Frequently Asked Questions about the game of petanque
For questions about the rules of petanque, see the FAQs page at the Rules of Petanque web site.
- What is petanque?
- What is the difference between boules, petanque and bocce?
- What is the standard or regulation size for a petanque court?
- How can I build or construct my own petanque court?
- Where can I find/download a copy of the rules of petanque?
- What is a petanque “league”?
- Will petanque ever become an Olympic sport?
- How do you tell the balls apart? They all look the same to me!
What is petanque? ▲
Think of pétanque (pronounced “pay-TONK”) as horseshoes with balls. The aim of the game is to toss or roll a number of hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden target ball. It is sort of like marbles, sort of like shuffleboard, and sort of like curling.
TV news stories are a great way learn about petanque quickly. Watch the first two and you’ll have a good idea of the basics.
- Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Augusta, Maine
- St. Augustine, Florida
- Fresno, California and Fresno, California
- Santa Monica, California
- Austin, Texas
- New York City
What is the difference between boules, petanque and bocce? ▲
“Petanque” and “boules” are two different names for the same game. In French, the word “boule” means “ball” and in France people often refer to the game simply as boules (pronounced BOOL). Outside of France the game is usually referred to as “petanque” (pronounced pay-TONK).
In the United States, more people play bocce than petanque, so when an American sees a group playing petanque, the first question that he is likely to ask— after: “What is that game?”— is: “What’s the difference between petanque and bocce?”
The two games are cousins. Bocce is Italian. Petanque is French. The rules of the games are similar, but the equipment and the way the games are played is different.
- Petanque balls (boules) are made of steel. Competition-quality boules are hollow; cheaper “leisure” boules may be filled with sand. Bocce balls are solid. Traditionally they were made of wood, but nowadays they are usually made of hard epoxy resin.
- Petanque balls are smaller than bocce balls.— think of an orange vs. a grapefruit, or a baseball vs. a softball… a really fat softball. A typical petanque boule is 73mm (just under 3″) in diameter, while a standard bocce ball is 107mm (4.2″).
- Petanque balls also weigh less than bocce balls. A typical petanque boule weighs around 680g (1.5 lb), while a standard bocce ball weighs 920g (2 lbs).
- Bocce balls are usually painted or colored in at least two different colors (one color for each team). Petanque boules are plain steel with different sets being indicated by different patterns of grooves (French: stries). Each player knows his own set by its pattern of grooves.
- Because a bocce ball is relatively large and heavy, bocce is basically a rolling game, that is: a game in which players roll the balls toward the target. Because a petanque boule is smaller and lighter, petanque is a throwing game. This difference leads to a difference in the way balls are thrown in the two games. In both games, the ball is thrown “under arm” as in softball, and not “over arm” as in baseball. In bocce, a player
throwsrolls the ball “under handed” with the palm up, so that the ball rolls off of the fingers onto the court. In petanque, a player throws the ball “back handed” (the back of the hand is up) and with a backward flick of the wrist as the ball leaves the hand. This allows a player (if he wishes) to throw a very high lob, something that you will never see in bocce.
- Although bocce can be played on a lawn or grassy area, serious bocce is played on a dedicated court or lane with a long, smooth surface enclosed by wooden sideboards. Some bocce courts are true works of art and things of beauty. Petanque, in comparison, can be played almost anywhere. In public parks, gravel walking paths and open areas of hard-packed dirt make excellent petanque playing grounds. In such spaces, the petanque terrain is considered “open”— there are no wooden sideboards; there aren’t even any out-of-bounds areas.
In Europe, when a petanque club has its own dedicated boulodrome, the entire playing area is enclosed by sideboards, and it is subdivided into lanes by strings strung tightly between nails driven into the ground. There are no wooden sideboards between lanes.
- Petanque and bocce courts are approximately the same width— 13 feet (4m)— but a bocce court is significantly longer than a petanque court. A world-championship petanque court is 50 feet (15m) long. Depending on who you ask, a standard or regulation bocce court may be 76 feet (23m) or 91 feet (28m).
- Because of its size and its requirement for sideboards and a smooth surface, a bocce court is expensive to build and requires regular ongoing maintenance to stay playable. A petanque playing area (an outdoor boulodrome) costs much less to build and maintain— basically, about as much as a gravel pathway.
- People sometimes ask: Can you play petanque on a bocce court? The answer is NO. The surface of most bocce courts is too smooth to be suitable for petanque. Even when the surface is suitable (e.g. hard-packed dirt) you should not play petanque on a bocce court— high lobs will rapidly destroy the nice smooth surface and ruin the court for the bocce players.
What is the standard or regulation size for a petanque court? ▲
There are no specifications for an exact size. The FIPJP (the international petanque federation) specifies minimum dimensions for terrains in FIPJP-sanctioned competitions. For regional competitions the terrain must be at least 3m x 12m (10′ x 40′). For national and international competitions the terrain must be at least 4m x 15m (13′ x 50′). So 4m x 15m (13′ x 50′) is usually considered the “standard” size for a petanque terrain.
For a home court, we recommend at least 3m x 12m (10′ x 40′). To be able to throw the jack to the maximum legal distance (10m) you will need a length of at least 12 meters. If it is possible to make it longer, closer to 50 feet, you will probably be happier with it.
For a boulodrome in a public park, we recommend a square 16.6m x 16.6m (55′ x 55′), divided by boundary strings into four standard-sized terrains (4m x 15m) with dead-ball strings installed 30cm (12″) inside the wooden surround on all four sides. ▲
What is a petanque “league”? ▲
In petanque, a “league” is a group of individual teams (typically from the same town or community) that play each other in a prearranged order and on a prearranged schedule during a period of time called a “season”. Pre-season activities involve registering teams and setting up the schedule of games. At the end of the season, the results of the individual games are totaled and used to determine an overall champion for the season. (See the Wikipedia article on sports league.)
League play seem to be especially popular in retirement communities and seasonal communities (e.g. RV parks in the desert Southwest in the winter). ▲
How do you tell the balls apart? They all look the same to me! ▲
This is a common problem for new players. Don’t worry— with time and experience it will become easy to tell one player’s set from another’s. Here are some tips to get you started.
- Look at the color of the boule. It may be silver or gold. It may have a polished or matte finish. It may have colored paint or magic marker in the grooves. It may be new and shiney, or old and rusty.
- Look for the number and pattern of the grooves. Leisure boules usually have a very limited set of groove patterns, but competition boules have a much larger set of available patterns. In a boule with single grooves, the grooves may be narrow (set close together) or wide (set farther apart). For more about groove patterns, see THIS.