The Game

The French name “pétanque” comes from la pétanca in the Provençal dialect, deriving from the expression pès tancats, which means “feet together”.

Pétanque is a rather simple low physical impact game where the goal is to throw metal balls as close as possible to a smaller ball called a cochonnet” (which means “little piglet”) while standing with the feet together in a circle.  The game is normally played on hard packed stone dust or gravel surface, but can also be played on other solid surfaces.  Surfaces with more pebbles can be extremely challenging and surfaces that undulate similar to a putting green in golf can add to the challenge.

This game can be played as a head to head competition which is call “singles”, two against two “doubles” or three against three “triples”.  When playing singles or doubles each player has three balls to play, when playing triples only two balls per player are used.  There can be no more than 12 balls on the playing surface at one time.  I’m sure you can imagine when the first few balls are played there is plenty of space to place your ball to try to score but when you have nine or ten balls on the playing surface it becomes more difficult to score points....thus one has to formulate a strategy.

There is no right or wrong way to throw a ball although experienced players tend to throw with a certain amount of backspin, releasing the ball with the back of the hand facing upward. The “cochonnet” in pétanque is the target just as the hole on a green is the target in golf.  When approaching a green a player will take a lofted iron and will strike the ball imparting backspin so that when that ball lands on the green it will “brake” slightly and then release and roll forward.  Throwing a boule uses the same concept.

The object of the game is to get as many of your “boules” close to the target ball as you can. If that means hitting your opponent’s “boules” and knocking it out of the way, or hitting the target ball to try and place it closer to your ball, so be it.

After all boules are thrown, the team that has the boule closest to the cochonette scores as many points as they have boules closer to the cochonette than their opponent’s closest boule. A game is played to 13 points.

The official rules of pétanque can be found at the web site pé  These rules can be very helpful when beginning to play socially and will be important throughout ones playing career.  The easiest way to learn this game is by playing and the more you play the more you learn.

Pétanque players must show respect for fellow players and opponents alike. Be courteous and quiet when someone is preparing to take a shot. Most golfers are a good example of this rule.

Take the time to learn this friendly family oriented game and whether you play socially or competitively it will give you a lifetime of enjoyment.


The ancient Greeks are recorded to have played a game called spheristics, by throwing a round stone ball as far as possible, as early as the 6th century B.C.  The Ancient Romans modified the game by adding a target that had to be approached as closely as possible.  This variation was brought to the Provence region of France by the Romans.

After arriving in France the stone balls were replaced by wooden balls, nails were driven in them to give them greater weight.  The game became commonly known as “boules” and it was played throughout Europe.  By the 19th century, in England the sport had become known as “bowls” or “lawn bowling”; but in France it was always known as “boules” and was played throughout the country.  In the south of France it had evolved into what was called jeu provençal” similar to today’s pétanque except that the field was larger and players ran 3 steps before throwing the ball.  The game was played in villages all over Provence, usually in town squares where the soil was compacted and there were plenty of shade trees. 

Pétanque in its present form was transformed in 1907 in the town of La Ciotat near Marseilles by a French boule lyonnaise player named Jules Lenoir.  This gentleman was plagued with rheumatism that prevented him from running before he threw the ball.  His idea was to reduce the length of the playing field to 14 X 50 ft. [4 X 15 meters] which is about half the size of the jeu provençal” terrain and the moving delivery was replaced with a stationary one.

The first pétanque tournament with the new rules was organized in 1910 by the Pitiot brothers, who were proprietors of a café at La Ciotat.  After that tournament the sport grew with great speed and soon it became the most popular form of “boules” in France. 

The casual form of the game is played during summer vacations by an estimated 17 million people in France.  The International Pétanque Federation was founded in 1958 in Marseille and now claims more than 600,000 members in 52 countries.   In recent years pétanque clubs have sprung up in cities throughout the United States. The Federation of Pétanque USA has become a national ruling body for the sport here in the United States.

The Maine Boules Club at Blue Hill was the first pétanque club in Maine.  Two of their members have represented the United States in the World Competitions.  The second playing court is in Old Orchard.  The third city to promote pétanque is our home court in Augusta. We had our grand opening of ten 4 X 15 meter courts on June 5, 2011.