Head Outside With Local Lawn Game Enthusiasts

It’s All Fun and Games

By Chelsea Risley

 

Games of all kinds ranging from badminton to giant Jenga are an idyllic way to spend time with family and friends in the backyard, especially in the South, where good weather can be found nearly year-round. Whether you’re seriously competitive or just serious about having fun, read on for the stories behind some of the most widely beloved games – croquet, cornhole, bocce, and pétanque – plus tips and tidbits from local lawn game enthusiasts.

 

Photography by Ryan Long & Jered Scott/Volume Collective

On Location at Chanticleer Inn Bed & Breakfast and Moxy Chattanooga

CORNHOLE

 

There are many possible origins of cornhole and many impassioned supporters of each legend. Some say the game was invented by members of the Blackhawk tribe in Illinois, others contend it was a farmer in Kentucky, and still others credit a German cabinet-maker in the 1300s with popularizing the game in Europe. One version of that story claims that German immigrants brought it to Cincinnati, Ohio, where its popularity took off in the U.S.

Perhaps the most evidence-based theory is that cornhole evolved from a game called Parlor Quoits, patented in 1883 by Heyliger de Windt, which consisted of a slanted board with a square hole. The game has had many iterations since then and is called by many things – bean bag toss, bags, baggo, hillbilly toss, to name a few – but its popularity today can arguably be traced back to a 1974 Popular Mechanics article detailing how to build your own “Bean-bag bull’s-eye.”

 

 

Chris Lusk and Whitney Hollifield playing cornhole in the distance.

 

The game has ballooned from a casual pastime to a professional sport with the founding of the American Cornhole League (ACL) in 2016. As the official governing body of cornhole in the U.S., it establishes the regulations and hosts tournaments for amateurs, pros, college students, and kids. ESPN began airing cornhole starting in 2017, and the ACL hopes to grow the sport worldwide and eventually make it an Olympic sport.

Of course, it’s still the perfect backyard party or tailgating activity. “The original intent of the game was to have fun,” says Chris Lusk, who has played cornhole locally for years. “The opportunity for meeting new folks with a similar passion for the game is one of the things I have enjoyed most. Whether it’s learning something about the game from a different perspective, or just learning about another person, it’s always a meaningful experience.”

 

The Trickiest Skills

Garnet Chapin
The croquet jump shot requires the player make their ball “jump” into the air to clear another ball between theirs and the wicket. I regard it to be something of an art, and it inevitably elicits a rousing cheer from all of the players and spectators.

Chris Lusk
In cornhole, airmail shots are when you throw the bag directly into the hole without touching the board. I feel it takes the most precision of any shot taken.

Frank Knight
The trickiest bocce skill to perfect would be what we would call touch, or the “punta” roll – rolling the ball at the speed necessary to get as close as possible to the target ball, the pallino.

Ken Chance
There are two basic skills in pétanque: pointing, placing your thrown ball (or boule) close to the target ball (the cochonnet); and shooting, throwing your boule to displace an opponent’s boule or the cochonnet. Learning to point with consistency takes the longest to learn. Shooting is showy, but pointing is the dominant skill.

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CROQUET

There is much debate about how and where croquet originally came to be. The game as we know it today is said to have evolved from a French game, paille-maille, which was played as early as the 13th century and was later introduced in England in the 16th century. In paille-maille, or pall-mall in English, a wooden mallet was used to hit a ball through a hoop, and to score, the ball had to touch a peg. The concept grew from there, and modern-day croquet includes a series of wickets that must be played through in a certain order.Though the rules can vary by country, in the United States, casual lawn croquet is played with nine wickets and two stakes. Competitive croquet is played with only six wickets and one stake in the center of the court, and it requires heavier equipment and much shorter wickets. A standard court is 100 feet by 50 feet, though you can pick up a set and adjust the court size to play in any flat grassy area, as long as there are six feet between each stake and its nearest wicket. The game can be played in singles or doubles, and wicket scores are made by passing a ball through the right wicket in the right direction and sequence. Local croquet aficionado, Garnet Chapin, enjoys the friendly competition, but always keeps the main goal in mind – “though we all want to be on the winning team, everyone is having fun!”

 

The Lookout Battleground Croquet Club

 

Like many lawn games, croquet is wonderful for building community – Chapin explains that he’s “refreshed old friendships and made numerous new ones out on the croquet court.” He and his friends turn a game into a social occasion by bringing food and drinks to share and enjoy the day at the regulation half-court he restored to its original 1920s glory in his backyard.

 

All-Star Moments & Memories

Garnet Chapin
I was playing with Chattanooga friends at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach and took lessons from their pro on the jump shot. My favorite method was to face away from the ball and strike down on the ball to make it jump over the obstructing ball and through the wicket. On the final strike, I was able to jump over my opponent’s ball for the win. Our loud cheering may have interrupted the decorum of the National Center, but it was great fun!

Chris Lusk
There have been many. But, I would have to say probably winning my first cornhole tournament. It was a small local tournament, nothing big, but it was still pretty cool to win. Admittedly, it was mostly due to my partner though.

