Sarasota’s Pétanque Club hosts World Qualifying National Tournament on Nov. 2-3 at Lakeview Park
[clearboth]An important qualifying round in a worldwide competition will be held in Sarasota the first weekend of November. And no, it’s not rowing.
The Sarasota Pétanque Club (Club de Pétanque) will host the National Men’s Triples on Nov. 2 and 3, 2013, as part of the run-up to the World Cup finals. About 20 three-man teams from around the US will compete at Lakeview Park and the stakes are high: The victors will compete to represent the Pan American Confederation at the Men’s World Championships in Tahiti, November 20-24, 2014.
[clearboth]Pétanque is a form of lawn bowling (like bocce) that brings together sharp competitiveness, good fellowship, fine cuisine and superb wines. Such a game can only have been born under the suns of southern France, and indeed it was formalized a little over 100 years ago in Provence, the land of the troubadours. Their language, Occitan, gave the game its name, from pès tancats — “anchored feet” — and describes the bowling stance of players who must accurately hurl metal balls, or boules, while keeping both feet within a tight circle.
Pétanque is inexpensive to pursue and can be played nearly anywhere. It offers a lively challenge to men and women who play from their youth into their nineties, which is one reason it’s been broadening its fanbase worldwide.
The object for each team is to get as many boules as possible nearest the cochonnet (“piglet”) — a small, colorful ball that is first thrown out to a distance of six to 10 meters. Players tend to specialize in two kinds of skills — the “shooters” (tireurs) and the “pointers.” Pointers aim to roll their team’s balls as close as possible to the cochonnet, while shooters lob theirs to strike opponents’ balls and knock them out of range.
Similar to bocce, then, yet strikingly different. Where bocce is normally played on carefully raked courts, pétanque can be more casual. Ideally the grounds are raked, but often matches take place on bare, more or less level ground. A tournament’s playing surface might contain pebbles, fallen leaves, twigs and sloping areas, says Brenda Green, president of the Sarasota Club (photo left). One giant tournament in Marseilles had so many games in progress that some teams were relegated to playing on concrete. “They threw a little dirt on it,” says Green.
The natural conditions of the sport make it possible to connect pétanque with other activities. One member of the Sarasota club hails from a town in England where competitors have transformed their sport into a pub crawl. The space between two pubs becomes the trajectory of a series of pétanque matches — sort of a moveable symposium.
The Sarasota Men’s Triples at Lakeview Park will be held the same weekend as the Women’s Triples take place in Lake Worth. Green, Sarasota’s president, will be playing there, so Gilles Canesse will be in charge of the Sarasota Tournament. Canesse and his brother founded the club in the 90’s, and the matches have been a regular fixture at Lakeview on Thursday and Sunday mornings for years.
Often, the Sarasota members — many who are French or French Canadian — bring hampers filled with delicacies. They take a midday break for lunch on park picnic tables next to the playing area. It can’t hurt that two of the club’s members are master chefs. At Lakeview the other day, Michel Le Borgne, who taught the first class of the New England Culinary Institute, was saying he enjoys the game more than he ever loved golf. And like golf, he added, some days your game is on; other days, not so much.
Michel Le Borgne
The Sarasota club has dozens of regular members, but not all live in town year round. The club is open to new players, and those who are the least bit curious are encouraged to come try it out at their Sunday gatherings, says Green. Sarasota Parks and Rec is currently adding a couple of play areas while getting it ready for November’s tournament.
Florida has several other clubs whose members visit Sarasota as well, and enthusiasm for the sport has been growing. The Boca Raton Club has 120 members, while Amelia Island is home to Pétanque America, a major vendor of pétanque gear. The Pétanque America Open on Nov. 9-10 in Fernandina Beach should be big. Last year’s Open drew 126 teams from France, Spain, Italy, Germany and beyond, says Green.
Perhaps it’s the Florida climate – not unlike the suns of southern France — that’s spurring interest in the game here. Whatever the cause, the sport is unquestionably on the upswing. Blogs are entirely devoted to the fine points of pétanque. The sport is played in Tribeca and Brooklyn on Bastille Day, and Les Invincibles, a new film starring Gerard Depardieu (left) as a pétanque player, recently opened in France. Formidable![clearboth]
The Sarasota Club de Pétanque Presents
Men’s Triples Tournament
Nov. 2-3, 2013
Lakeview Park, Sarasota
Photos (other than Depardieu) and story
by Tom Matrullo for
Friends of Sarasota County Parks