This weekend, Amelia Island is the setting for a tournament of a popular outdoor game called Pétanque.
Pronounced “pay-tonk,” the game originated more than a hundred years ago in Provence, France. Amelia Island is hosting the international tournament on November 10 -12.
Sheila Clark encourages people to come see the Pétanque Amelia Island Open. Her Jacksonville-based French club, Alliance Française of Jacksonville will be one of the vendors there. "We'll be dishing up some fun along the sidelines with everything from crepe tossing to pop-up French lessons to teach you how to cheer on the teams," Clark said.
Kate Harris of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau expects to hear many languages spoken during the tournament that’s drawing players from 19 countries and the U.S.
Given Amelia Island’s French connection and feel, she says it’s the perfect backdrop for the competition and festivities.
“We were originally a French Island. That was the first of our eight flags. And this event came here nine years ago. A Belgian gentleman, Philippe Boets, originated it here, and this has grown into the biggest Pétanque tournament in the Americas,” said Harris.
“We’re an idea home for this. We have a harbor front, palm trees, you can walk to shops and restaurants. A lot of people tell us that this town (Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island) is very much like the small towns in the south of France where the game originated,” she added.
Seven world champions will be among the players competing on dozens of Pétanque courts scattered throughout town, most near the Fernandina Harbor Marina.
The game is similar to Bocce’. The goal is to toss hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden one. It’s normally played on hard dirt or gravel.
Denny Lothamer with the Amelia Island Pétanque club plays about five afternoons a week. He was introduced to the game three years ago, when another tournament was here.
“I was down here at the seafood market and Charlie down there was telling me they were playing Pétanque and I said ‘Charlie, what is Pétanque?’ And so he started explaining quite a few of the rules, so my wife and I walked down here and met Philippe, and there was somebody that needed another player, and I jumped in and played and was hooked ever since,” said Lothamer.
That describes the ease at which one can join a game.
“I invite everyone to come out here and play," Lothamer says. "You don’t have to be athletic to play this game and a lot of times on Saturday morning, especially, it’s very social to meet people that just love to get together and talk.”
Excitement about Pétanque is growing worldwide and it may become a sport played in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Harris is hoping for a big crowd at the Amelia Island Open tournament.
“It’s a beautiful time of year, a great weekend. Come and walk around, stay, enjoy food and drink here. We’ll have live music at lunchtime, different musicians coming to play. It’s like getting a European holiday, but you’re right here on the First Coast,” said Harris.
The tournament is free to the public. More information is available on AmeliaIsland.com's website.
Michelle Corum can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6308 or on Twitter at @MCorumonME.