By Rob Trevena
“Le Boule Dawgs’, a group of faculty and students at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia formed the first Pétanque club in Athens around 2008. You may ask, what is Pétanque? The word Pétanque is a short form of the words for pieds (feet) tanqués “securely fastened,” or “nailed down,” in the local dialect. So Pétanque is a game one plays while standing. Pétanque is probably one of the oldest games in human history. It basically involves throwing or rolling a ball of some sort as close as possible to a target a few feet away. Pétanque belongs to a family of ball games that developed in the Mediterranean referred to as boules in French and bacci in Italian.
Though some say ancient Romans played something similar, the modern game is said to have been established in 1910 in the south of France. To play one needs three steel balls, called boules, and a dirt or gravel area to play on. You draw a circle on the field of play, referred to as the terrain, which may be sand or packed gravel, filled with rocks and sticks, or smooth clay and sand.
To play you stand in the circle and toss a small target ball about the size of a ping pong ball 6 to 10 meters out onto the terrain. That’s 20 to 32 feet. A target ball placed closer than 6 meters or further than 10 is not valid. Once the target ball is on the terrain the players then alternately stand in the circle and toss their steel boules trying to get as close to the target as possible. If your opponent’s boule is very close to the target you may choose to try to hit it and knock it out play. Games are divided into what the French call mènes, and we refer to as rounds. Points are tallied at the end of each round, after all of the boules have been played by both teams. The team that has the boule closest to the target ball, called a ‘bouchon’ gets one point, plus a point for every other boule that lies closer to the bouchon than the other teams nearest boule. Thus, in doubles or triples, a team could score six points, if each of their boules is closer to the bouchon than the other’s team’s best boule.
There are specific ways to toss boules and basic stances while launching the boule which add an element of skill to the game. The terrain is not necessarily groomed so dips and objects on the terrain are like hazards in the game of golf. Rolling instead of tossing boules can be pretty difficult over rough terrain so good players use spin and gravity to their advantage in placing their boules near the target. Boules are made of steel and weigh about 2 pounds.
Games are won by the first player or team to reach 13 points. From two to six people at a time may play in one game. Singles are one-on-one games played with three boules per player. Doubles and triples involve six boules per team. Games may be played with 3 players competing against one another, 2 teams of 2 players competing, or 2 teams with 3 players competing.
Great pointers can roll their boules on smooth surfaces, throw the boule high into the air, landing with precision on a specific spot selected to get the boule to the bouchon. Great pointers can spin their boules, from left-to-right or right-to-left, to avoid other boules or surface obstacles. Great shooters can hit balls at 6 to 11 meters, consistently. Games typically last between 45 minutes and two hours.
This simple game has evolved into the modern sport of Pétanque. It is very popular throughout Europe and is gaining a foothold in America. Though the ‘Le Boule Dawgs’ Pétanque Club dissolved as faculty and students moved away their legacy was revived in 2017 by the Classic City Pétanque Club.
The Classic City Pétanque Club is an amateur sports club that was formed in 2017 by a small group of Pétanque enthusiasts in Athens. With over 30 members, the club plays regularly throughout the year at the only public Pétanque terrain in Georgia, at the Lay Park and Community Center, 297 Hoyt St. The club also plays on the terrain established by the original ‘Le Boule Dawgs’ along the railroad tracks behind 585 Barber Street.
Classic City Pétanque Club is a member of the Federation of Pétanque U.S. A., the official governing body of the sport of Pétanque in the US. The FPUSA acts as a liaison between all Pétanque players and clubs in the U.S. and throughout the world.
As an FPUSA affiliated club, our members not only play in Athens but in regional tournaments in Atlanta, Florida, the Carolinas and beyond.
Pétanque is a quick and easy game to learn. It is fun social activity and is both a recreational and a competitive sport. There is no cost to play and we have extra boules for visitors interested in learning the game. Classic City Pétanque Club core values are inclusiveness, communication, sportsmanship, and fun while playing the game of Pétanque in Athens.
The Classic City Pétanque Club plays Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays and some club members play throughout the week so a pick-up game is always possible. Beginners and all ages and skill levels are welcome and are encouraged to come out and play.
Rob Trevena is president of the Classic City PétanqueClub