What to look for when you’re looking for places to play

When you’re looking around town for suitable places to play, it helps to have some basic ideas about what’s important in a playing area. Here are a list of criteria for you to keep in mind.

Such a list can also be useful when conferring with your local Parks & Recreation Department about what features are important in a petanque facility in a public park.

Here is the playing area of the National Capitol Club de Petanque in Highlands Park, Alexandria, Virginia. It has all of the features that you want in a playing area — space for five terrains, convenient metered public parking (free on the weekends) and handicapped parking, portable restrooms, benches overlooking the terrains, picnic tables, big shade trees, overhead lighting for night play, a nearby playground for the little kids, and (obviously) a pleasant location.  It also has a storage shed to which the NCCdP has a key. The shed is useful for storing rakes (for clearing fallen leaves and branches off of the pistes after rain storms), plastic circles, guest boules, etc.

Absolute requirements

  1. A venue where people feel safe and comfortable. (A public area is preferable to an isolated area.)
  2. An appropriate playing surface…
  3. … that is large enough to host at least two games, and preferably three or four.
  4. Nothing above the terrain to prevent medium-high lobs.  That includes such things as low-hanging power lines, lights, or tree branches.

Very important
There are four features that are very important. Each of these may be an absolute requirement for a significant portion of your players.

  1. convenient, affordable parking (free or inexpensive)

    Most players will need to drive to get to the petanque courts, so they will need parking. For players with mobility issues, it is important that it be easy to get from the parking area to the playing area.

  2. restrooms

    If you play regularly in a park, in an area without restrooms, the Parks Department may be willing to install portable restroom facilities in the area.  No harm in asking.

  3. shade

    Tall buildings can provide adequate shade, but the shade from tall trees is much more pleasant. In some climates, shade is an absolute necessity. Shade varies with the position of the sun and the time of day, so be sure to check the shade in the same season and at the same time of day that you expect to be playing.

  4. places to sit (picnic tables or park benches)

    Everybody occasionally needs to be able to sit down and rest. For older or disabled players, this can be an absolute necessity. For players’ companions who watch but don’t play (spouses, grandparents) this is an absolute necessity. A table can be very helpful — for leaving snacks and equipment, as a place to sit and chat, as a work platform for scorekeeping, or as a dining table for club picnics.


  1. accessible to players who use crutches or a wheelchair.

    For smaller clubs, this may not be very important. For larger clubs, especially those who know they have players with mobility issues, this is Very Important. Petanque is ideal recreation for veterans with lower-limb injuries. Remembering their special needs will be good both for them and for your club.

  2. a pleasant location (Ask yourself — “Would playing in this place be a pleasant experience?”)
  3. public foot traffic

    Petanque has always been a public, social game. Playing in a public park, surrounded by visitors and families enjoying the park, is not only traditional. It is also more fun, safer, and more likely to gain public exposure for petanque and for your club.

  4. a nearby playground area where companions with kids can wait while you play
  5. a dog-friendly area where your pooch can wait while you play
  6. water fountains
  7. facilities for club picnics (picnic tables, grills, covered event areas)
  8. lights for night play
  9. a lockable storage shed

    Very helpful for storing circles, guest booles, rakes, promotional literature, folding chairs. If your park has a shed, you can probably get a key by registering with park authorities.

Tips on how to practice effectively

If you play a lot, eventually you’ll start thinking about what you could do to improve your game.

The standard options are (a) practice, and (b) taking lessons from a coach. But petanque players in the USA don’t really have option (b). That leaves us with… practice.


So you set up a practice area in your back yard, and you get out there and start throwing boules. You see improvement, but you also wonder “Am I doing it right? Am I practicing effectively?” Maybe you wonder “How do players of other sports practice? Baseball players, for example. How do they learn to throw effectively? How do they practice? Is there anything that they know about practicing effectively that I could use in practicing petanque?”

So you go onto the Web and start googling around, looking for help and insights on ways to practice effectively.

That’s what I did. Here are some links that I found useful or interesting. Perhaps you will find them useful too.

A Better Way to Practice

The wrong way to practice golf – Why Much of the Work Golfers Do to Improve Their Games Isn’t Helping Them Get Better

The Science of How To Practice a Skill Effectively

The Psychology of Getting Unstuck: How to Overcome the “OK Plateau” of Performance & Personal Growth

Why “Deliberate Practice” Is The Only Way To Keep Getting Better
Also Deliberate Practice: What It Is and Why You Need It

✋ Aim small; miss small.

When you’re throwing, it is important to focus on a small, specific target.
Byron Putman describes it this way in his book Petanque (p. 64).

