Balls, buddies and beverages in your back yard.

In these odd times, we are looking for something more than a BYOB glass a wine at a six-foot remove from friends.  If your ‘inner competitor’ is looking for a challenge – Bocce, Boules and Pétanque have been bringing people together outdoors for centuries. You can cheer (and jeer) from a distance and only touch your own balls.  Boule is pronounced BOOL and Pétanque is pay-TONK. These games trace their origins to classical antiquity, have traveled with the armies of Rome and evolved locally as they took root.

My aunt and uncle are in a Pétanque league in the Alexander Valley.  This group of sophisticated friends blend wine, food and competition with tournaments consisting of challenges which rotate among their homes. Hint: The games usually wind down at dusk, cocktail hour. My kids play Boules in Central Park in NYC and Alta Vista Park in SF and we have a Bocce pitch in Florida.

Boules ball set

Pétanque and Boules are the same French game.  ‘Boules’ translates to ‘ball’ and Pétanque is the name of the larger balls which are made of hollow or sand filled steel. They are about 3” in diameter and weigh about a pound and a half.  The small target ball which begins the game is called a cochonnet. Players have their own balls which are distinguished by the ‘stries’, patterns of lines etched into the metal, unique to each pair of balls. With these small, light balls, Pétanque and Boules are throwing/tossing games. Players stand still when they toss and release the ball with their palm down, so they get a backspin.

Boules and Pétanque are free of boundary constraints.  Teams are traditionally made of three players who throw two balls each, but two players can each toss three balls. The player who starts the leg must first draw a circle around her feet with a diameter of between 14 and 20 inches. Often, the ‘measuring baguette’ is used to perform this duty – you’ve got to love the French (no rulers or measuring tape when a loaf of bread will do!).   Players must keep both feet on the ground and within this circle when throwing. The player who throws the cochonnet (target ball) chooses the direction and the surface, often thin gravel or sand – but your backyard grass is fine, tree roots and all.  The player or team with the ball closest to the cochenet is ‘best boule’.  Pétanque and Boules Rules.

French Boules/Petanque set with eight stainless steel balls.  $72.44

Bocce balls and boule

Bocce, pronounced ‘bot-chee’, is an Italian rolling game and it is the most popular of these games in the U.S.  A team has from one to four players. The balls are larger and heavier than their French cousins – 4.2” in diameter and 2 lbs. each, so they are rolled off an open palm rather than thrown or tossed. A set of eight balls includes four of each color and within each color, pairs of balls are distinguished by line patterns. There are ‘official’ Bocce courts, but you can play on any terrain – especially your backyard.  The target ball, with a 2” diameter, is called a ‘pallino’.

A coin toss decides which player or team rolls the pallino (target) into place – from 25 to 50 feet away.  The first player then takes a step as he rolls a bocce ball toward the pallino. Players roll the eight large bocce balls individually or in teams in an attempt to get closest to the pallino.  It is strategic and competitive.  You can knock your opponent’s ball away from the pallino when it is your turn to roll.  You or your partnership earn one point for each bocce ball which is closest to the pallino.  The first person or team to earn 12 points wins. If your ball comes to rest touching the pallino, you earn two points for ‘the kiss’.  Court Bocce Standard Rules.

Boules and bocce balls

AmazonBasics Bocce Ball Set. $45.93

These are French and Italian social games with traditions – which include beverages.

Pétanque, Bocce and Boules

Pétanque and Boules are played while drinking chilled Pastis (an anise-flavored spirit with licorice root). It is usually diluted with five parts water to one part Pastis. With the addition of water, the clear pastis becomes cloudy. A cold rosé or white wine are good substitutes.

There is a cocktail called a Bocce Ball, with Amaretto and orange juice.

I like to offer an interesting, non-alcoholic option for guests.  Check out our ASE article on Equally Attractive Non-alcoholic Beverages – EANABS.