HORSHAM’S Ken Bald became involved with croquet at age 49 and went on to represent Australia.
Although he didn’t try the game until then, the makings of a world-class croquet player were imminent at a young age.
“When I was younger I played a lot of snooker and billiards and that was how I ultimately found my way into croquet,” he said.
“I grew up at Port McDonnell in South Australia and my mother Del said, ‘Now don’t let me find you in the snooker room’.
“In those days there would be a pool room in Mount Gambier and it wasn’t really a place you wanted children to go. But when I was 13 I was one of the best snooker players in Port McDonnell.”
The skills Bald learned as a teenager playing snooker would be instrumental to his illustrious croquet career many years down the track.
Before that, Bald was a handy footballer. He won two best-and-fairest awards while playing in the South Australia and Victoria border districts.
“I played football at Tantanoola and that’s where I met my wife, Lorraine,” Bald said.
“Her parents lived in Horsham and mine in Adelaide. We didn’t know where to go. We decided to toss a coin and it came up as Horsham. Horsham was heads on the coin. That was in 1984 and we’ve been in Horsham since.
“My mother-in-law played croquet and she told me to play. I didn’t think I was old enough to play then. Every time I went to see croquet, it was always being played by old people.
“At the time I was the goal umpire for Horsham United. I was getting ready to goal umpire my sixth grand final when my leg was infected and I ended up in hospital.
“In October in 1993, when I was 49, I turned up to Kalimna Park Croquet Club in Horsham and that’s where it all started.
“When I started, I kept looking at the game and thinking, ‘this is similar to billiards’. In billiards you have a pool table and in croquet you have a croquet lawn; in billiards you have six pockets, in croquet you have six hoops.”
It didn’t take long for Bald’s drive and motivation to kick in. After he started playing and travelling to regional tournaments, he set his sights on representing Victoria.
“I thought I would try to play for Victoria,” he said.
“In 1994 I went down to Melbourne to play the best down there. I wanted to win 50 per cent of my games. I went down and I realised they were no better than me, but they just didn’t make mistakes.
“I needed to practice and practice but I ended up winning three quarters of my games.”
Perfection was key to Bald’s success. He went back to the Victorian Croquet Association championships the next year in 1995 where he came second overall. In 2009 he ended up winning the Victorian men’s title.
In 2001, Bald represented Victoria at the national championships in Perth. State teams competed for the Eire Cup.
“I played for 13 years for Victoria,” Bald said.
“I won four Eire Cups and came runner-up three times. It was one of the best things I ever did. We went right around the country to compete for the cups.
“I kept going and then I retired from my work as a builder. I was always in around the top 10 in Australia, so I decided to see if I could make the Australia team.”
Bald was chosen in Australia’s reserves croquet team to play against New Zealand in 2005.
“We played in Melbourne that year,” he said.
“When I first got called up I thought that was alright. Playing that was only the second tier – to play for the top side you need to play for the MacRobertson shield.
“The next time they played, I was a reserve again in 2009. I ended up being ranked number three in Australia and I thought surely now they have to look at me for the shield team.
“I went on to represent Australia in the MacRobertson Shield in New Zealand in 2014. That was the pinnacle for me.”
Upon representing Australia, Bald was provided with his most treasured possession.
“When you represent Australia, you get a Baggy Green and it’s the same as the cricket one,” he said.
“To have that on your head is unbelievable. I don’t know how you can ever explain it, because it’s just something different. That can never be beaten.
“To represent Australia in New Zealand was unbelievable. We came third out of the four teams.
“It was very draining. The ball was very hard to keep on the lawn and we weren’t used to the conditions.
“It’s one of those things you hope to do but when you actually do it it’s fantastic.”
Bald still plays croquet but now focuses on regional tournaments.
“I don’t represent Victoria anymore, I’ve given that up,” he said. “It’s pretty hard and at the Eire Cup you play five days and get up at 5am to get ready.”
Throughout Bald’s career, croquet took him to many places. At the end of 2014 he was the 26th-ranked croquet player in the world.
He fondly remembers competing at world championships as well as an special invitational competition in America in 2006.
“I competed at my first of four world championships in England in 2005, and they didn’t have world rankings back then,” he said.
“After that I was given a special invitation to play against the best in the world in Portland, Oregan. It took me about two seconds to decide to go.
“There were nine players there playing for $7000 and I finished fifth.
“I had never been overseas before playing croquet.”
Throughout all his achievements, Bald also fondly remembers his 2011 Wimmera Sports Star of the Year award.
“That was a shock, it just came out of the blue,” he said. “I can say now I’ve retired from international croquet, but in my career I did beat three world number one players.
“I always said it takes a better man to be a loser than to be a winner, and I always stuck by that in my career.”