Having a ball learning French game of Petanque

House rules say: 'Anyone playing without a drink in their hand is disqualified,' the organizer said.

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WALLA WALLA -- With 60 steel balls in hands, 10 couples squared off against each other, while standing in circles with their feet planted, which is what Petanque is all about.

"We have been playing a couple times a week, Wednesday afternoons and Sunday afternoons," said Petanque enthusiast and organizer Marvin Wood, who organized a Petanque tournament Saturday at Couvillion Winery, 10 miles east of town on Middle Waitsburg Road.

Though he has played numerous games recently, Wood didn't always know about this variation of lawn bowling. He discovered it 10 years ago while vacation in France.

"Now this is something I can do," Wood said, recalling what he said to himself when he first saw the French rolling steel balls across a gravel court.

When Wood came home, he soon found a club in Seattle and played regularly.

Wood, who works as a chemist in the wine industry, paired up with a wine barrel distributor to form a Petanque team. With strong ties to the wine industry, not to mention Petanque being a French game, it made sense to start playing tournaments at vineyards.

But most of the time Wood plays on his own backyard Petanque court. House rules, of course.

"Anyone playing without a drink in their hand is disqualified," Wood said.

Wood takes his Petanque seriously, almost too seriously, noted Valerie Fayette, who recalled when Wood introduce her to the game.

"I said, 'It's like bocce ball on gravel.' And Marv gave me the look and said, 'It's Petanque.'" she said.

Saturday's tournament was the second Wood has held at Couvillion Winery this summer. Each player pays $5 to enter. The entry money is used to buy wine, which is used as prizes.

The tournament was held on what Wood called the Petanque court. But the fact is, it was actually designed as a garden for weddings and other functions. It was only later that owner Jill Noble said she learned it could serve a dual purpose.

"It (Petanque) is just a really great way to meet people and have a good time and enjoy the outdoors," Noble said, in between rounds.

"It's social and it's fun, very fun, and everybody can play. Women can play. Kids can play," Woods said.

Though everyone can play, everyone doesn't play in France. Sophie Trettel of Le Touquet, France, who is working at Couvillion during the fall season said she rarely played while growing up in France. With a heavy accent, she explained how she started playing in college, and it was more of a pastime for her and her friends. She added that it is common to drink Pastis, an anise-flavored alcohol, while playing.

Petanque is an easy game to learn, as Julie Rathbun proved when she took second place at one of Wood's tournaments.

We had no idea what it was. I was like, 'I have no idea what it is. Let's go,'" Rathbun said. "It was great," she added.

Anyone interested in playing Petanque may call Wood at 529-7631.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.


How to play petanque

Petanque is played by drawing a circle on the ground, where the player stands with feet planted flat, which is also the meaning of the word petanque. A small ball about an inch in diameter called the couchonet -- piglet -- is cast out about 25 feet. Players get three hollow steel balls about the size of a baseball and take turns trying to roll closest to the couchonet, and also try to knock the opponent's balls away. The team closest to the couchonet gets to count points -- one point for every ball closer than the opponent's closest ball.

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