Really, Arthur P. Bagby III tried to economize. He swears he did. But the 61-year-old president of Bagby Elevator Co., in Birmingham, Ala., admits a bit sheepishly that his passion for croquet has become "a very expensive matter."
Like a growing number of mallet-wielding enthusiasts caught up in the sport's current wave of popularity, Bagby yearned for his own perfect patch of green, where he could hone his skills and lower his U.S. Croquet Association handicap. A regulation-size 105-by-84-foot lawn for the six-wicket, one-central-peg version of the game typically nicks its owner for $20,000 to $40,000. And that's not counting the special mower needed to shear it as short as a putting green. But Bagby's lawn cost even more because his 22-room home sits atop Alabama's Shades Mountain. First, he had to essentially regrade a mountainside, contracting for truckload after truckload of fill. Three thousand dumps in all. To avoid damage to the mountain road he shares with neighbors, Bagby built his own roadway to divert the heavy equipment. Then came the bulldozers and work crews, a base of gravel, drain tiles, a layer of sand, an underground sprinkler system, and finally, his emerald green Bermuda grass lawn overseeded with rye. "Just like the greens at Augusta, before they switched to bent grass," says Bagby. A three-handicap player, Bagby most days enjoys a game with his wife, Cindy (an eight handicap). He anticipates having friendly matches with customers and has also mixed business and pleasure by inventing a pneumatic wicket-installing machine fashioned from elevator parts.
Add $200 apiece for four hardwood mallets (a small fraction of his collection) and Bagby allows that his wicket obsession has set him back some serious green -- all told, about half a million dollars.