Affectionately called “Italian lawn bowling,” the sport of bocce has been around in one form or another since ancient times. Unlike other ball sports, bocce is unique in that it is both calming and competitive, making it an obvious choice for active adults interested in low-stakes fun. According to the United States Bocce Federation, the sport has over 25 million enthusiasts and players throughout the country, with a large number of participants aged 50 and older. Before you gather on the green, take a look at our comprehensive guide below to learn about all things bocce.
History of Bocce
Throwing weighted balls at a fixed target has been a popular pastime for centuries. Bocce is believed to have originated in Egypt as early as 5200 B.C., making its way to Greece around 800 B.C. before spreading throughout the Roman Empire. Players used coconuts and rocks as balls in early days, eventually transitioning to carved wooden balls. While all ranks of people delighted in the sport, it was particularly favored among nobility across nations and eras, including Emperor Augustus, Queen Elizabeth I, and Sir Francis Drake.
Today’s bocce game was developed in Italy and popularized by Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi. The sport quickly became popular throughout Europe, eventually prompting the creation of the sport’s highest governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Boules. Bocce was brought to the United States by Italian migrants in the early 1900s as a social tradition, usually played by men with drinks in hand and without women or children in attendance. In the 21st century, bocce has developed a strong following of players spanning all backgrounds and skill levels because of its inclusive attitude and emphasis on enjoyment.
One of the main appeals of bocce is that it is a low-maintenance sport. Participants need only have access to a bocce ball set, as no personal equipment is required for gameplay.
Bocce balls are sold in sets ranging from $20 to well over $100 and contain eight colored balls–four of each color, typically red and green–and one smaller ball, called the jack or pallino. The balls are generally made of wood, plastic, or a composite material. In bocce volo, a variant of traditional bocce, players use metal balls. Official regulations dictate that balls have a diameter of 107 millimeters (4.2 inches) and a weight of 920 grams (roughly two pounds).
Bocce courts span a full range of sizes and surfaces. The game can be played on a variety of indoor and outdoor surfaces including grass, sand, clay, or asphalt. Regulation-sized courts are 91 feet long by 13 feet wide, but the size can be adapted to accommodate space considerations. So long as the court is mostly flat and marked with the center and foul lines, play can commence.