Hall of Fame
Born: 23 July 1931
Died: 22 January 2023
Bob Jackson took up croquet in his late thirties after a career representing New Zealand at international table tennis. He brought a professional attitude to practice that was almost unknown in croquet in the late 1960s and helped him to rise rapidly to the top of the sport. He became particularly famous for his accurate shooting which was based on a remorseless practice routine.
Bob regarded a 10 yard roquet as a near-certainty at a time when almost every other player regarded it as a long shot. This ability allowed him to adopt a tactical approach that was as intimidating to his opponents as it was effective. Woe betide the player who laid up in a corner less than 14 yards from one of Bob’s balls – the roquet would be taken without hesitation and usually hit and a break extracted. Bob’s method of picking up breaks was both novel and apparently adventurous. If faced with an angled two yard hoop 1 off an enemy ball, most players of the time would retire to join partner. Bob would bang the ball through the hoop up to the north boundary, turn round and hit the hoop 2 pioneer to the south boundary and then split that ball to hoop 3 while getting a lengthy rush on the erstwhile hoop 1 pioneer. He would hit that somewhere in the direction of hoop 2, approach with his trademark crouch roll stroke and leave himself another two yard hoop. This would also be banged through at high speed but, with the boundary only seven yards away, he had a break once again.
Bob made full use of his single-ball accuracy to help with the completion of peeling turns. Most players would play split peels to ensure that they could obtain a short rush on the escape ball. This kept the break going but the pull created by the split shot was liable to jaws the peel or worse and so endanger the completion of the triple. The Jackson approach used a straight stop-shot to take pull out of the equation and he simply hit whatever roquet was needed afterwards. This approach was so successful in his hands that he was soon an acknowledged expert at sextuple peels and became the first player to achieve an octuple peel. He actually completed two consecutive octuples and almost completed a third on the same day.
Bob Jackson won 14 New Zealand Open Championships between 1975 and 2003 and was the runner-up on many other occasions in that period. He also won 12 New Zealand Men’s Championships between 1977 and 2005 and 11 Senior Invitation Events between 1972 and 2004. He also won ten New Zealand Open Doubles Championships (nine with Joe Hogan) between 1973 and 1990.
Bob represented New Zealand in the MacRobertson Shield on six occasions (1974, 1979, 1986, 1990, 1993 and 2000). He was regarded as the best player in the world by many in the period from 1979 to 1986 but what stands out is the longevity of his career at the top of both Association Croquet and Golf Croquet.
He made his last appearance in the 2008 Association Croquet World Championship at the age of 76. He came second in his block and produced an extraordinary one-ball finish to defeat Jonathan Kirby, a 28-year-old Great Britain MacRobertson Shield player, in the first round of the knock-out stage. It was an amazing display of skill for someone in his eighth decade.
Two years earlier, Bob had reached the quarter-final of the 2006 Golf Croquet World Championship and, at the 2015 Golf Croquet World Championship, when aged 83, lost a play-off game 7-6 and so just failed to qualify for the knock-out stage. He is the first player to demonstrate that it is possible to play genuinely top-class Association and Golf Croquet when well over 65.
Bob was also known as an equipment maker for both table tennis and croquet for many years. In the late 1970s, he began making mallets which had an excellent reputation for robustness and good value and they soon began making their appearance in England and Australia. He was one of the pioneers of what has since become a worldwide cottage industry.
Bob died in January 2023 and will be sadly missed by his family, friends and croquet players around the world.