Great au fer shooters have “the eyes”… for several seconds they lock their gaze laser-like on the target boule as if it were the only object in the universe…. For some shooters locking their vision on the target boule is not enough. They create a more precise bull’s-eye by staring at a single point on the target.

This is called target focus. It is as important for accurate pointing as it is for accurate shooting. Focussing on a small and very specific spot for your donnée is important. That’s why, in the “mental” part of our page on How to throw a boule, we emphasize picking the donnée and paying attention to where the thrown boule lands.

Your mantra here is

Aim small; miss small.

Here’s a good explanation of how to do it.

Make your own jacks

There are a number of reasons why you might want to make your own jack. You need only one, and the minimum order from Petanque America is four. You want a red jack, and Obut no longer makes red jacks. You want to save a little money. You can’t wait for the mail — you need a jack TODAY.

Here’s a suggestion. Go to your local craft store or woodworker’s supply store. Buy a hardwood ball whose size is one-and-a-quarter (1.25) inches in diameter. It will probably cost you about 80 cents. Make sure that it is actually labelled as a hardwood ball.


Once you have your wooden ball, color it red with a permanent marker.


You’re probably thinking— It’s OK to be a little flexible about the size of the jack in casual play, but I would never use a home-made jack in an official competition.

But you don’t need to think of your home-made jack as a poor substitute for the “real” thing. You will find that the 1.25″ wooden balls are actually slightly smaller than 1.25″. In fact, they are just under 31mm in diameter. That means that they are within the 1mm tolerance of the official 30mm size.

Starting in 2018, the rules will specify that jacks must weigh between 10g and 18g. Your home-made jack will weigh around 13g, which places it in the middle of the required weight range. (This shouldn’t be surprising. The requirements are designed around balls made of hardwood, and that is exactly what your home-made jack is.)

In short, your home-made jack meets the legal requirements (for both size and weight) for use in competitions. In fact, although it is colored, it is not covered with a coat of paint. That actually makes it more like a traditional cochonnet than one of the painted jacks that you can buy from Obut.

So give it a try. I think you’ll find that your home-made jack is actually very nice.

A brief history of petanque in the USA

I originally planned this post as a companion to The Birth of the FPUSA. My idea was to provide a brief overview of the growth of petanque clubs in the USA. Unfortunately much of the information that I wanted was not available on the web, and I could not complete the project. Rather than simply discarding the material that I was able to collect, I post it here now, as the skeleton of what I wish I could have fleshed out into a more detailed account. — Stephen Ferg, April 2015


Starting in the early 1950s, Jean Raffa in Montréal and Jean Fuschino in Québec City began to popularize petanqe in French-speaking Canada. Jean Rafa later wrote a book, “Petanque au Québec” in which he reported that the pétanque players in Montréal and Québec City got together and formed the Federation Canadianne Bouliste Inc. The first competition of the new organization was held on Sunday July 15, 1956 at Parc Lafontaine in Montréal.


Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

Members of Le Mistral Petanque Club, probably sometime in the late 1960s

The oldest petanque club in the United States is Le Mistral Club de Pétanque, which was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts (near Boston) in 1958. Later, it evolved into the current Boston Petanque Club.

The original founding members were French expatriates who emigrated from the Armenian community in Marseilles. The club is named after the famous cold winter wind that blows down the Rhone valley and through Marseilles.

In 1966, a triplette team from Le Mistral defeated teams from Trois Riviere, Quebec to win one of the earliest tournaments held in North America. Marcel Babayan, who passed away in 2004, was president of the club for 40 years and a major factor in the success of the club.

Armenian members of Le Mistral dominated FPUSA teams to the World Championships between 1975 and 1987. Marcel Babayan represented the USA at three world championships; Albert Kallanian an incredible seven times. The club’s web site has several pages with wonderful photographs devoted to the history of the club and “the grand masters” — well worth visiting.

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh

Members of Le Mistral in 2006. Left to right — Carlo Testa, Albert Kallanian, George Bogosian (throwing) and Brian Walsh.

The next oldest club is La Boule d’Or in San Francisco, founded in 1959 by Jean Bontemps. The early members were mostly French expatriates — Jean Krauer, Jean Bontemps, André Martin, Armand Squitieri, Charles Nicolas


Photo courtesy of Monique Bricca, daughter of Armand Squitieri.

New courts in Golden Gate Park were dedicated in 1959. Before that, the group played in the Mission district next to 3rd Street. In October 1960 they had their first International Tournament, with teams from France, Canada and Tunisia. The Boule d’Or team played a Canadian team in the final game and won.


