Swilling Ball Knockers

A sport you can learn in a just a few minutes, requires very little skill, and is traditionally played while sipping cocktails? We're there! Pétanque — pronounced pay-tonk — is one of the most popular outdoor games in Europe. The object of the game, which originated in France in the early 1900s, is to toss a ball — or boule — as close to the aim ball as possible, but the target is allowed to be hit and shifted, which can quickly turn the game around.

Although the sport is similar to bocce at first glance, Philippe Boets, founder and president of Pétanque America (established in Miami in 1991), is quick to describe its uniqueness: "It's as different from bocce as badminton is to tennis." Pétanque can be played on any natural surface, like hard sand or grass, and the boules are steel and about the size of an orange.

People often think pétanque is a game for retirees, but Boets, who teaches the sport to vacationers in Provence, shoves off that notion. "Just like how people think that bocce ball is for red-nosed Italians with big bellies," scoffs Boets. "Which is wrong! Any age group can play it, from teens to grandparents."


The Ptanque America Open

Lummus Park near 14th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.

takes place from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, November 12, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sunday, November 13, at Admission is free for spectators; registration is $30 for tournament players. Call 800-682-2557, or visit www.petanque-america.com.

What about those beverages we mentioned earlier? "Of course it started by a bar," laughs Boets from his home in Provence. "And in French tradition, the winning team always pays for the drinks."

This weekend, check out the game and sip on the traditional anise-flavored Ricard pastis cocktail at the Pétanque America Open. This is the second tournament to be held in Miami — the initial one was in 2003 — but the first international competition. "People are coming from all over — Canada, Mexico, Germany — to play a simple ball game," says Boets. "For anyone who wants to give it a try, we'll have plenty of balls available, and we can set up teams to play on the side."

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