A Guide for Making a DIY Bocce Ball Court
Bocce is an ancient game with roots in Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. Resembling shuffleboard or curling, it’s usually played on a long, rectangular, crushed-stone, oyster-shell or grass court. The objective: Getting your team’s bocce balls closest to a target ball, called a pallino, than the other team’s.
If your city has a large Italian-American population, you’ve probably come across a bocce court somewhere. The beauty of bocce is that you can play it anywhere — parks, beaches and yes, your yard.
To play backyard bocce, you have two options. You could stake out a temporary court and play right on the grass. Or you can DIY a bocce court to use for years to come.
Building a permanent court takes more work than a DIY pickleball court, but it’s doable in a weekend with some planning and help. The basic steps include excavating the ground, building a perimeter and filling in the court with crushed rock. The perimeter can fashioned from wood, concrete, metal or nearly anything, so get creative!
Before starting any project that involves digging, go to call811.com or contact your city’s utility services to come out and mark water, electric and gas lines. Plan out your court on paper or with CAD software like SketchUp. Then gather supplies and tools: shovels, wheelbarrows, tampers, dimensional lumber, tape measures, rebar, a level, string, wooden stakes and landscaping fabric.
You’re going to need lots of crushed rock, too. Contact a quarry or landscaping supply store for delivery.
Choose a Location
Regulation bocce courts stretch 91- by 13-feet, according to bocce.org, but backyard and casual-use courts can be scaled down. Most bocce organizations suggest a minimum size of 60- by 10-feet. A long, narrow sideyard is optimal, but a bocce court can be built wherever you have the room.
A large expanse of flat, level ground will make your job easier because good drainage is important. Be prepared to build up any low spots and possibly install a French drain.
Lay Out the Court
Before you start digging out grass and soil, mark the perimeter. If the court will run along the side of your house or fence, use that as a reference to get your bocce court nice and straight.
Measure equal distances from the reference point at your corners and drive a stake.
Measure the diagonals to square the corners and adjust your stakes as needed.
Pull a string or chalk line between the stakes. Mark where you’ll excavate the dirt and grass with paint or chalk.
Once you’ve marked the perimeter and know where the utilities are, remove the sod and dig out about two inches of soil. The precise amount will depend on the height of your perimeter choice. You’ll add roughly six inches of fill, and the perimeter should extend above the fill to keep balls from rolling off the court.
Try to reuse or recycle the sod and dirt. (You’ll have a lot, so plan this out before you start.) Level the ground as much as you can. Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect; you’ll soon add gravel for the base layer.
Build the Perimeter
Depending on your chosen materials, sink the perimeter slightly into the ground for stability while providing a lip to keep the playing surface and bocce balls in the court. Concrete or 4x4s stacked on top of each other and staked with rebar make good edging.
Before permanently installing the perimeter, replace your stakes if you removed them to dig and square up the corners. Level the edges with a carpenter’s level.
Add Drainage Layer
Add three to four inches of one-inch gravel to the court. Your rock supplier or online calculators can help you figure how many tons you need. If installing a French drain, add it in this layer with the holes facing down. Use a sock over the drain to keep the holes clear of debris.
Cover the gravel with a weed barrier to keep the finer playing surface materials from sifting down into the aggregate. And, of course, to stop weeds.
Add Crushed Rock
Add about two inches of decomposed granite or crushed limestone for the middle layer. Spread out to an even thickness and level with a 2×4 and carpenter’s level.
Alternatively, build a screed, a leveling device you can make yourself with a couple of 2x4s. One should be long enough to rest on the edges of your perimeter. Cut the other one to fit inside the court and rest on the rock layer at the height you want it.
Screw the boards together and drag the level across the surface. Fill in or remove rocks as you go along.
Mark the Lines
Depending on the length of your bocce court, decide where the foul lines on each end should go. Players throw or roll the balls from behind these lines. For official bocce, this is 13 feet from the back. But for backyard courts, your foul areas will be smaller; four feet is common.
Mark these on the edge of the perimeter, or embed a permanent line with dimensional lumber when installing the playing surface.
You’ll need a center line as well; the pallino must be thrown past this line to start the game. The center line should be precisely in the middle of the court. If your court is 60 feet long, that’s 30 feet. If you’ve modified the length, measure in from each end and mark the center when the two distances are equal.
Add Playing Surface
The top surface should offer smooth ball rolling. Crushed oyster shells are the preferred choice. Depending on where you live, this may be unattainable or unaffordable.
Finely crushed rock or agricultural lime works, or just play on the second layer. Sand is a possibility, though that’s a different ball-rolling experience. Tamp or roll the surface to get it as smooth as possible.
Assemble two teams of up to four people and start playing!
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