From left: Bev Schalwitz, president of the MB Senior Citizens Inc.; MB City Recreation Supervisor Kirk Carmichael; Mayor Carla Wixom; Councilwoman Cyndee Edwards; and Public Works Director, Greg Kwolek, hold the ribbon as the Mayor snips it with the giant scissors, officially opening the new public bocce ball courts, located at the corner of Shasta Avenue and Dunes Street.
With a bowling wind up, Morro Bay Mayor Carla Wixom underhand tossed a bocce ball into the air and bounding down the city’s new public Bocce Ball Courts, officially opening the newest, free-use recreational facility.
At an April 20 ceremony, City officials and members of the Active Adults (Morro Bay Seniors) gathered at the courts, located at the corner of Shasta and Dunes, next to the Public Works Department building.
The City spent some $60,000 on the facility that took a long time mainly due to the COVID pandemic. The two courts are outlined in concrete curbs and walkways with clay-surfaced “dirt” lanes. Bocce Ball can be played on a fancy court like these new ones or on just any expanse of grass, like Tidelands Park, where the local bocce payers have been playing.
“This is an exciting addition to our parks system,” said Recreation Supervisor Kirk Carmichael, who emceed the opening ceremonies. He said the new courts were built through the cooperation of the Morro Bay Seniors and the Public Works and Recreation departments.
Public Works Director, Greg Kwolek, said when he came here in 2021, the project was already approved but not going anywhere, because of the pandemic, there was no one to work on it.
The City broke ground on the project at another ceremony led by then-Mayor Dr. John Headding in March 2020, mere days before the start of the pandemic response that shut much of the city down and halted things like recreation programing.
Kwolek explained that the courts were engineered with French drains underneath, with a rock base that’s compacted and layered with decomposed granite and then a special bocce mix on top.
The courts held up well during the many storms over this past winter, he added.
Mayor Wixom thanked the city staff, the seniors, and public works and said the courts were an opportunity for Morro Bay citizens and visitors to enjoy a game of Bocce Ball.
Active Adults member, Patricia Daly who called herself the “Bocce Queen” opined that these are “great courts.” She’s played Bocce Ball at courts all over SLO County and these are without a doubt the best.
Other Bocce players attending said that they’d had their eye on this particular plot of corner land owned by the City, for about eight years. They were able to convince the previous city council to turn a passive use pocket park, into an active use, in this case for bocce bBall.
Mayor Wixom acknowledged that this was another example of City leaders trying to give the citizens what they want in terms of recreational opportunities.
This changeover was similar to what pickle ball players accomplished with an outdoor skating rink in Del Mar Park and the building of an off-leash dog park by the citizen’s group Morro Bay Pups, also in Del Mar Park.
Some of the senior bocce players chuckled that the pandemic, which halted progress, was advantageous for this project, as the original plan was for the City and senior volunteers to do the work.
That led the City to decide it had to do this right and take over building the project, saving some strenuous work for the volunteers. Some of the senior players helped design the courts including the layout and placement of benches and scoreboards and the dimensions.
How do you play bocce ball? It seems a pretty simple concept: essentially, the target ball, called a “pallino,” is tossed onto the court coming to land somewhere past the halfway point and players try to get closest to it to score. The pallino is roughly the size of a cue ball in pool.
According to an article on HGTV’s website, the “basic backyard bocce rules” are:
• There can be up to eight players and each team chooses a color or, if applicable, each person chooses a color and a pattern;
• Determine who will go first — flip a coin or choose the player with the closest birthday;
• The first player tosses out the pallino and begins play by throwing out a bocce ball attempting to get as close to the pallino as possible;
• The next team (or person) takes a shot at getting their ball closer to the pallino than the first player. If they succeed their ball is called “inside.”
• The second player continues until they have either gotten a bocce ball “inside” or they have thrown all of their balls;
• Play continues until everyone’s balls have been thrown and points go to the team with the most “inside” balls. Only the team with the most “inside” balls gets points;
• In the event of a tie, no points are awarded;
• The winner of each match throws the pallino and first ball for the next one. The game is won by the first player/team to reach 13 points (Morro Bay’s scoreboard goes up to 10).
And just like horseshoes or croquet, it’s legal to hit the pallino and move it or knock another player’s bocce balls away from scoring. You can also knock your own balls closer to the pallino and score that way.
And if a ball comes to rest touching the pallino, it’s called a “kiss” and worth 2 points.
The courts will be open to the public with the Senior Center — located in the nearby Community Center — having a couple of ball sets available. The courts can also be reserved.
There will be regular play days at 1 p.m. Thursdays, and the senior players are willing to teach folks who’d like to learn the game.
Bocce ball sets sell online from $35 to over $120, so just as with horseshoe pits in other city parks, players should probably bring their own set of balls to play with.