national C and B-Level competitions in the past two years.  In 2022, his first season of entering external competitions, Jon won the C-Level tournament at Guildford. In 2023, Jon won B-Level competitions at Guildford, Ashby, Nailsea and Bath. Jon sounded slightly resentful that at Bath, he wasn’t given a trophy! By winning four regional heats – a feat no other player had achieved before – Jon went on to take part in the  national B-Level finals held at Eastbourne and took third place in the competition overall. In the same Eastbourne tournament, Fran Wall took 12th place.  Jon has also reached C-Level finals, reaching 6th place in that competition.

And another trophy for winning the Ashby B-Level competition

Jon’s handicap over two years has reduced to one, mainly as a result of his participation in B and C-Level competitions although he says the club’s blocks competition “has helped.” The four wins in the B-Level regional competitions helped Jon reduce his handicap from three down to one. I doubt I will ever be in Jon’s handicap sphere, so I won’t have to get my head around the concept of winning a match 2-1 against a higher handicap player, but ending up 17 index points down on the deal. “What a great game that was” said Jon.

I asked Jon how he felt when he first went to play in national competitions. I wanted to know if he felt anxious at all, bearing in mind at the time he first played a B-Level, he had been playing less than a year.  He told me “I was very nervous in my first competitions, especially the first one, a B-Level, because I knew I was playing a level that I shouldn’t have been in. I only did that so I could obtain a dynamic ranking to enable me to enter the C-Level. I was very nervous at that. I still get a sense of anticipation, rather than nervousness – even for the national finals.” Jon hasn’t yet decided which A-Level tournaments he will enter in the new season, especially since the A-Level competitions are run over two days.

And AGAIN, this time receiving his winner’s trophy at Nailsea

When talking about competitions, Jon firmly believes that club members should take the opportunity to join the blocks. “It’s a chance to practice” said Jon. In preparing for tournaments Jon isn’t a fan of practising shots by himself – he would much rather play an opponent.  During the winter, he occasionally plays at Cheltenham and had a practise game recently – his first game since 17th October. He was pleased with his performance after a long lay-off.

Having such a wide experience of croquet courts around the country, Jon feels that playing at Broadwas has prepared him when encountering small lawn deviations in competitions. He said he’s met a number of tournament players who are fazed  by even small deviations in playing surfaces, but because of his experience at the club, such discrepancies don’t bother him at all.

In competitions, Jon admits to occasionally indulging in a much milder form of what cricketers would term ‘sledging’ – where they verbally intimidate opposing players. He only uses in when there has been banter going on during B and C-Level games. “My favourite thing is, when the opponent knocks you away a bit, say four yards, I say ‘doesn’t matter, I’ll run it from there anyway!’” Jon says that nowadays, opponents won’t beat him mentally. “I won’t give up. I won’t be negative. You see it when some B and C-Level players come to Broadwas and look at the lawns. Some of them say ‘I don’t know how you can judge shots’ – those players are beaten before they even go on to the courts. That mindset won’t help you win a game.” He added “We are so lucky to have learned at Broadwas because it makes you mentally stronger.”

Jon is also a great believer in visualisation. He visualises the consequences of every shot he takes before he aims his mallet and feels it is an important part of his game, as is a positive mental attitude.   

In June a Broadwas GC team captained by Stuart Smith is travelling  to Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) to compete in the European Club League 2024. Other than my smile when I hear the tea bell clang out on a roll up Friday and I know that Glenys Croft’s cakes will soon be distributed by Chris, I haven’t seen a bigger smile than Jon’s when I said “So, Europe then.”  “Can’t wait for that” he beamed. “Am so excited.”  Jon said that when he ordered his mallet in preparation for the 2022 season, he selected a mallet that unscrewed halfway up the shaft to enable it to be transported more easily when travelling abroad. So he’s well-prepared. Broadwas will be in a group with club teams from Czechia, Spain and Germany. Seven groups in all will compete, with a final being held in Spain in October.

For Jon, level play games are his preference, rather than the Advantage or marbles based system. He WILL participate in competitions where Advantage or marbles are used but would prefer to avoid them if possible. Jon says “You learn more by being beaten by players better than you. Always. Getting beaten on a level playing field is the ultimate lesson, although it feels harsh when its being done to you.”

You might call it lounging. Jon calls it ‘visualising.’

Jon’s aim is merely to get as good as he can get, and at the start of each season he sets goals for himself.  A current aim is to get better than Stuart Smith.  Amongst previous goals were success in B and C-Levels – which he achieved – and to reduce his handicap to two, although he reduced it to one.

Jon would like to see more players from the club taking part in competitions. “Players need to see that competitions aren’t a big scary thing. You aren’t getting paid for it, so you aren’t going to be sacked,”  he joked.

I asked Jon how he survives the winter without croquet. “Elizabeth would tell you ‘In a depressed manner.’ I struggle to remember how I got through winter’s previously. I miss the game so much now – this winter I’ve been just counting the days. I can’t wait to get outside and play.” Having said that, when, at the end of the chat we walked out to the car park and Jon deposited his handicap cards in the boot of his car, there were two sets of hoops lying in the base of the boot which he is going to repaint for the new season. I’d quite forgotten to ask him about all the work he does on maintaining the lawns and equipment. Will save that for another time.

We both live in the same village and as he drove off, I thought “Wrong way Jon. The cider shop is the other way.”

Paul Felton