John Prince

Hall of Fame
John Prince

Born: 1945
Died: 14.2.2023
Inducted: 2007

John Graham Prince commenced playing Croquet at the NaeNae Croquet Club situated in the Lower Hutt Hospital grounds in 1959 by sheer chance.  As a 14-year old schoolboy, he had seen the game being played from the local swimming baths that overlooked the Lower Hutt Croquet Club in Riddiford Gardens.  He was intrigued and, after borrowing "Croquet Today" by Maurice Reckitt from the local library, became even more fascinated.  He visited the NaeNae Club near his home and was fortunate to be invited to have a game by members Melba Miller and Muriel Palmer.  Shortly afterwards, Ashley Heenan was approached and agreed to coach John.

John’s croquet career took off when, aged 17 and with practically no tournament experience, he made a late debut into the 1963 New Zealand MacRobertson Shield team after winning his singles and doubles matches for a North Island team against the Australian visitors.  He caused something of a sensation during the third Test Match between England and New Zealand when he defeated John Solomon, then universally regarded as the best player in the world.  Interestingly, Solomon had himself been selected to play in the 1950/51 MacRobertson Shield against New Zealand when aged only 18 and with a similar lack of tournament experience!

John went on to reach the semi-finals of the 1963 New Zealand Open Championship where Solomon gained his revenge but, nonetheless gained his first national title when he won the New Zealand Men's Championship, in the process of which he defeated the English Test Match players Humphrey Hicks in the semi-finals and Bryan Lloyd-Pratt in the final.

Over the following years, John amassed an impressive number of national titles, including eight New Zealand Open Championships, ten New Zealand Men’s Championships and eight victories in the senior invitation event for the “Best Ten” or “Best Eight” players.  He also won eleven New Zealand Doubles Championships and the British Open Doubles Championship in 1974.

In 1969, he was appointed captain of the New Zealand MacRobertson Shield for the first time and went on to do so on four further occasions including two Shield victories in 1979 and 1986.  He holds three MacRobertson Shield records, namely by being the youngest player ever to compete, by playing in nine series and the first player to play 100 matches in the event.

On 30 March 1970, at Hastings during the final of the Hawkes Bay Easter Invitation John became the first player to complete a sextuple peel in a competition.

John’s contribution to croquet was not confined to playing and winning major events.  He was involved in attempts to publicize Croquet, including an early television demonstration in the days of black and white TV, and wrote several newspaper articles about the national Croquet scene.  He served on the New Zealand Croquet Council for several years and was involved especially with international matters, selection for international and domestic events and tournament formats and conditions.  He provided illustrations for the CNZ publications "Approaching Croquet", and later wrote and illustrated "Practice with a Purpose", followed by a set of supplementary booklets.  He was always keen to see that younger players and those who work were given as much opportunity to compete and so ensured the major events in New Zealand Croquet Council tournaments were played over weekends wherever possible.

Winning the MacRobertson Shield has always been John’s top priority.  Throughout his career, he has been constantly on the lookout for potential team members and has provided encouragement and support to many up and coming New Zealand players.  One of his most significant contributions in this regard was his skilful mentoring of a very shy youngster called Paddy Chapman who is now one of the world’s top ranked players.