Like all good things in life, the public bocce courts in Laguna Niguel, Calif., started small.
As Jerry Sollom, Parks & Landscape Maintenance Superintendent for the city, tells the story, a bunch of older, predominately Italian men began playing bocce on the grass in Marina Hills Park.
“These guys were just playing on the turf,” says Sollom. “No permits. Nothing. Just set up and have some fun. No big deal.”
Then, the guys discovered the brick dust infields on the adjacent baseball/softball fields.
“Things got a little more complicated,” says Sollom. “They really liked the brick dust surface, but their schedule was dictated by openings in our baseball and softball schedules. Eventually, the guys tired of working around someone else’s schedule and came to the city’s monthly budget meeting to ask us to build some bocce courts.”
City planners looked over the proposal and realized they had a sand volleyball court that was under-used because, as Sollom says, “In Orange County, if you’re going to play sand volleyball, you go to the beach.”
As it turned out, the dimensions of the existing volleyball court—14 feet wide by 90 feet long—was exactly what was needed for three, side-by-side, bocce courts.
“We used the outside concrete borders,” says Sollom. “No changes. Just left them and built the bocce courts inside.”
The city provided the guys with equipment from Boccemon—a supplier in Washington. The equipment included: a big broom (as wide as the court), roller, Oyster shell surface and a three-point connection for water.
“We started out with decomposed granite for our playing surface,” says Sollom. “Big mistake; just too much aggregate in the material. Then, we tried brick dust, which is fine for baseball infields, but doesn’t drain very well. Finally, we found Oyster shell which provides a uniform surface that will drain.”
If there’s a problem with the Oyster shell, it’s that you lose some every day—even if you keep it moist. The wind will pick it up and carry it away.
To that end, the city built a box that holds extra Oyster shell and placed it next to the courts. The players use it daily to keep the playing surface up to their specifications—which have become increasingly precise.
“We go in once or twice a year,” says Sollom. “We scarify the surface, add more Oyster shell, even laser grade it. When we get done, the guys will come to me and complain about the surface. I’m like, alright—here’s the laser. Let’s see you do better. They always back down [laughing].”
Sollom’s pack of bocce players are totally into the game, which means they’re always looking for ways to improve their courts. Sollom thinks that’s a good thing.
“Plans on our courts are constantly evolving based on the needs of the users. For example, we started with 2 x 6 pressure-treated lumber and then realized we needed 2 x 8s. Then, we realized the pressure-treated lumber wasn’t the same density—it has knots and different grain patterns—which caused the ball to bounce differently off of different parts of the frame. So, we moved to a Trex product.”
The guys love this—except for the backboards, which bounce too hard.
“The other day, I went down to the court and found this rubber-type product covered in carpet on the end boards. I’m guessing they were trying to soften the bounce on the backboards. I had to take it off and go to the guys one more time and explain this is a public court. We can’t have all these tripping hazards and impromptu devices tacked on.”
What Sollom, city council, and the parks department has done—at the urging of the bocce players—is impressive.
“We try to give them whatever we can,” says Sollom. “It started simple. Then they wanted shade—they were like ‘we’re old guys, we’re going to get skin cancer, we need shade.’ So now, they have a $50,000 shade structure over the courts—half the cost to build the original courts. Then, they needed power because on the weekends they set up a coffee machine. Then, they needed concrete for a table where the coffee machine goes.”
If you’re thinking of adding bocce to your park, Sollom recommends you do some R&D—which he says stands for “Rip off and duplicate.” He’s happy to send you his plans or take your calls.