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PÉ©tanque -- a new game, to some -- draws participants from across the country to Westmoreland

DAVID F. ASHTON - Players used a measuring tape to settle which boule was closest to the cochonnet. For one weekend, the north end of Westmoreland Park became the North American nexus for Pétanque, the French game played with steel balls, late last year.

The increasingly popular "Rose City Open" – put on by the Portland Pétanque Club – was a sold-out competition, bringing 42 "doubles teams" from across the country to play this outdoor bowling game in Inner Southeast Portland.

Light rain and drizzle didn't dampen the spirits of these all-weather competitors. "We play here, every Wednesday and Saturday afternoon, unless the water fills the playing areas, making the cochonnet – the jack – float away," grinned the club's treasurer, and tournament director, Joe Cortright.

This, their fifth annual tournament, has grown to be the second largest Pétanque competition in the United States, Cortright told THE BEE. "We have three players from France, as well as competitors from California, New York, Alaska, Utah, Texas, and Nevada – and of course, many players from Portland and the Pacific Northwest."

Although it's a game, the players looked in dead earnest, as they stood within a 20" plastic circle and pitched their balls towards the cochonnet target. In addition to the balls and jack, most players carry a precision tape measure – because this game can be won by mere millimeters.

For those who have perhaps seen the clubhouse and play area in Westmoreland Park, let us explain that Pétanque is a bowling-like game, the "French cousin" of Bocce Ball, and similar to the sport of Curling, which is played on ice.

"Pétanque is played with small metal balls [called boules] about the size of a baseball, on a rough, pea-gravel surface," Cortright explained. "The idea is to throw or roll your boules as close to the cochonnet as possible – and also try to move your opponents' balls further away – in a sense, similarly to croquet."

On this particular day, players carried towels to wipe down their boules – that's because they're made of mild, not stainless, steel; they rust if left wet.

Guests are welcome to come by any Wednesday or Saturday afternoon, borrow a set of boules, and try out the support, invited Cortright. "Petanque takes five minutes to learn, but a lifetime to perfect!"

The annual tournament was made possible by the sponsorship of a number of local businesses.

Learn more about the club and the sport by visiting the Portland Pétanque Club website – www.pdxpetanque.org

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