Beyond the world of uniforms, rigorous training, and regulation size playing surfaces, there exists an informal, often spontaneously assembled, tradition of American athleticism. Emerging with no particular pattern, events spring up naturally across suburban lawns, vacant lots, and public parks. These outdoor games, sometimes called yard games, fall under no single category; they are defined instead by the casual nature in which they are played.
A wide range of outdoor games are enjoyed on the American lawn. Some have international roots dating back hundreds of years while others are more recent products of American innovation. Many of these sports are played competitively and have standards and regulations set by national and international governing bodies. But, when played as a yard game, these sports are kept strictly at the amatuer level.
A mention of the word croquet might bring to mind images of crisp white clothing and wide brim hats. There’s no denying that croquet has a strong association with formality. The sport even reached Olympic status in the Paris games of 1900, but after one and only one person showed up to watch the event, the sport was permanently dropped from the roster. Traditional versions of croquet follow rigid guidelines, use heavy equipment, and are played atop leveled courts of finely manicured grass.
Fortunately, croquet is not a one-size-fits-all type of game, and different versions of the sport have evolved to suit various attitudes and playing surfaces. According to the Unites States Croquet Association (USCA), the version of the game most Americans have experienced is known as 9 Wicket (backyard) Croquet or just Backyard Croquet. If you purchase a croquet set in the United States, the instructions will almost always be intended for playing Backyard Croquet. The USCA publishes an official rule book for the game, but what makes Backyard Croquet so fun is its lack of formality.
Our Picks for the Best Croquet Sets
Over the last decade the popularity of cornhole in the U.S. has swelled, helping the sport emerge as a staple of the American experience. A quick review of the literature (i.e., here, here, and here) seems to suggest such a notion. Though knowledge of the game has become widespread, a definitive and verifiable story of its origin remains obscure. Researching the history of cornhole is an entertaining endeavor in and of itself. If you read one “history of cornhole” you’ve read thirty, each offering the same 3 or 4 possible explanations as to the game’s origins. Story 1: Invented by German cabinet maker Matthias Kuepermann. Story 2: Invented by Kentucky farmer Jebediah Magillicutty. Story 3: Invented by the Blackhawk Indians of Illinois. Story 4: Invented by German immigrants in the great [personal bias] midwestern city of Cincinnati, Ohio. Alas, one may never fully resolve the mystery that is the legendary history of cornhole. Although, brave souls willing to venture past page 5 in Google search may find revelations yet unknown to the author.
If there’s one aspect of cornhole’s history that seems less in question, it’s that the sport’s earliest fame grew out of the midwest, with the epicenter of the game’s popularity being in Cincinnati, OH. The two maps below illustrate the relative search frequency for the term “cornhole” in the United States during different periods of time. The map on the left reflects search data for the year 2004. The map on the right reflects all search data from 2004 to present. Darker colors indicate higher search volume. Source: Google Trends
The widespread adoption of cornhole as a tailgating party game has likely played an essential role in helping the sport reach a national audience. In light of the game’s association with tailgating culture, many cornhole boards available for sale place an emphasis on portability. These types of boards often incorporate materials like MDF, aluminum, and plastic and may be smaller in size than regulation boards. If one plans on moving a pair of cornhole boards in and out of a trunk on a regular basis, then a lighter, smaller set is probably a good choice. A regulation cornhole board, on the other hand, is made of wood, measures 2 feet by 4 feet, and has a top surface made of ½” plywood. An all-wood cornhole board provides a playing experience many consider far superior to that of boards constructed of materials such as plastic or MDF.
Our Picks for the Best Cornhole Sets
GoSports CornHole PRO Regulation Size Game Set
These standard 2’x4’ cornhole boards are a nice mix of quality, value, and convenience. Lightweight, yet sturdy materials like MDF and aluminum keep the weight down and a clever folding mechanism, clasp, and side handles allow a single person to transport the set. 8 - 1 pound bean bags are included.
Hardcourt Series Wooden Cornhole Set by Victory Tailgate
Solid, well-made, all-wood cornhole boards can provide years and years of outdoor fun. These handcrafted wooden boards from Victory Tailgate are built using cabinet grade birch plywood and come in a natural finish (additional finishes are available). 8 cornhole bags are included with the set.
