If you’re thinking about building your own petanque court (i.e. boulodrome), the first thing you should ask yourself is — “Do I really need to do this?”
Remember that petanque, as invented and played in France, is often played on natural terrains — city squares or parks. It is often played on walkways that consist of nothing but gravel or crushed stone laid down directly on the bare earth.
If you live in the American Southwest, you probably don’t need to build a terrain at all. The weather is so dry that your best bet is a natural terrain, like the Palm Springs (California) Petanque Club.
On the other hand, if you have water issues (or need to carve a petanque terrain out of a grassy area) you will need to engineer a terrain with a foundation that provides good drainage, especially if—
- you live in a wetter climate
- your soil is rocky or hard clay, so it does not allow rain to drain quickly
- you want to be able to play on the terrain within a short time after a rain
Basically, you want to avoid situations like this if possible. (Photo courtesy of Gary Jones, Carolina Petanque)
How big should it be?
A handy rule-of-thumb — 3 meters = 10 feet
When someone starts thinking about building their own terrain, their first question is usually “What are the official dimensions of a petanque terrain?” The answer is that there are no specifications for an exact size. The FIPJP (the international petanque federation) specifies that for regional competitions the terrain must be a minimum of 3m x 12m (10′ x 40′). For national and international competitions the terrain must be a minimum of 4m x 15m (13′ x 50′). The national competition size (4m x 15m, or 13′ x 50′) is usually considered the “standard” size for a petanque terrain.
To be able to throw the jack to the maximum legal distance (10m) you will need a length of at least 12 meters. For a home court, we recommend at least the regional size— 3m x 12m (10′ x 40′). If it is possible to make it longer than 40 feet, closer to 50 feet, you will probably be happier with it.
For a boulodrome in a public park, we recommend a square court 17m x 17m (55′ x 55′), enclosed by a wooden surround. This provides a playing area of 16m x 16m, which can be divided (either north/south or east/west) by boundary strings into four 4m x 16m terrains, with dead-ball strings installed 30cm (12″) inside the wooden surround on all four sides. A gravel walkway around the outside of the wooden surround is an optional but nice feature that also helps keep grass from invading the playing area. ▲
How do I build it?
Here are a few pages that may be helpful —
- Brian Forbes – designing and building a petanque terrain (v3, 2021)
- How to construct a petanque terrain from Petanque New Zealand
There are also videos on Youtube that give you a good idea of the process.
- Building the new courts for the New York Petanque Club
- (Building a) Petanque pitch
- Création piste pétanque
- Construire mon terrain de petanque
- Création piste de pétanque
- Driving rebar with a demolition hammer
There are many more bocce players than petanque players in the USA. Over the years they have built up a body of expertise in court construction. We petanque players should take advantage of it. So if you’re looking for information on how to build your own terrain, you might try this—
- Look for information on how to construct a bocce court.
- Ignore instructions for high backboards— although you will want a low wooden surround.
- Pick a surface material that is rougher than most bocce courts. (No AstroTurf!)
- Adjust the court dimensions.
boccemon.com sells just about everything related to bocce. In particular, it has several pages of great information on how to build bocce courts, including especially its pages on court installation and court perimeters. It also sells an instructional DVD on how to make a bocce court. ▲
The US Bocce Federation (USBF) once published this colorful image. Click on the image to open a larger view. ▲
Youtube is amazing. You can find a video to tell you how to do just about anything. Search for “BOCCE OR PETANQUE COURT BUILD OR CONSTRUCTION” and you’ll find a lot of great information. For example, this video tells you (in two minutes!) what a French drain is. ▲
How much does it cost to build a petanque terrain?
When you’re considering building your own petanque terrain, THE question, of course, is “How much will it cost?” And of course, as always, the frustrating answer is — “It depends.” It depends on what you want to build and where you want to build it.
- What are your local climate conditions? Does it freeze in the winter? How many inches of rain and snow do you get during a year?
- What is your local soil like — sand, dirt, clay? Characteristics of your local soil and climate will determine how rugged the construction needs to be to withstand extreme weather, how deep the foundation needs to be to insure proper drainage, and so on. And those things will affect the cost.
- After a heavy rain, do you want to be able to play on the court within a matter of hours? Or of days?
- How big do you want the court to be? The bigger it is, the more material, time, and labor will be required.
- What is the topography of your chosen site? Building a court on ground that is already flat and level is relatively straightforward. But if you’re planning on building on a slope (e.g. the side of a hill) you may need to dig out the uphill side of the court and construct a retaining wall, put down infill on the downhill side and construct a retaining wall, or both. REMEMBER… Gravity Never Sleeps. Rainwater that now runs down the side of the hill will in the future want to run right into your new petanque court. So a hillside site poses special drainage issues. That’s also true of a nice level site… if it is at the foot of a hill or in a natural depression in the ground.
- Do you want to go bare-bones or luxury-level? Do you want benches and tables for spectators? Lights for night play? A utility shed to hold boules, lawn chairs, rakes, and other maintenance equipment?
- What material do you want to use for the surface? In general, decomposed granite (DG) is your best bet, but in some areas other suitable materials (e.g. crushed volcanic cinders) may be available and economical. Bocce players like a surface of crushed seashell, but note that seashell requires regular maintenance and is prone to getting over-grown with moss and algae.
- What material do you want to use for the surround? Will old railroad ties work? How about lumber? Concrete? Brick? (Is there a lot of termite activity in your area? Wood might not be the best choice.)
- How remote or accessible is your site? That is: How difficult is it to get construction materials to the site?
- What will be the cost for material and delivery of materials? (Often the delivery costs for a truckload of crushed stone are greater than the costs for the stone itself.) It is a good idea to make a list of the materials that you expect to need. Depending on your design, it may include multiple loads of crushed rock of different sizes, a layer of weed barrier, french drains, materials for the surround, and so on.
- What are the rates for rental of construction equipment? You may need to rent a power tamper to compact the layers of the surface, power equipment to drive rebar stakes for a railroad-tie surround, etc.
- Who is going to do the work? Are you going to do all or some of the work yourself? Or are you going to hire labor? If so, what are the local rates for labor?
With this many variables to consider, about the best we can say is that your new petanque court will probably cost somewhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars.
Get an estimate from a local contractor. Talking over the project with a professional will give you useful information about important things to consider. With his experience, he will have good ideas about site preparation. His proposal will give you a rough idea of what labor and materials will cost. All of this will be useful information when you sit down to make the decision whether to have a contractor do the project, or to do it yourself.▲
Designing and Building a Petanque Terrain
Before he retired, Brian Forbes was in charge of building and maintaining the petanque courts for the Nottingham City Petanque Club (NCPC) in Nottingham, England. He has experience in building and maintaining more than 30 international-sized petanque pistes. He’s graciously given us permission to host his paper on Designing and Building a Petanque Terrain.
Here’s a photo of the NCPC courts. Click for a larger image.
Some construction ideas