Petanque: Bowling punters over with a new tournament for Yorkshire

SOME of the leading players in the sport of petanque are heading to a small corner of West Yorkshire this weekend. Ricky Charlesworth finds out why.
Heckmondwike hosts the La British Open for Petanque this weekend.Heckmondwike hosts the La British Open for Petanque this weekend.
Heckmondwike hosts the La British Open for Petanque this weekend.

To most petanque novices, the sport can look like a slight variation on the traditional game of bowls.

But it requires much more than simply chucking a bowl and trying to get in close proximity to the jack, according to secretary of Heckmondwike Petanque Club, Clive Westley.

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He says there is a certain level of tactics and skill required and he is looking forward to witnessing some of that prowess at close quarters when the club hosts this weekend’s inaugural La British Open.

The La British Open is held at Heckmondwike Petanque Club this weekend.The La British Open is held at Heckmondwike Petanque Club this weekend.
The La British Open is held at Heckmondwike Petanque Club this weekend.

The tournament, the most high-profile event that the area will have hosted, has been created in the hope that it will recognise the abundance of talent in the north.

Over 30 teams are expected to flock to Firth Park, with teams even venturing to West Yorkshire from across Europe.

The event is split into two days with qualifiers taking place on Saturday and the main competition running on the Sunday.

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Westley told The Yorkshire Post: “This event has been created because we don’t get any large competitions in the north of England, basically because the terrains are relatively small.

“Here at Heckmondwike we’ve had a new facility built which is now the biggest in the north of the region.

“We have some good players up here and we want to try and attract players from the south where the sport is developed, and also from Europe. We want to promote the game up north and we’re keen to play against the best in the country.

“There are some of the best ranking players in the country heading here. There are one or two teams from France and Belgium and at least six of the top ten English men are coming as well as the top two women so there’ll be some good competition.”

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In terms of the specifics of the game, it is played on a dirt or gravel surface called a ‘terrain’.

The premise is similar to crown green bowls in that opponents try to get nearer to the jack.

In petanque however, the team that holds the leading position, and is nearest the jack, doesn’t bowl again until their opponent beats their position.

This weekend’s event is a triples, with three players on either side.

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Teams consist of players called a ‘pointer’ – who tries to get their boule as close as possible to the jack – and a ‘shooter’, who tries to remove an opponents’ boule.

“One of the major skills of the game is to shoot,” adds Westley. “So if the opposition is nearer, then you can call off your shooter with a direct hit. In triples, teams will usually be made up of a pointer, a shooter and then another player that can do a bit of both. It is quite different to bowls and tactics can be important.”

As well as appreciating the significance of this weekend’s event for the sport as a whole, Westley says the tournament is an important landmark for a club which is still in its relative infancy.

“We didn’t have a club in Kirklees six years ago,” he added. “We were founded in 2012 and as well as Heckmondwike we’ve got clubs in Huddersfield and Mirfield, each with 60-plus members.

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“We play in a West Yorkshire League that involves Harrogate and Leeds clubs. We’re trying to gain more experience in hosting big competitions and we hope this weekend will be a success as it’s the first major event we’ve held.

“If our competition goes successfully then I believe it will be incorporated into the English Petanque calendar. I’d urge anyone to come down, watch and also give it a go.

“The sport is growing considerably and once you’ve had a go it can become quite addictive.”

The Tog 24 La British Open takes place at Firth Park, Heckmondwike today and Sunday. Entry is free.