The game was apparently invented in Ireland in the 1830s and taken to England as a pastime of the aristocracy in the 1850s. It made its way to the United States, Australia, and France, and whilst never hugely popular has continued to maintain a substantial following.
There are several variations of croquet played, differing in the scoring systems, order of shots, and layout (particularly in social games where play must be adapted to smaller-than-standard playing fields). The main competitive variations played in the UK are golf croquet, where each player takes turns trying to hit a ball through the same hoop, the winner being the player who manages to hit the ball through the most hoops first, and association croquet, where players can take multiple shots in one turn provided while they either a) hit the ball through another hoop, or b) hit another ball. In association croquet, the winner is the player who hits a ball through all hoops and a special ending "pin" also embedded in the ground. There are other variations popular in other croquet-playing nations.
As well as club-level games, there are regular world championships and international matches between croquet-playing countries. The sport has particularly strong followings in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia. Many other countries also play.
The current (Jan 04) World Champion is Robert Fulford (UK), although the World Rankings puts Reg Bamford (South Africa) as #1. The UK recently won the Macrobertson Shield, the major international trophy in Croquet.
In the UK, the sport is run by the Croquet Association - " class="external">http://www.croquet.org.uk Some people consider croquet to be viciously competitive. However, the ability to gain extra strokes favour players who position balls with more care, rather than simply as far away from everything else as possible. At championship standard, players can sometimes make all 26 points (13 for each ball) in two turns.
The game is depicted being played in the cult film, Heathers.