American ten-pin bowling, boccé and lawn bowling employ level and meticulously groomed courts. Among pétanque’s many unique characteristics is the unleveled, hard-packed dirt-and-gravel terrain. See the post: You Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Court! which details the ecological, egalitarian and economically parsimonious philosophy of community-based “courtless” play.
The surest way to retard pétanque development is to play exclusively on a single style of terrain which enables a player with beginner’s skills to thrive. As Waldo Emerson observed, “Where Ignorance is Bliss, Tis Folly to be Wise”. Most U.S. players don’t see the need to develop challenging pointing (squat or plombée) or shooting (plein-fer vs. palet roulant) skills because their terrains endulge simple technique. Every club should have several different types of terrains and players rotate among them to develop and modulate a variety of situation specific techniques and strategies.
What makes a great pétanque terrain?
The playability of a a terrain is a function of the amount, size and shape of gravel, surface hardness and rebound, and slopes and contours; too flat and smooth, and pointers never develop skills such as analyzing and selecting an optimum donnée, throwing high plombées and employing the joys and rigour of dynamic squat pointing. When a terrain is too soft and lacks sufficiently large gravel, plombée pointers effortlessly arrest boule rollout to less than 50-cm – like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel.
A terrain which is too hard, rocky, sloped and contoured neutralizes even advanced skills and turns every throw into a random event.
CreekSide’s 20m x 7m Intermediate Player Terrain
This year we got a bit overly enthusiastic and added several 5-gallon buckets of larger gravel to the already challenging immediate-level terrain. Players (and rightfully so) felt that their pointing skills were not be challenged, but rather undermined by the additional gravel and extreme contours which collectively produced random rebounds and unpredictable rollouts.
Taking advantage of the wet terrain from Saturday night’s rain, we removed about half of the larger gravel and filled and leveled some of the more extreme contours. Although the reconfigured terrain is still a solid intermediate-level, it should play more consistently and highlight (rather than neuralize) demi-portée pointing skills.
CreekSide 18m x 9m Marseille Terrain
For those looking for a more challenging terrain, the area adjacent to the swing gate is our Marseille terrain; alternating sections of hard and soft surface, a mixture of small to large sharp-edged gravel, and moderate omnidirectional contours it demands critical donnée selection and a variety of subtle squat pointing techniques from demi-portées to the highest plombées and true plein-fer shooting. It’s also illuminated by a sodium vapor street lamp for acceptable (not ideal) night play.