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Honk if You Love Petanque

Mon dieu! A stealthy, low-flying French sport has invaded Athens! Yes, it’s true—this invasive sport is called pétanque (pronounced “pay-tonk”), one of several variations of French “boules.” 

Pétanque is an institution in France, played throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and becoming more popular in the U.S. It was widely expected that pétanque would become an event in the 2024 Summer Olympics to be held in France, but it was beaten out by breakdancing. What? Breakdancing a sport? Quelle horreur! Oh well, maybe pétanque for the 2028 Olympics.

Though pétanque is a sport, it evolved in Athens as both a sporting and social activity under the auspices of the UGA Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program, and remains both sporting and social today. A number of players later separated from OLLI and formed the Classic City Pétanque Club (CCPC), affiliated with the Federation Petanque USA. Now 48 members strong, the CCPC plays several times a week at Athens’ own Lay Park, right behind the Lyndon House Arts Center, where it has 10 pétanque courts. (See or for more information.)

Besides a playing surface, pétanque requires a set of three baseball-sized steel “boules” (French for “balls”), a wooden target ball slightly smaller than a ping-pong ball (officially called a “jack” and colloquially called a “cochonnet,” French for “little pig”) and a plastic circle 50 centimeters in diameter. Players (men and women from age 12 to senior level) are divided into two teams, with one, two or three players per team.

A player starts a game by standing in the circle and throwing the jack 6–10 meters from the circle. The player then throws the first boule, underhanded, as close to the jack as possible. That boule is said to “hold the point.” An opposing player then steps into the circle and throws a boule in an attempt to gain the point by either throwing his or her boule closer to the jack than the opponent’s boule or knocking the opponent’s boule away. The game then continues with the team not holding the point playing next, until all boules have been played. The boule closest to the jack then scores a point, and each of that team’s boules closer to the jack than the opposing team’s closest boule also scores a point. The first team to score 13 points wins the game. Google “petanque video” to watch instructional videos.

There are two types of throws: “pointing” and “shooting.” Pointing means trying to throw a boule closer to the jack than the opponent’s closest boule, while shooting means trying to knock the opponent’s boule away from the jack. Both styles can be intense and dramatic. Pointing a boule to an inch from the jack to outpoint an opponent’s boule two inches from the jack is very rewarding, while the metallic clash of a shot boule slamming into an opponent’s boule is especially thrilling.

The CCPC welcomes new members. You can come out and just watch, or borrow a set of boules and start playing right away. One of the regular members will be happy to guide you through a game. Don’t worry if you aren’t very good. It’s a given that you will improve with playing. Some of our best players started off lousy, but fortunately liked the game well enough to keep at it. The CCPC play times are Tuesday (10 a.m. and 6 p.m.), Thursday (10 a.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). When the weather gets cooler in the fall, play times will shift to 1 p.m.

So go on out to Lay Park and check it out. You will find pétanque players to be friendly folk who will welcome you, either as an observer or a new player and club member.