Ken Martin

Bocce (pronounced bow-chay) is an ancient Italian game that purportedly was originated by Roman soldiers trying to combat boredom. At that time, they threw a rock and tried to see who could come closest to it with another thrown rock. Today, it is basically the same game but is played with balls instead of rocks. A small ball (the pallino) is thrown down the court and then the larger balls (the bocce) are thrown in an attempt to get as close to the pallino as possible. Any bocce closer to the pallino than the opponent's bocce scores a point.

There are many different games of bocce like Volo, Raffa, Raffa Volo, etc. Most of the bocce played in our area is under U.S. Bocce Federation Open Rules, which are basically what I described above. You can Google "Bocce Rules" and you will find an amazing and confusing array of different sets of bocce rules, largely by locale. For local purposes, go to the USBF Open Rules

An interesting aspect of bocce is that men and women play about equally as well. This is primarily because bocce is a "finesse" sport, unlike bowling which is a "power" sport. Also unlike bowling or golf, there is no handicap system. All games are played from scratch regardless of age or gender.

Also, don't equate it to lawn bowling. That is an entirely different game played on a different type of court with completely different oblate-shaped balls (bocce balls are totally round).

The bocce game is simple, which probably accounts for it being arguably the most popular participant sport in the world, but trying to get the bocce close to the pallino from 60 or 70 feet away is not that easy. Which comes to my point: if you want to give it a try, here's where you'll find bocce activity in Castro Valley.

The courts are public courts and are located in the Adobe Art Center Park at 20395 San Miguel Avenue just a short distance north of the Boulevard. At present, in addition to the courts being available at no charge to anyone that wants to furnish their own balls, there are some semi-organized bocce sessions ongoing that are open to anyone that wants to join in.

Wednesday Morning Bocce Group - Plays every Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM. It is free. All equipment is furnished. All you have to do is put your name on the sign-up sheet and you'll be rotated into a game. No membership. No dues. Not a league. Beginners are especially welcome.

Buon Tempo Club Third Saturday Bocce - This session is hosted by the Buon Tempo Italian American Club on the third Saturday of each month at 10:00 AM. primarily for the working people that can't play on Wednesdays. Basically it operates like the Wednesday group described above. Just show up, sign in, and play bocce.

Casual Saturday Bocce - Same as the above groups but with not even semi-formal organization. Again, at 10:00 AM. Again, just show up and play.

As I stated, there is frequently casual play at the courts by players that have there own sets of balls. The use of the courts is free Which brings up the question that I am frequently asked: Where do you get bocce ball sets?

Most sporting goods and department stores have sets available but be wary of the quality. Cheap sets ($25.00 to $50.00) are playable but wear out quickly and sometimes the balls crack and shatter. Also, they are seldom regulation size and weight (regulation balls are 107 to 114 millimeters in diameter and 2 to 2 1/4 pounds in weight). If you are going to buy bocce balls, it is better to buy a good quality set at the beginning because they will probably last for your lifetime.

The best bet is to Google "Bocce Balls" on the Internet. Doing that will take you to several sellers of bocce equipment but, again, be wary of the quality. My recommended purveyor is Playaboule in Seatle. They offer various quality levels of balls. They have a very good second-line set that shows up on sale frequently for anywhere from $55.00 to $75.00. You have to keep checking in to find the best price.

Playaboule also offers the "Perfetta" set which is top of the line and is made in Italy. These balls are among the best available and cost about $100.00 plus per set but, considering that they will probably last you forever, they may be the best buy overall.

Most sets come with a set of bocce rules. The rules of the game are very simple so you will be able to start out playing the game right away.

Other than to note that bocce is generally played on a court of crushed oyster shells but can also be played on grass, sand, dirt, etc., or any other fairly smooth and level surface, that is pretty much the game of bocce in a nutshell. I invite you to come on out and give it a try with any of the above groups or just get your own set of balls and give it a roll!

See you at the courts!!

For further information about bocce contact me at or (510) 727-9296