Outdoor games for the whole family

Photo: istockphoto.com/Gregory Lang

These days we're just not getting enough exercise or fresh air. North Americans are barely squeezing in 30 minutes of exercise every other day, even though health officials recommend at least 60 minutes per day. But two classic outdoor games are making a comeback. They're both easy and safe to play.

During its heyday, croquet was considered the sport of the elite. Its origins remain a mystery, though. Thirteenth century French peasants may have been the first to fashion hoops from willow branches and used shepherds' crooks to hit the balls. It was extremely popular in Ireland during the 1830s when the game was known as crooky. The British sports equipment maker, John Jaques, brought the game to England in 1852 and began manufacturing croquet sets. It quickly spread throughout the country and the rest of the Commonwealth reaching its peak in 1870 with several professional leagues. Croquet was particularly popular with women since it was the first game they were allowed to play alongside men. The Victorians banished it to the backyard after declaring croquet too provocative.

Croquet became popular in the States when Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 40s adopted it as their leisure sport. In the 1960s, the United States Croquet Association (USCA) was formed and today there are over 350 clubs in the U.S. and Canada. Today croquet is played competitively in over 20 countries. Australia and New Zealand have the biggest leagues followed by the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Essentially it's a tactical game with each player trying to get their ball to go through each hoop twice in a specified order and direction. A ball scores a point when it passes through the hoop in one or more strokes and hits the peg in front of the hoop. Players can overtake their opponent's ball, using it to score a point or simply blocking its path. The player who gets the first 26 points wins. Consult the experts at Oxford Croquet for all the correct rules and regulations.

You may want to buy a posh croquet set from John Jaques & Sons, who remain the foremost manufacturer of croquet equipment today, or pick up an Amish-made maple croquet set sold by Lehmans. Oakley Woods Croquet probably has the greenest kit around since it uses Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) wood. If you are having trouble finding a dealer near you consult the USCA directory.

Pluto Platters
When the Frisbie Baking Company (1871-1958) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, sold its homemade pies to hungry college students it had no idea it was about to become responsible for the foremost American pastime. Some rambunctious students discovered the empty pie tins could be tossed and the rest is history. The first prototype was developed in 1948 when Walter Frederick Morrison, a Los Angeles building inspector, invented a plastic version called the Pluto Platter. He eventually sold it to the Wham-O toy company (also responsible for the Hula-Hoop). Wham-O released the Frisbee in 1957 and went on to sell over 100 hundred million flying discs before selling it to Mattel Toy Manufacturers, who has sold an additional 200 million units.

Help celebrate Frisbee's 50th anniversary by getting a green Frisbee. These soft eco-friendly hemp Frisbees are easy to catch and throw. Rawganique offers its hemp Frisbee in assorted colours like natural, black, blue, green, burgundy, turquoise, yellow, orange and red or with some wacky artwork.

Biome offers a "Free Tibet" hemp Frisbee manufactured by the Romanian based Ecolution. Each Frisbee has a sand filled edge that gives a smooth flight, so you don't have to worry about being hit on the head.

Summer is short so get off the couch and enjoy it!