The world is their
crushed oyster shell
By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY
When it came time to infuse the family
yard with some fun, Susie Roy quickly dismissed the local staple
— a hot tub — and stole a page from Italian culture. Some
$10,000 later, she and husband Denis had their own bocce court.
"It's low-maintenance, and our three kids
just love it," says Susie Roy, who lives in Mill Valley, Calif.,
just outside San Francisco. "Besides, what other outdoor game
can you play with a glass of wine in your hand?"
Similar to British lawn bowling and the
French pétanque, Italy's bocce (pronounced bo-chay)
involves rolling grapefruit-size balls as close as possible to a
smaller white ball, or pallino. Touch it and that's a vaunted
The USA has a few hundred public and
private bocce courts, and even fields teams in international
competitions. But this ancient game is rapidly moving beyond the
cloistered walls of Italian-American social clubs.
While Northern California appears to be
spearheading the backyard court trend, interest is on the rise
"My Web site gets hits and questions from
all over," says David Brewer, whose San Rafael, Calif.,
landscaping business has morphed into a company called Boccebrew.
"People like the fact that bocce courts are cheaper and take up
less room than pools or tennis courts. And they're social
In the past three years, Brewer has built
47 courts around the San Francisco Bay Area. Growth areas
include corporate offices (he built two courts at Yahoo's
Sunnyvale headquarters) and private homes. Prices push $13,000
for regulation 12-by-91-foot models. For the do-it-yourself
crowd, Brewer offers step-by-step instructions for $250.
Crowds have gotten so big over at Campo
di Bocce, a $2 million facility in Los Gatos, that general
manager Joe Morelli suggests visitors consider building home
courts and supplies a flier with guidelines. (The base is 4
inches of ground granite; the top is a blend of sand and crushed
John and Andrea Ross of nearby Monte
Sereno took Morelli up on it. John spent the better part of last
year building his bocce court, in time for Andrea to practice
for the Women's World Championship in Ossana, Italy. (Her
quartet finished 10th of 16.)
"I think John lost 20 pounds building
that court," Andrea jokes. "But now we have it for practice and
parties." The Rosses recently raised $5,000 for a local hospital
by offering dinner and bocce lessons at their house.
The game's inclusiveness helps explain
"I've seen four generations out on a
court, and there's no telling who the best player is. Try that
with a basketball hoop," says Ken Dothee of US Bocce, an
organizing body whose magazine of the same name has 50,000
Bryan Mero of San Ramon, Calif., didn't
know how to pronounce bocce six years ago. Now he sings the
pastime's praises through his iBocce.com site, where hits have
risen from 150 a year to 300 a day. "I've had e-mails from guys
in Minnesota who play inside barns and women in northern Arizona
who like playing in the snow," he says.
Will Mero build his own court?
"I really want to," he says. "I'll have
to get my wife on board, because it would mean getting rid of
Now that might be harder than
kissing the pallino