AUGUSTA — When Ray Fecteau visited France three years ago, he returned with a new hobby, one he’s since shared with his fellow Augusta residents.

That’s when he learned the game of petanque, pronounced ‘pay-tonk.’

“If you really want to get it right, you pinch your nose when you say it,” Fecteau said.

Fecteau has since built 10 courts at Mill Park with the approval of the City Council and on Sunday he’ll host the inaugural Augusta Fuel Company Open Doubles Petanque Tournament. Fecteau has commitments from teams in Blue Hill and Old Orchard Beach and has extended invitations to clubs in Quebec City.

“We’re going to have 12-14 teams,” Fecteau said.

The game is similar to bocce ball with a few variations. Competitors stand in a circle with feet together and toss hollow metal balls, or boules, as close as possible to a smaller target ball, called a cochonnet or jack. Each player has three balls and alternates shots with their competitors. The ball closest to the jack scores points. The game originated in France where an estimated 17 million people play.

The court is 4×15 meters or approximately 14 by 50 feet and made of stonedust.

“It’s very easy to play,” Fecteau said. “You can actually learn the game in five minutes but it takes awhile to perfect it.”

The tournament itself is fairly drawn out, Fecteau said. Five preliminary rounds will determine the finals and consolation groups with each round taking 50 minutes. Action begins at 8:30 a.m. with the finals expected around 4:30 p.m. There will be a break for lunch around 11:30.

Admission is free and spectators are welcome. “Bring your lunches, lawn chairs and beach umbrellas, and be prepared for a fun day at the park,” Fecteau said.

Fecteau and his wife Lucette host matches Tuesday nights and Saturday mornings and anyone is invited to come and learn the game. There are 12 “diehards” who show up on a regular basis and several more who come occasionally.

Fecteau particularly enjoys the social aspect of the game. He and his wife have traveled to tournaments as far away as Florida and have always been well received.

“The people you meet, the petanque people, become family once you get to know them,” he said.

Because the courts are located in a flood plain, Fecteau said no permanent structure can be built to house equipment. But he’s working on installing lights and has already raised $14,000 toward a final estimate of $25,000.

“It’s coming slow but sure,” he said.

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

ghawkins@centralmaine.com