Croquet was for many years a social sport in New Zealand played only on the wide lawns of the spacious nineteenth-century homesteads. Club and association croquet began in the essentially English province of Canterbury; hence the first major clubs and associations were formed in Christchurch and South Canterbury. The sport is now administered by the New Zealand Croquet Council, which is responsible to over 4,000 members. In 1964 20 associations were affiliated to the Council. In 1925 the English publication Croquet expressed surprise that New Zealand “with a population scarcely one-thirtieth of our own” had a membership at least 800 in excess of the sport in England.
Although the game flourished in the early 1900s in the South Island, it was not until 1920 that a national council could be formed. South Island associations were anxious to form a New Zealand organisation, but the North Island was not, as many districts did not even possess an association. Canterbury and South Canterbury began working for a New Zealand Council with national championships in 1912 and in desperation, instituted a New Zealand title croquet in 1913. Championships were held in 1914 and 1915, but the First World War led to their abandonment until 1920. By this time six North Island associations had been formed and the New Zealand Croquet Council came into being. From this time croquet became increasingly popular, especially among women who, with a financial membership of 4,000 members, soon took their place on the executive of the council.
Croquet in New Zealand probably received its greatest encouragement in 1928 and 1935, when English test teams competed here after the MacRobertson International Shield series in Australia. In 1930 New Zealand also became eligible to challenge for the MacRobertson Shield and in 1950 won the trophy from a visiting English team. Up to this time England and Australia had held the shield between them. New Zealand took the MacRobertson Shield to England in 1956, but lost.
Early champions were K. W. Izard, E. Whitaker, H. J. Williams, Mrs J. W. Lill, Mrs L. Rutherford, and A. G. F. Ross who won the New Zealand open championship 11 times between 1915 and 1953. Other outstanding open champions have been Colonel Du Pre, of England (twice), A. J. Gibbs (twice), Mrs C. Watkins (three times), A. D. Heenan (four times), and C. La Roche (twice). The team that won the MacRobertson Shield from England in 1950 comprised A. G. F. Ross (captain), Miss M. Claughton, Mrs W. H. Kirk, F. C. Bryan, A. D. Heenan, and C. Watkins. In 1960 the outstanding player was the 16-year-old A. J. Stephens, who played perfect croquet in his first championship tournament to win the New Zealand open title, the men's championship, the handicaps singles, and (with A. D. Heenan) the men's doubles championship.