By Tony Lopez

NAPA (CBS13) – It’s one of the oldest sports around and it’s rare to get a lesson on how the game was meant to be played.

But we did just that, tracking down one of the very few experts in the game of croquet.

You might be able to guess by where we’re standing what that job title is or what we’re wearing. All-white is a must, although khaki pants are allowed.

It’s a life very few others have, so we just had to pay a visit to meet Mike McDonnell.

“A croquet pro, when people hear that, what do they say?” we asked.

“They usually ask me if I’m a crochet pro,” McDonnell said.

No needle and thread here, but he does have to thread the needle with fancy shots.

There are no backyard bumps on this finely crafted croquet lawn, nothing but smooth sophistication where McDonnell holds court as the resident croquet pro at the Meadowood Resort in Napa Valley.

“So the first thing I want to show you is how to look good in a croquet photo,” McDonnell said. “Mallet, crossing away from the mallet, hand in your pocket, hand on your hip – I like to have my hand available for a glass of wine.”

Equally as important as how you stand or how you look is how you play the game.

This isn’t the croquet we grew up with.

“You notice the difference between this equipment and the backyard equipment,” McDonnell said. “Much heavier, stands on its own so you can gesture wildly at your opponents.”

If you haven’t guessed by now, McDonnell loves his job.

From showing newbies how to make trick shots to psyching out the competition when they start to get good, to going over the rules of this centuries-old game:

“We play British tournament rules croquet here [at Meadowood]. It’s called international rules. Golf croquet is the game played here, mostly,” McDonnell said. “Also by the end of the game you’ll be speaking with a British accent.”

Any “English” you might put on your shot has to fit through a much tighter wicket than the wire ones in your backyard shed. The mallet is heavier and the balls are always played in the same order, but the goal remains the same.

“The object of the game is to be the first ball through the wicket. First ball through the wicket gets the one available point, no one else has to go through,” McDonnell said.

But a bigger goal than the first to finish is be the first to have fun.

“All right are, you ready to get some exercise?”

McDonnell does give group lessons to large parties and says those can get kind of crazy.

Anyone interested should contact the Meadowood Resort in Napa.

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