In 1962, the North American Championships (which later evolved into le Coupe des Amériques – basically, USA vs. Canada) were held in San Francisco.

Jacques Biaggini

Jacques Biaggini

When Jean Bontemps moved to Washington DC in the mid-1960s, he and Jacques Biaggini founded two clubs, La Joyeuse Boule and Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche. Early members included Maurice Ebolitto, and John and Gisele Hill. It was probably while playing at one of these two clubs that Alfred Levitt met Bontemps.

Joe Acciardi and La Joyeuse Boule still play in Maryland. Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s Les Pétancoeurs de la Maison Blanche seems to have faded from the scene, to be replaced by the National Capital Club de Petanque (NCCdP) founded by Bob Morrison.

La Boule New Yorkaise was founded in 1968 by the artist Alfred Levitt, who later went on to found the FPUSA in 1973. In the the early days Levitt and LBNY played on the gravel paths in Central Park near 106th Street. Later they moved to permanent courts in Washington Square Park, and still later to Bryant Park. LBNY is still one of the most vigorous clubs in the country.


An APA brochure. The mailing address is a PO box in Washington DC, but the telephone area code (301) is in Maryland.

Following the foundation of La Boule d’Or, a number of other clubs were established on the west coast, including La Boule Joyeuse sometime in the 1970s, and La Pétanque Marinière in 1972. One of the founding members of La Pétanque Marinière was Armand Squitieri, who had earlier been one of the founding members of La Boule d’Or.

In September 1975, the 11th World Championships were held in Québec City, Canada… the first and last time the World Championships were held in the Americas.

In 1973, Alfred Levitt founded the FPUSA in New York City. He was its first president, and stayed in office until 1985.

In 1976 Jean Bontemps founded the American Petanque Association (APA) (also known as PAM, Petanque America?) in Washington, DC. Its creation only three years after the creation of the FPUSA suggests that it was deliberately established as an alternative to the FPUSA… that is, as a national petanque organization that did NOT involve dealing with Levitt, a notoriously autocratic and difficult personality.


Note the club’s name in the upper left corner — La Joyeuse Boule — one of the two clubs that Jean Bontemps and Jacques Biaggini established in the DC area.

1982 - national championships, Washington DC

1982 – national championships, Washington DC

In 1982 a USA national championship (almost certainly the APA national championship) was held on the Mall in Washington, DC.

1983 saw the founding of another of the strongest and oldest clubs in the United states — the Los Angeles Petanque Club.

In 1988, the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club was organized in Sonoma, California, just north of San Francisco. An archive of early newsletters (1990-2003) can be found HERE.

1986 and the birth of a new FPUSA
Joseph Ardagna

Joseph Ardagna

In 1985 Alfred Levitt was forced into retirement as president of the FPUSA. When the dust had settled, Bob Morrison of the APA and Hans Jepson, the new president of the FPUSA, got together and easily negotiated a merger of the two organizations. The result was a single national organization, the FPUSA as we know it today.

Jepson served as the interim president until a new president could be elected by all of the clubs in the new Federation. The new president was Joseph Ardagna, of the Portsmouth Petanque Club.

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

The opening of the Portsmouth Petanque Club, mid-1980s

When the two organizations agreed to merge, Bob Morrison and Joe Acciardi began work on organizing the United States’ first international tournament — the Championnat International de Petanque U.S.A., which took place on the weekend before Bastille Day, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

1991 marks a milestone in American petanque — Philippe Boets started Petanque America, the first (and still the only) vendor of competition petanque boules in the USA. The little company struggled until, as Philippe tells it, “The Internet saved us. There’s no other word for it. Especially because the US was way ahead with Internet at the time. I think we in the US – the smallest market on the planet as far as boules were concerned – were the first to put a boules catalog online, shortly followed by an online store.”


The first annual Coupe des Amériques (not to be confused with the bicycling event) is held in Drummondville, Quebec. The plan is for it to be played every year, alternating between Canada and the USA. Since about 2004, it has been held in the USA in even-numbered years.


1996 marks the completion of the shift of the FPUSA’s center of gravity from the East Coast to the West Coast. Louis Toulon and Mike Norton, of the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club, are elected president and vice-president, respectively. The other officers are already from the West Coast, which means that now all five FPUSA officers are from the West Coast. Frank Pipal, also of VOMPC, agrees to become editor of the FPUSA newsletter.VOMPC_newsletter_clipping_1996

A second major milestone occurred in 2003, when Boets and Petanque America sponsored the first Petanque America Open, which has grown into THE major petanque event in the United States. The Open was held again in 2005, and then in 2009 (along with Petanque America itself) moved to its current location — Fernandina Beach, on Amelia Island, Florida.

