If you enjoy bowling and taking in the sights, sounds and fresh air of Golden Gate Park, there are a few options to explore the next time you step foot in this popular urban park wonderland. Petanque, bocce ball, and lawn bowling are all sporting activities offered at the park. With an assortment of game play that involves the tossing of balls, it is a curiously addicting challenge that bests the most concentrated players.

Petanque, Bocce Ball & Lawn Bowling at Golden Gate Park

In the Bay Area, a small following of petanque players gather at Golden Gate Park to enjoy the game. Enthusiasts congregate at the court located opposite 38th Avenue. When searching for the court, you will find it situated close to the Buffalo Paddock. Interested players are responsible for bringing their own equipment.

Located close to the tennis courts, lawn bowling can be enjoyed from Tuesday to Sunday with game play beginning at 12pm. One requirement to enjoy the game with others is that you come laced up in flat-soled shoes. For those who aren’t familiar with the game and wish to learn, free lessons are provided on Wednesdays at 5:30 pm. The San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club will furnish all of the equipment you need to take pleasure in the game (weather permitted).

What’s the Difference?

While all three sporting opportunities are similar to one another, there are a few differences that set these activities in categories of their own. Below you will find a brief description of each sport with a few details:

a) Petanque: Often confused with bocce, petanque is a bowling game that originates from southern France. The game deals with metal balls that are thrown with the goal of gaining the position closest to a small wooden ball referred to as a cochonnet (also jack or piglet). The game usually is played on hard dirt or gravel, but also works well on grass and other surfaces.

Petanque is always viewed as a team game, whether one, two, or three players are on a squad. Two metal balls (boules) per player are given to three-player teams, while two-player and one-player teams use three boules each. The playing area for petanque should measure 15 meters (49 ft) long, by 4 meters (13 ft) wide. As team players gain the closest position to the jack, points are awarded. A complete game is often played until one team reaches 13 points.

b) Lawn Bowling: Lawn bowling involves the precision of players to roll balls (called bowls) closest to a smaller white ball (known as the jack or kitty) while competing against another or a team. This particular variation of bocce or petanque is quite popular in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

A large, leveled grass or other synthetic surface is used to play lawn bowling, which playing field is rectangular in shape. Parallel playing strips called rinks divide the playing surface. One team is allowed the chance to roll the jack to the other end of the green to serve as the positioned target. Then, players take turns rolling their bowls towards the jack. A few instances cause the removal of bowls during play, including when one reaches what is called the ditch. Games are played up to 21 points.

c) Bocce Ball: Bocce has roots that can be traced back to the Roman Empire before it even entered the sporting worlds of the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and Canada. Italians migrating to other destinations created worldwide recognition for the sport that greatly resembles petanque and lawn bowling. Game play occurs on dirt courts that measure between 20 to 30 meters in length, as well as 2.5 to 4 meters wide. 15-centimeter tall boards made from wood surround a proper court. Bocce allows players to use a variety of tactics to reach the jack, including underarm ball throws into the air, as well as various landing and rolling techniques.

Bocce balls are often fashioned from bronze, compressed wood, or different kinds of plastic. The difference between lawn bowls and bocce balls is the latter is spherical in shape and lacks an inbuilt bias. The balls also roll straight at a target. In bocce, two players will compete against each other or two teams comprised of two or four people will play. Teams take turns throwing their balls in hopes of coming closest to the jack and just as with lawn bowling, games are usually played until a team gains 13 points.

5 Responses to “Petanque”

  1. Jeff
    February 23, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    This game can be a lot of fun, esp with the right group of friends on a nice sunny day with a few cold ones.

  2. Thomas
    February 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm #


    Is there a usual date/time when petanque players can be found at the petanque court ? I am going to be in San Fran soon, and would like to play a game there


  3. Gloce
    February 23, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    The game of boules, otherwise known as pétanque , is perhaps the sport that is closest to French hearts. Similar to British lawn bowling or Italian bocce , the French version is traditionally played with metallic balls on a dirt surface beneath plane trees, with a glass of pastis at hand. The local boulodrome is a social focal point in southern France.

  4. sports store
    December 19, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    yeah! We used to be playing pétanque in our college days. My friend had a nice backyard and on a sunny day we used to play and njoy a lot. many of our friends prefer to spend sunny day with their girl friends or in pub but we never wasted a moment. Now everyone from our group settled in their respective work. I hope we once again get to gather and play!
    Actually thanks for the article. You really remind me those golden days!


  5. Joan
    July 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    Is it possible to reserve a bocce ball court for a group outing? Our advertising agency group would like to do this activity.

Leave a Reply