When Springs asked me to write about bocce, they had no idea they couldn’t have asked a more uncoordinated person. However, I have played bocce before. Well, to clarify, I thought I’d played, but Indiana really isn’t the locale to reference. Turns out, I played a hillbilly variation of lawn bowls, which is common in England, played on a green with weighted balls. But after receiving the assignment, I texted a Hoosier; her reply was, “Bocce is bomb!” I ended that line of inquiry immediately and moved on.
What I discovered is that bocce is part of the boules family. Early boules-type matches trace their roots to ancient Egypt and show up in Greek history around 6th century B.C. Its present form was developed in Italy, possibly near Torino, in A.D. 1000. Today, bocce is second in popularity only to soccer in the beautiful country. In America, there is a U.S. Bocce Federation and a campaign to add boules-type games to the Olympics.
Unlike lawn bowls, bocce balls have no varying weight bias. Players on a court bowl toward a smaller ball called a pallino. The goal is to have the closest ball to the pallino. Think disc golf combined with bowling.
In my investigation, I discovered a photo of Pope John Paul II rolling and a YouTube video of Saved by the Bell’s Mario Lopez (A.C. Slater) demonstrating gameplay. Eventually, I decided to take my newfound knowledge to the court, so I visited Oskar Blues, where indoor bocce is available. “I used to play with my grandfather,” said bar manager Derek Shaffer. “This was in Pennsylvania in the ’90s.”
With that came hope at the prospect of more insight than “Bocce is bomb!”
“Often, people don’t understand that bocce is finesse and strategy,” Shaffer said. “Many throw with too much power. There’s a lot of defensive positioning you can do to score points.”
Joel Smith, an Oskar Blues bartender, chimed in: “I worked at the Townhouse in Manitou Springs in the early ’90s. They used to have outdoor bocce.… Lines would wait to play.”
Quickly, Shaffer’s competitive side surfaced. “The kitchen claims to be better than front of the house,” he said. “What I’d love … is a league or organized competition … maybe a tournament between breweries here.”
That got me thinking, so my next stop was Axe and the Oak Whiskey House, which also features bocce. I asked owner Casey Ross why he chose the game for the outdoor patio. “It’s different, a fun game; not many establishmnts have bocce here in the Springs,” he said. “The courts aren’t regulation size because we play washers and cornhole out here as well. We have four courts you can enjoy the game on.”
The game is especially popular during the Kentucky Derby, one of the biggest events for the whiskey house. And summer is prime. “Bocce is fun and easy to play while enjoying a drink under the sun,” Ross concluded.
Even if you’re an uncoordinated writer.
Where to Play Bocce
Oskar Blues Grill & Brew
Downtown, indoor, near-professional-size court.
118 N. Tejon St.
Axe and the Oak Whiskey House
Sunny, outdoor patio courts at the Ivywild School.
1604 S. Cascade Ave.
The Promenade Shops at Briargate
Professional-size court on the Pikes Peak Patio, outside Ted’s Montana Grill.
1885 Briargate Pkwy.
Pick up a bocce set online or at any sporting goods store.
This article was originally published in July 2019.