When Sonoma started playing bocce, it wasn’t yet the hip thing to do. How things have changed.
Now every luxury home worth its mortgage has a 90-foot bocce course, or a similar petanque court, for residents (or vacation renters) to enjoy an ancient, civilized sport that usually doesn’t even break a sweat.
Unless, perhaps it’s a competition. This weekend, the tenth anniversary of Bocce Sonoma, the local organization will hold its annual Bocce Sonoma Tournament, from Friday at 9 a.m. through Sunday, Sept. 14-16.
This year’s tournament will consist of 15 teams and more than 100 players, according to Barry Walner, chair of Bocce Sonoma.
“We do not play at all on the national or international level but focus on having a large group of local players,” said Walner. While the tournament includes players from the local Bocce Sonoma, it’s only a small percentage of local bocce enthusiasts. Walner put the number of players at “over 500” in 15 leagues of four to eight teams, which typically play only other teams in their league.
Bocce Sonoma was started by the Greve-in-Chiani Sonoma Sister Cities committee, whose members included avid players Ken and Pat McTaggart.
This year the last day of the tournament, Sunday, Sept. 16, includes a ceremony for founding member Ken McTaggart, who passed away this past year. “A plaque commemorating Ken’s contributions will be mounted on our information board,” said Walner.
Sunday will include other post-tournament events, starting at the Depot Park courses at about 4 p.m. There will be an awards ceremony for the top four finishers, the McTaggart dedication, and the annual picnic for around 250 members, friends and family of Bocce Sonoma.
A neighboring organization, sharing the Depot Park courts, is the Valley of the Moon Petanque Club. It’s even older, having been founded in 1998 by another of Sonoma’s Sister Cities, Chambolle-Musigny in the Côte-d’Or.
While petanque and bocce (sometimes spelled bocci) are similar – and related to other old European games like lawn bowling and boules – they have different rules, different balls, different courts.
The bocce court is specified at 90 feet in length, though its width can vary from 8 to 13 feet. Petanque courts, or “terrain,” are more “ad hoc,” their borders laid out on the spot.
But both use a small target ball called a jack (or a “pallino,” as Italian bocce players call it), and team members take turns rolling three balls toward to pallino, trying to come as close to it as they can for points.
Walner elaborated on some of the differences. “Theirs is French in origin and ours is Italian. We are both located adjacent to one another in Depot Park but the two properties do not overlap.”
Bocce players roll the ball down the course in an underhand motion more like bowling (another sport that derives from boules), while petanque players toss their lighter, smaller ball up to bounce toward the target, but the points system is similar.
And in answer to the most crucial question, “I do not know if any of our players are also petanque players, but I would tend to doubt it.”
Walner suggested that since the games are similar, when someone picks up one of them there’s no real need to play the other. “I might have fallen in love with petanque if I’d played that first,” he said.