It was one of those simple twists of fate that led Elaine Fong to discover croquet.
In 1987, the long-time resident of the Sunset district had accompanied her two young daughters to swim lessons at the Sava Pool on 19th Avenue.
“They wouldn’t let the moms into the pool,” Fong says. “I couldn’t swim, so I’ll find something else to do.”
Fong was captivated by some folks clad in white across the way in Stern Grove. She had recently read an article in the neighborhood paper about the San Francisco Croquet Club, and her interest was piqued.
“I went the following weekend, got a lesson and got hooked,” Fong says.
The game that she has played competitively for the past 23 years is a distant cousin to the more commonly known 9-wicket backyard croquet. The equipment in 6-wicket tournament croquet, or golf croquet, is heavier, and there are only four balls in play.
“Everyone looks for that magic moment when you can put your foot on the ball and knock your opponent’s ball out into the bushes,” says San Francisco Croquet Club president Chris Mondt. But not in tournament croquet, as there is no footing of the ball.
Mondt, who also lives in the Sunset, has paired up with Fong in doubles at past Western Regional tournaments. They were the 2006 runners-up in Portland, Ore., and the next year the duo won their flight at Sonoma Cutrer Winery in Windsor.
Another of Fong’s partners, Bay Area native Ben Rothman, is at the top of the 2010 list of 672 ranked United States Croquet Association players.
“I taught him everything he knows,” Fong jokes.
“This smiling, charming, demure woman you see before you is not the same woman you meet at the croquet field,” Mondt said. “She’s a tough player. She’s serious.”
Fong won’t reveal her age, but does admit to “getting the senior citizen’s discount.” Croquet is compatible with her strong feminist ideals.
“It is a game where men and women play on the same field on the same basis, although Elaine has never beaten me,” Mondt says playfully.
Both of these devoted players wish to share their game with more San Franciscans. Croquet is not a spectator sport, they claim, but one that is great fun to play, loaded with strategy and tactics.