Could this backyard game be the new pickleball? It’s time to get in on the fun.

Long Bocce Ball Court in Yard
Courtesy of Molly Wood Garden Design

Part of a garden editor’s job is to always be on the lookout for new garden trends, and when not one, but four friends tell me they’re putting in bocce ball, my meter goes bing! “I love my bocce ball court,” says Julian Cautherley, a documentary film producer in Los Angeles (who also happens to be my daughter’s dad). “I put it in last fall, and it’s become the social center of my garden. Guests are just drawn to it—and it wasn’t expensive to put in, either.” 

Bocce Balls

Courtesy of Molly Wood Garden Design

Garden designers have noticed the trend, too. June Scott of June Scott Design in Pasadena says that she started noticing more requests for bocce ball courts as people became increasingly concerned about the drought and wanted to replace their lawns. “They’re a good way to add a significant element that does not need to be irrigated and is water-permeable,” Scott says. And, of course, its size helps replace a thirsty lawn. And while some people might think of bocce ball as an old person’s sport, it’s anything but. “In terms of who’s asking for them, we’re seeing a range from empty nesters who want something that will appeal to their kids and grandkids, to singles who want to socialize with friends,” she says. 

For those who’ve never played, bocce ball is an ancient game from 5200 B.C. that happens to be the third most popular sport in the world. One of the game’s advantages is that people old and young can get in on the action, plus there’s just something elegant and relaxing about playing. (This might be why bocce even has its own cocktail.) It’s also easy to learn. Players roll resin balls down a long rectangular court while trying to get closest to the target ball, a pallino, to score pointsThe person with the highest score wins.

Ready to play ball? Here are some things you need to consider.

Do You Have the Space?

Long Bocce Ball Court in Yard

Martin Cox

The dimensions of an official bocce ball court are 86.92 feet long by 13.12 feet wide. That said, there’s really no reason not to go shorter. Molly Wood of Molly Wood Garden Design in Costa Mesa, says most of her clients want 60 feet in length, but she can often make do with a 22-by-6-foot court. 

Drainage Is Key

Bocce Ball Court Drainage

Courtesy of Molly Wood Garden Design

“The court should be flat,” says Scott, “and this means that drainage must be excellent, with layers of gravel beneath the court’s surface and drains as necessary.” 

Surfaces can be sand, grass, clay, or decomposed granite; however, if you’re using the granite pebbles as the top surface, do not add a stabilizer. 

You Need an Edge

Bocce Ball Court Edge

Martin Cox

Bocce ball courts require a border since you don’t want the balls to roll off the court. “You want [the border] to be at least six inches above the finished grade so the balls can bounce off,” says Wood. “Most of the time I use wood or concrete, while a cobblestone border could add a beautiful, rustic surrounding to the space.” 

Location, Location, Location

Inviting Location for the Bocce Ball Court

Martin Cox

Bocce ball is a social game, after all, for both players and spectators, so make sure you put your court in an inviting spot. “I get requests to put courts on an unused side yard; these courts rarely get used because they are not in plain view, and don’t necessarily allow for the social aspect of the game,” Wood says. 

From a visual standpoint, the court can also “offer a rest for the eye if the garden is brimming with plants, or be a quiet foreground with which to highlight a view,” says Scott 

Now that you know what to do, get your plans rolling. “A bocce ball court can really enhance an outdoor space,” says Wood. “The area can be further activated by adding a bench at both ends of the court for others to sit and spectate; add a colorful umbrella or two and you will have a lovely invitation to go outside!” 

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