Frank Knight
My favorite memories are of the annual tournaments that were once held at Bluff View Bocce Court. A couple of Italian Americans from Chicago and Boston ran the tournament, and it was great to meet them and learn more about bocce from them.

Ken Chance
One year I went with friends to Mondial la Marseillaise à Pétanque, the world championship of pétanque in Marseilles. Eventually the final two teams met in the main stadium, with 20,000 or so watching. Every boule throw was awaited with absolute silence, and then met with gasps, applause, shouting, groans of sympathy – it was clear that every single person in attendance themselves played. What sporting event does one ever attend where every spectator is also an avid player?

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BOCCE

The earliest known documentations of ancient games similar to bocce include stone spheres from a Neolithic city in modern-day Turkey dated around 7000 B.C.E., reports the Federazione Italiana Bocce, and a painting from around 5200 B.C.E. discovered in an Egyptian tomb, according to the World Bocce League. From there, the game was eventually picked up by the Greeks and passed on to the Romans, where it gained great popularity. The name bocce comes from the Latin word for ball, bottia. Bocce actually became so popular that in 1319 C.E., it was banned for everyone in the Roman Empire except the nobility because it was seen as a distraction from more important tasks. However, as time went on, the game gained more and more approval, and by the 15th century, some doctors in France were even convinced it was the cure for rheumatism.

 

Frank Knight; Below: Gary Harwell, Frank Knight playing bocce ball.

 

Still widely beloved today, bocce is the third most popular sport in the world, behind soccer and golf. The first world bocce championships were held in Italy in 1948, and it’s been an event at the Special Olympics since 1991. A regulation bocce court is 91 feet long by 13 feet wide, but you can change the dimensions for a more casual game in the backyard, park, or beach. The game can be played with up to eight players split into two teams of even numbers. Bocce balls are typically made of resin or hard plastic, though originally they were made out of solid wood.

As local bocce lover and tournament organizer, Frank Knight, explains, bocce is so prominent because it’s a relatively accessible game, and competitiveness can range from family fun to international competition. “It’s a great combination of luck, skill, and camaraderie among bocce players. I’ve certainly made lifelong friendships in the bocce club,” Knight says.

 

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Pétanque is a version of French lawn bowling (boules) that came from Provence in southern France. In the early 1900s, a style of boules where players took three steps before throwing their balls was very popular. One of the game’s great former champions, Jules Lenoir, had rheumatism and couldn’t take the required steps anymore, so his friend, Ernest Pitiot, suggested that they shorten the pitch by half and stand stationary in a designated circle instead of running up to throw the ball. This is where the game gets its name – pieds tanqués in the original Provençal dialect, which means “feet planted” – and because of this rule change, pétanque is very accessible. As local pétanque devotee Kenneth Chance reiterates, “There are no barriers of age, gender, or athleticism.” It’s addictive to play, and “pétanquers usually become fast friends, since it is a bit of a rare sport in the U.S.,” he shares.

 

Peter Chung, Ken Chance, Lily Chung, Maureen Goncalves

 

Though there are a lot of similarities to bocce, pétanque has a few key differences. The balls used in this game are made of steel and are a bit smaller, about the size of an orange, versus a grapefruit-sized bocce ball. Bocce is rolled with an open hand, palm up, but pétanque is thrown with the palm facing down. Instead of requiring a flat smooth surface, pétanque can be played on rougher ground like baseball diamonds or fine gravel. Rougher terrain may even provide a welcome challenge for some players. Because of the relative ease of finding a place to play pétanque, Chance explains that avid players “will always have your boules with you in the car, and you will have your eyes out looking for new suitable places (pistes) to play. You may even find yourself building your own piste at your home!”

 

Beginner’s Luck

Garnet Chapin
I learned how to play croquet while visiting my grandparents almost every Sunday. The Chapin, Patten, and Wells youngsters would be sent to the front yard laid out with croquet stakes and wickets while the adults were out on the backyard patio enjoying refreshments and the view.

Chris Lusk
I liked throwing horseshoes when I was a kid. Cornhole looked like mobile horseshoes to me, so I was pretty interested from the beginning. As far as why I continue playing, it’s just so much fun throwing, and there’s so much variety – you can play indoors or outdoors, with friends or strangers, for pleasure or competition!

Frank Knight
Andy Calvanese was one of those old Italian guys who ran the bocce tournaments at the courts at Bluff View, and he taught several of us how to play. Our bocce club holds an annual tournament named after him, the Calvanese Singles Bocce Tournament. It carries a $500 prize plus bragging rights, and we’ve done it for 19 years.

Ken Chance
I learned to play pétanque initially from my neighbor Joe Zajac. He and I had often played bocce ball together, but once we started playing pétanque, we never looked back. We started going to tournaments and getting to know people in the pétanque community. Sometimes you would meet well-known people like actors, winemakers, humorists, and musicians, or meet champions from all over the world – often you could play impromptu matches against them!

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