Digby Bridges has been playing croquet since he was 16 and still enjoys the game.
“It is a thinking game similar to snooker,” said Bridges, a well-known architect and former Ocean Ridge mayor. “All ages can play and women can compete as equals.”
Bridges played croquet at the Hurlingham Club in England as a young man and won the U.S. Senior Men’s Amateur Championship about 15 years ago.
On Nov. 17, Bridges will be inducted into the United States Croquet Hall of Fame during a gala at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach.
“I am very pleased that I have been nominated,” said Bridges, 84. “I have always been devoted to the sport and building the croquet center was one of my favorite projects. The style is British Island architecture and the lawns are amazing.”
Another of his favorite designs is the Ocean Ridge Town Hall. “The good Cape Dutch architecture fits in so well in Ocean Ridge,” he said.
What didn’t fit so well, but plowed into the building before it was completed in 2008 anyway, was a twin-engine plane.
Bridges recalled that Karen Hancsak, then the town clerk, “called and said, ‘You’re not to believe this, but an airplane crashed into Town Hall.’ ”
Bridges hurried over to see for himself. “How the pilot survived, I don’t know,” he said.
He said if the plane had hit 20 feet to the west, where the town staffers were headquartered in a trailer, “it would have killed them.”
While he is no longer part of Bridges, Marsh & Associates, the firm he established in 1977, he remains in close contact with his former longtime partner Mark Marsh, also of Ocean Ridge.
“We were together for 34 years,” Bridges said. “Usually partnerships don’t last that long.”
Bridges says he still works on smaller projects and enjoys designing and working together with his wife of 20 years, Gay Bridges, a sales associate with The Corcoran Group and an interior designer.
They have a second home he designed and she decorated in Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s really delightful,” he said.
In his spare time, Bridges is working on his biography, one he had planned to write with his younger brother Campbell Bridges — a gemologist credited with discovering tsavorite, a brilliant dark green gemstone, in the 1960s. Tragically, Campbell Bridges was killed in a 2009 mob attack in Kenya in what authorities believed was a dispute over mining rights.
“He was a hell of a character,” Bridges said, “one of the most influential gemologists in the world.”
— Mary Thurwachter
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. Johannesburg. I went to Hilton College, a private prep school that was a formative part of my life. Hiking into the hills among the wild animals, camping on the weekends, cooking for myself and the discipline required to live in such an atmosphere and still study and earn good grades served me well throughout my life. My father was a geologist.
Q. What professions have you worked in? What professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
A. I worked in the restaurant business with the Beatles in London (designed and had a share in a nightclub with George Harrison and designed a glass geodesic dome for Paul McCartney), landscape business for my father’s nursery in South Africa, real estate investment and as an architect after graduating from the Architectural Association in London, and jewelry designing as a hobby.
Q. What advice do you have for a young person selecting a career today?
A. Go into law and then do architecture if you really love it, as it is the poorest paid profession … or be a builder-developer.
Q. How did you choose to make your home in Ocean Ridge?
A. I traveled throughout U.S. after leaving England and I liked the climate and the people in South Florida. I would come to visit good friends in Palm Beach and eventually founded my architectural firm in Delray. I have lived in Ocean Ridge since 1973. I’m living in my second home in Ocean Ridge. I built and designed both of them.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Ocean Ridge?
A. The diversity of the people and the friendliness.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. Just finished Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill. Now I’m reading about the gold mines in South Africa as my father was a geologist who worked for Central Mining in South Africa.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. Most any kind of music can inspire me. I usually listen late at night if I am unable to sleep.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. A teacher at Hilton and my father.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. I have quite a story to tell and am working on a book about my life. Hopefully, it will be movie material. Don’t know who would play me. Maybe someone like Sean Connery, only younger. Jeff Bridges might be OK, but he’s American and would have to do the accent well.
Q. Is there something most people don’t know about you, but should?
A. Love memories, very sensitive, but have a tough shell.
If You Go
What: The United States Croquet Hall of Fame Gala
Theme: Red Hot-Havana Night
Member to be inducted into the Croquet Hall of Fame: Digby Bridges
Where: Charles P. Steuber National Croquet Center, 700 Florida Mango Road, West Palm Beach
When: Nov. 17. Cocktails at 5 p.m.; ceremony at 6; dinner, dancing and silent auction at 7.
Tickets: $235; proceeds help support the National Croquet Center and the many Croquet Foundation of America charitable programs.
For tickets or information: Call 478-2300, ext. 3