Bocce Takes Over Tahoe

Courtesy Tahoe Donner

Equipped with a glass of wine in one hand and a glow-in-the-dark bocce ball in the other, I’m at the Truckee River Winery on a warm evening at a bocce ball court, trying to figure out how to tap away my opponents’ balls. I may have blown my shot, but the game gives me a chance to relax, catch up with others and participate in some friendly competition in Tahoe’s great outdoors.

Bocce is a casual and low-impact sport that is usually played on a hardpacked soil or paved court with plastic balls about the size of a baseball. Easy to learn, social, affordable and strategic, this centuries-old pastime began in Italy. Over the last decade, bocce has been growing in popularity in the Tahoe Sierra as more restaurants, golf courses and community spaces have been building courts for locals and guests.

Several entities such as Tahoe Donner and the Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD) have built bocce courts and started leagues, which are popular. Tahoe Donner built its four outdoor bocce ball courts around seven years ago and they are used daily in the summer. It also hosts a summertime Tuesday evening league.

“Each team has eight to 12 players, so it is a party at our courts every Tuesday,” says Tahoe Donner recreation supervisor Nathanael Christensen. He adds while there are some serious players, most people are out just to have a good time.

Playing on the bocce courts at Tahoe Donner. | Courtesy Tahoe Donner

Due to the success and growth of the TCPUD’s past bocce leagues, the district added a new autumn league and expanded its current summer series to three nights a week to accommodate the demand. Both of its bocce courts were built in 2014 at the Tahoe City Golf Course at the request of the community.

“It was a community need and we thought that it would be a good amenity to add to the golf course,” says TCPUD management/community engagement analyst Stacie Lyans. “It’s a growing sport. I think that people enjoy the social aspect of it.”

When Spindleshanks moved from Tahoe Vista to Kings Beach next to Old Brockway Golf Course five years ago, it inherited its two bocce ball courts. The restaurant provides bocce balls free of charge to anyone who is dining or drinking there. Many people come just to play bocce. It’s also a great way to meet and interact with many people at once, like in a wedding party, family reunion or fundraising effort.

“It’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s easy to learn and you can hold a drink in one hand and play in the other,” says Spindleshanks owner Steve Marks.

Sandy Mettler throws the ball at the courts at the Tahoe City Golf Course. | Courtesy TCPUD

The notable High Fives Foundation has hosted its annual bocce tournament for the last 11 years; it’s been the nonprofit’s longest-standing fundraiser since its inception.

“Originally, we hosted in the Truckee Regional Park and would have them cut the grass really short but then about three years ago we moved it to the Truckee River Winery to host it on regulation-sized bocce courts,” says High Fives president, founder and executive director Roy Tuscany. “I would love to tell you that I had the foresight to know that bocce would become so popular in Tahoe but that would be a lie. When we started this, we did a bunch of research on easy-format fundraising events and found bocce. It also became popular in San Francisco. It’s not our biggest fundraiser of the year, but it’s more about bringing the community together. It truly is a skill to play bocce well, but anyone can just pick it up and play. It’s really just about bringing people together to enjoy a fun day.”

High Fives staff created a Stanley Cup-like trophy that the winner takes home and about five years ago it partnered up with a bocce league out of Penn Valley and that attracted more teams every year.

“They are very serious players, but there’s a lot of comradery and they love the sport because it gets them outside,” Tuscany says.