December 29, 2015
The largest course in the world for the city's newest sport is currently being constructed just a stone's throw away in Fairmount Park in the shadow of Mount Pleasant Mansion.
It's called Stones (sorry for the above pun) and it's getting its own permanent course in Philly.
Earlier this week, the Kinka brothers, Chris and Ryan, took some time to exhibit the course and share how the game is played.
Chris said that he and his friend and business partner, John Janick, 43, of Mount Airy, developed the game along with some friends during a long weekend trip about nine years ago.
But, just what is Stones? That's a little hard to explain, Chris said.
"It's pretty hard for people to capture its true essence," he said.
At first glance, the game is a combination of bocce ball and golf.
"We were calling it bocce golf, at first," said Chris. "It just made sense."
"But, over the years, it evolved," Ryan said.
Chris, 38, of Germantown, said they played the game with their friends during that camping trip and, over the years, developed rules to form the game.
His brother, and Ryan, 33, of Phoenixville, has since stepped in to help grow the sport.
Stones players throw a small ball – called a "mark" – down a "stretch," which is the equivalent of a hole in a game of golf. A Stones course has five stretches and on each, players compete to throw their stones closest to the mark as the mark moves down a stretch, until it makes it to the "landing," which is sort of like the green in golf.
"Imagine playing horseshoes," Chris said, "but each round, the pin jumps to a new spot."
It may sound confusing, but as the Kinkas explained, the game is much easier to understand in practice. And, as they are currently working to build Philadelphia's first Stones course in Fairmount Park, many more locals soon will be able to give it a try.
It will be free to play the course; players will just need to get the right stones to play.
Originally, the Kinkas said, the game was played with a standard set of bocce balls, but they soon realized, as new players brought their own sets, that the sizes and weights of bocce balls vary among different sets. Instead of rejecting the differently sized balls, they said, players embraced these irregularities, and it led to the game's inclusion of three sizes of stones available to players in their quests to reach the mark.
"We noticed that people were like, 'Hey, I wish I had one of those smaller balls,'" Chris said.
Intricacies – like using a larger stone to push away an opponent's stone or using a smaller stone to squeeze into a tight spot – give the game its unique charm, they said.
And, anyone can play, no matter what age or skill level.
"One of the best Stones throwers is 70 years old," Chris said. "She's just really good at reading the terrain."
The course that the Kinkas are building – and hope to open in 10 weeks – in Fairmount Park is the result of the Philadelphia Parks Commission's Pitch Your Passion contest. The Philly Stones League, the nonprofit the Kinkas are a part of, won the use of a section of the park, about 70 yards deep and as wide as a football field, the Kinkas said, where the course will be installed.
Each stretch incorporates the natural topography of the space as the initial layout, and the Kinkas are building from there. They are keeping it all-natural, no concrete, for example, because their goal is for people to enjoy the park's natural surroundings as they play.
"We aren't bringing in bulldozers or anything like that," Ryan said.
When the Fairmount Park course is completed, it will be one of fewer than 10 Stones courses located between Pennsylvania and Canada, including one on the grounds of Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, N.Y. In addition to the Philly course, the Kinkas said they are also working to build an indoor Stones course at Lansdale's Prism Brewery.
Elsewhere, the game is played in backyards throughout the region and, the Kinkas said, they hope to grow the sport as a friendly competition between neighborhood teams.
"It's very much a grass-roots thing," Chris said.
The brothers envision a future where neighborhoods have Stones courses on vacant land or parking lots and tournaments where teams from each neighborhood can gather at Fairmount Park for a citywide competition.
But, for now, they are happy to have the chance to make a course in Fairmount Park a reality.
"The real goal is to make this course the launching pad for these throughout the city," Chris said.
For more information on the game and the Philly Stones League, visit phillystones.com.