John Paul Vyborny and his family discovered bocce ball while vacationing in the Bahamas many years ago.
When they returned home, they looked for bocce courts near their house in Tucson, Ariz. They located some near relatives in Michigan and at a favorite restaurant in California, but nothing convenient to home.
So, after recently moving into a house with a large backyard, Vyborny and his wife, Anna, now empty nesters, decided to install their own bocce court for entertaining friends and family. He developed the plans and found a contractor to help build it.
“It’s a really nice social activity,” he said. “It’s interactive. It’s very easy to play.”
Landscaper Greg Rowland says he has seen a steady increase in customers asking for bocce courts.
“I have installed them from one end of Phoenix to the other. In the last six months, I’ve done more residential courts than in the last year and half,” said the owner of Grow Land landscaping firm. “A 4-year-old and an 84-year-old can play this game. It’s a great intergenerational activity.”
Bocce involves two teams and nine balls. One player throws a small ball, called a pallino, down the court. Players then alternate tossing the other eight balls, which are about the size of a softball, trying to get as close as possible to the smaller ball. The person who throws the closest ball and his or her teammates whose balls are closer than their opponents earn points. The game, a popular past-time in Italy, has roots in ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire.
Bocce is catching on rapidly in this country, said Mario Pagnoni, author of “The Joy of Bocce” (Masters Press, 1995). “It is a wonderful game full of skill and strategy, one that requires finesse at times,” he said.
He noted that bocce courts are being added “in parks, retirement homes, condo complexes and in schools across the country.”
The game’s appearance in public spaces, including restaurants and bars, has driven interest among do-it-yourselfers, said Felicia Feaster, managing editor at HGTV. Building a bocce court is “harder than a corn hole game but easier than a backyard bowling alley,” she said.
Numerous websites, including HGTV.com, PopularMechanics.com and HomeDepot.com, offer tutorials. Courts must be constructed on a level area and require three layers of material — usually a combination of rocks and a top coat made of crushed oyster shells, tennis court clay, sand, crushed stone or turf. Courts often have a drainage system and some sort of perimeter.
Tom McNutt, owner of Boccemon, a company that sells the crushed-oyster surface material, typically recommends building bocce courts about 10 by 60 feet. A do-it-yourself court can cost anywhere from $7 a square foot to twice that, depending on materials and how much site preparation is required, he said. He offers construction plans on his website, www.boccemon.com, Landscapers and other professional installers can charge up to $25 a square foot, he said.
Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Landscape Professionals, in Herndon, Virginia, says landscapers can incorporate everything from plants and benches to custom scoreboards and specialty lighting into the designs.
“They are starting to get more queries. It goes along with a general trend of people personalizing their outdoor spaces,” she said.