Bocce: My Turn, Grandpa!

The ancient sport of bocce suffers from an image problem. "It conjures up this picture of old Italians with a glass of wine and a stogie," says Mario Pagnoni, author of the definitive guide to the sport, "The Joy of Bocce." Male octogenarians long held a monopoly on the game because of tradition. "One of the problems was, old Italian men didn't let women or kids play," Pagnoni says.

But those days are gone. The sport, which involves rolling the four-inch bocce ball as close as possible to the pallino, a smaller target ball, is now surging in popularity. According to the World Bocce Association, it is currently the second most popular participatory sport in the world--and women are driving the charge. "If you'd asked me 20 years ago, I'd say 5 percent [of players] were women," says Traci Peters, organizer of last week's American Bocce Association national championships. "Now I'd have to say it's 50-50." Players are also getting younger. Though the average age at the tournament was 65, local YMCAs have established youth tournaments, and sporting-goods stores now offer glow-in-the-dark and water-filled bocce balls to attract younger players.

Bocce is trying another ploy to capture the hearts of the public--by getting to their stomachs. Trattoria di Bocce, opened last month in Orion Township, Mich., is one of the country's first bocce restaurants. Now the iconic bocce player can have some linguine with his (or her) wine.