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New New Zealand mallets a hit for Gasparilla Inn’s croquet program

January 4, 2024
By Sheila Evans

Croquet is a game for the ages, and this current age is seeing a surge of interest. The Croquet Club at The Gasparilla Inn is a major player in the sport, so to speak, and recently upped its game by adding ten new, world-class mallets to its stock.

Oakley Johnson, president of The Inn’s Croquet Club, is proud to show off the new mallets, and is grateful to The Inn for its commitment to its patrons and the residents of Boca Grande by purchasing the new mallets, replacing a collection of very old and no-longer-appropriate mallets.

Finding good mallets was a project involving a whole team, and it has evolved over the years. Rob Elwell, a Boca Grande resident and the owner of, has taken a lead role. He and associates Donna Welsh and Cathy Russo, also Boca Grande residents, searched the world over for the best mallets. They found them in New Zealand, one of the countries that is especially devoted to croquet. 

In New Zealand they discovered George Wood (!) of Wood Mallets Ltd. The company uses exotic wood from India, which is aged for three years before it ever begins to become a mallet. Then, the custom mallets are hand-made to the specifications of height, weight and design of the individual customer.  

While the sport is old, the company dates from 1982, when founder George Wood, a polo player, started the company, headquartered in Otane in Central Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

“We started out buying two mallets,” said Elwell. “Then we bought four. Several other members in our club really liked the mallets, so I ordered more. After several more transactions, George (Wood) offered to have me represent him in the U.S. That was four years ago. Since then we have sold close to 200 custom-made Wood mallets!”

Wood Mallets Ltd. is the largest manufacturer of competition croquet mallets in the world, and is also the maker of polo mallets.

“We are now the Wood Ltd. sales agent for the United States. Wood mallets are produced with the highest quality of craftsmanship, using only the best materials one can find. Whether it be for an international champion or the backyard player, these mallets are very durable, perform extraordinarily well, are priced competitively, and are stunning in appearance, showing off the craftsmanship behind them.”

The interest in the equipment evolved into uniforms. “In 2020 I asked Cathy Russo, a good friend from Boca, to join me to help run our Demo Days and design a line of croquet clothing, which was of particular interest to her.,” said Elwell. “Recently, doubled in size when Donna Welsh and her husband Ted joined our staff.”

The work is not just here and online; the company holds “Demo Days” across Florida. “Ted has been offering free instructions to players at all levels when we are showing our mallets,” Elwell remarked. “Cathy and Donna have already come out with caps, visors, blouses and polos for men with our happy flamingo logo.”

Welsh and Russo both live in Boca Grande year-round, while Elwell and Johnson are on the island each winter. 

Donna Welsh and Rob Elwell with one of the new mallets that The Inn Croquet Club has purchased.

As the sport has grown here, the island has become a hub for the game. Currently, The Gasparilla Inn & Club has three U. S. Croquet Association-certified croquet lawns for the use of Club members and guests. There are now three additional lawns, with croquet now at Boca Grande Club, the Community Center and Boca Bay. The Boca Grande Club has had croquet for years, and Boca Bay has recently renovated its courts to satisfy increased interest. The Community Center has open games on Thursdays, with no club membership required and no fees.

At The Inn, croquet courts were part of the grounds from its early days. Interest over the decades has waxed and waned. The Inn’s club dates from 1981, and held its first international tournament the following year. The Club is at its peak now, with some 120 members. Elliott Garrison, the head groundskeeper at The Inn, is key to the maintenance of the courts.

Each year The Inn and its croquet club host the Blaine Davis Invitational Croquet Tournament. This annual USCA-sanctioned event consists of singles only, in three flights (Championship, 1st Flight and 2nd Flight) and is held over a period of three days. The next tournament will be February 29 to March 3, 2024. It is named for Blaine Davis, the president of The Inn’s club for two decades.

“Getting these mallets has been a long effort,” said Johnson. “We are grateful to the groundskeepers and The Inn.”

Find out more: For details and entry information, contact the general manager’s office at The Inn at 877-403-0599 or 941-964-4500. Visit or call Elwell at 978-502-5999 or email

Oakley Johnson, president of The Inn Croquet Club, examines one of the new mallets while Donna Welsh and Rob Elwell look on.