A few noteworthy developments in the 21st century

In the United States, petanque clubs flicker into and out of existence. But there have been several recent cases where a club has shown remarkable vigor and growth.

Bob Morrison worked with the Fairfax County park authorities, and by the early 2000s the National Capitol Club de Petanque was playing on dedicated terrains in Highlands Park, Arlington, Virginia. It was there that, in 2008, the first promotional video for petanque in the USA was filmed. The distinguished-looking gentleman in the opening scene is Joe Acciardi.

In March 2006, Tim Channell moved to Fresno, California and started to organize the Fresno Petanque Club. The FPC is remarkable for the speed with which it grew and the way that it has attracted members from Fresno’s large Hmong community.

In May 2008 Arsene Dupin moved to Austin, Texas from his native France. He found a small group that played at the French Legation Museum and they formed the Heart of Texas Pétanque Club which now plays regularly at the French Legation, Pease Park, Paggi Square and the Mueller Browning Hangar.

Outside of California and the west coast (the Portland and Seattle areas), petanque’s strongest foothold in the USA is in Florida. The state has many thriving clubs. Perhaps the most remarkable is the Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach Boules Club, which was established in 2010 and has rapidly grown into the largest club in the US.

The Zanesfield Petanque Club was established in 2010 in the tiny town of Zanesfield, Ohio. Truly remarkable community participation has grown it at an astonishing rate, and it is now one of the most visible clubs in the country.

Zanesfield Petanque Club.   Click for larger view.

Zanesfield Petanque Club. Click for larger view.

Jean Bontemps — the Father of American Petanque
When I began researching this topic I wasn’t looking for “the Father of American Petanque” and I didn’t expect to find any single individual that might be a candidate for that title. But as it happens, I did.

Jean Bontemps kick-started petanque clubs on the West Coast with the organization of La Boule d’Or in San Francisco in 1959. A few years later he moved to Washington DC and pretty much did the same thing for the East Coast.

After meeting Bontemps in Washington, Alfred Levitt went to New York City and founded La Boule New Yorkaise and then the FPUSA. Bontemps himself founded the APA. When the two national organizations merged, Bontemps was the father of one and the grandfather (as it were) of the other. Personally, I think that Bontemps (rather than Alfred Levitt) should be considered the true father of today’s FPUSA.

You get to be called “the father of (something)” partly because of what you did, and partly because your story provides a good starting point for the larger story that we tell ourselves about Where We Came From. On both counts, to me Jean Bontemps looks like The Father of American Petanque.

If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy some of our other history posts.

How to watch petanque videos on YouTube

If you like to watch petanque videos on YouTube, eventually you will run across a video (like 2éme Demi-Finale PPF 2015 part 3) where things just don’t look right. The players may look too tall and thin. Or too short and squat. You may see the image on the left, when you know you should be seeing the image on the right.

The problem here is that the person who uploaded the video to YouTube made a mistake and uploaded the video with the wrong aspect ratio.

Is there something you can do about this?

The easiest solution is to go to www.videolan.org/vlc and download and install a program called VLC. VLC is a free, open-source, cross-platform multimedia video player. It is safe and reliable. Download and install it.

Once you’ve installed it, you can use VLC, rather than your browser, to play YouTube videos. Here’s how to do it.

When you’re using your browser to watch YouTube videos, and you find one with a bad aspect ratio, select (highlight) the URL (web address) of the video and copy it (press CONTROL+C, or right-click and select COPY).AspectRatio_copyYoutube_URL
Then open VLC. On VLC’s Media menu, select Open Network Stream.

Then paste (press CONTROL+V, or right-click and PASTE) the URL there, and click on PLAY.

The video will start playing.

After it starts, an easy way to change the aspect ratio is simply to repeatedly press the “A” key on your keyboard until the video displays with the correct aspect ratio. If you prefer to do things a bit more explicitly, you can use your mouse to select Video, then Aspect Ratio, then the aspect ratio that you want.

AspectRatio_VLC_LoopIf you really want to study a video, VLC has a couple of other useful features.

One is a “loop” feature. If you click on the LOOP icon, that marks the beginning of a video clip. Click a second time on the LOOP icon, and VLC starts playing that same video clip over and over, so you can watch it over and over again as long as you want. Click on the LOOP icon again, and looping stops and normal play resumes.

AspectRatio_VLC_FrameByFrameIf you click on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon, the video freezes. Then each time you click again on the FRAME-BY-FRAME icon the video advances one frame. This is the ultimate possible slow-motion playback. Clicking the wedge-shaped PLAY icon will cause VLC to resume normal display of the video.