By David Jacobs
After several summer visits to France, my wife (who received the nickname "Le Destroyer" from a 90-year-old Pétanque veteran in one of the towns) and I decided to build a court at our home in Los Angeles.
Fortunately, we had a terraced plane on our hillside property. Years ago we had cleared the site for a paddle tennis court but had had to abandon the project because of complications. At 18 by 50 feet it was within the tolerable dimensions of a boules court, was already level, and had good drainage. So we cleared it, pulled up the grass, and enclosed the surface.
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The north and east boundaries were defined by vine-covered walls. The problem was that the south and west extremes fell off dramatically, so we couldn't simply use wooden planks: any ball that hopped the boundary would fall almost straight down into rough chaparral. To create an enclosure we used whatever was around: some leftover lattice and the extra slate we had kept from the decks on higher levels. This wasn't just for economy; it also maintained visual consistency on the property.
As the latticed wall took shape, however, we began to feel that the court was becoming too room-like, so we stopped and used garden-wire for the rest of the side. At present the change from lattice to wire looks stark, but we are planting vine and a little bougenvilla here and there and hope that a year's growth will soften the angles.
Once the surface was cleared and enclosed, we put down about three inches of crushed gravel and topped it with three inches of stone dust. When I went to order this material, I took along printouts of the information I found on this and other Pétanque sites, which was helpful but not definitive. The crushed gravel was no problem, but the merchant (who was not familiar with boules) and I had a lot of discussion about the composition of the stone dust. Finally we settled on a material the merchant had recently used to surface a high school track oval. We compacted the stone dust with a roller rented from Home Depot.
At first the surface was hard and much too fast, but after a couple of rainy days and some practice games the top seems to be breaking up a little and becoming more gravelly. In any case we'll play on it for a couple of months and see how it evolves.
So far the cost has been about $2500 -- half for the two kinds of gravel, and half for labor. I tell myself this figure is extremely reasonable - just imagine how much more it would have cost to build the paddle tennis court. We're using the same logic to justify spending a couple of hundred dollars more on a few sets of competition-level boules. The economics may be questionable, but what a difference the good boules make in play!
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