The game of disc golf has been around since the 1960s, and despite being wildly popular in many circles, the sport tends to fly low on the radar, failing to reach a notoriety on par with that of many other outdoor pastimes (all puns intended). For those less familiar with the concept, the game consists of trying to hit a target with a flying disc using as few throws as possible. The game has become popular enough that many public parks across the country have installed permanent courses that are free to use. Private courses also exist that require a fee to play. If you’re looking for a course, the Professional Disc Golf Association publishes an online directory.
The great thing about disc golf is that it doesn’t require vast, gently, sloping fairways or highly manicured greens like traditional golf. In fact, the only things you really need to enjoy a game of disc golf are a disc and a target. In reality, any tree or pole could be used as a disc golf target, but a basket target has obvious advantages. Basket targets are designed for the purpose of collecting discs on impact, which prevents them from bouncing out of sight. A basket target can also be placed in the location of your choice. With a single target, you can create a multi-hole course in your very own yard. Simply choose a location for the target, and then select a variety of spots around the yard as starting points for each hole. The ability to play disc golf across nearly any existing terrain is one of the game’s biggest strengths.
Our Picks for the Best Disc-Golf Sets
Ideal Disc Master Classic Flying Disc Golf Game
This set’s larger golf target allows the game to be played using full-size discs. The target is also lightweight and folds up easily for storage or transport. The set includes 2 golf discs, a carrying case, and 9 flags to use for marking off your course.
Pacific Outdoors Disc Golf Goal
If you’re looking for a higher grade disc golf set without the higher price tag, then this unit is a great choice. The golf goal is made of galvanized steel and powder coated to resist the elements (which means you can leave it outside for a long time). 3 discs (short, mid, and long range) are included.
One of the great things about badminton is its versatility. The basics of the game are easy to learn and getting a shuttlecock across the net is a feat even young players can achieve. In fact, it’s not unheard of to find three generations of family members enjoying a game together out in the backyard. And, as a player’s skill increases, so can the level of play — all the way to Olympic glory. Badminton was made an official Olympic sport in 1992. From casual outdoor get togethers to massive indoor tournaments, badminton is a game accessible to players at any level.
When preparing to purchase a badminton set, there are some important factors worth considering. These factors include ease of setup, required space, and quality of equipment. The official width of a badminton net is 17 feet for singles play and 20 feet for doubles play, and the official length of the court is 44 feet. Obviously, you can modify the court length to suit your situation, but the net you purchase will be at least 20 feet (sometimes up to 30 feet if it’s a badminton/volleyball combo set) and that’s not including the length of the anchor ropes used to secure the poles. When it comes to ease of setup, not all sets are created equal. Look for poles whose pieces connect easily (usually via a button click mechanism) without the need of extra fasteners. Since installing a badminton net requires both time and valuable yard space, it only makes sense to choose a high quality set. Pole thickness, quality of the net and tension line, and grade of included equipment are all things worth keeping an eye on. A good badminton set will include a set of good quality, general use racquets but nothing one would consider professional grade (which is reasonable considering that many high end racquets cost several times more than the entire set). One of the smartest, easiest, and inexpensive ways to extend your badminton set is to purchase an extra sleeve of shuttlecocks. After all, there’s nothing that can crush your badminton aspirations faster than a misplaced birdie.
Our Picks for the Best Badminton Sets
Park & Sun Badminton Pro Set
Traditional badminton nets require both time and space to set up and enjoy, so it’s important to find a net that doesn't fall apart after a few games. This set from Park & Sun has a net that’s easy to install and quality that’s worthy of your time and effort. 4 racquets, 3 shuttlecocks, and storage bag are included.
Baden Champions Series Outdoor Combo Set
This premium set from Baden is highly rated and feature packed. Designed for frequent use, the net adjust easily to accommodate player height and game type (badminton or volleyball). Other features include tournament quality shuttlecocks and racquets (4 each), 1 premium volleyball, and 180 ft of high-quality braided boundary marker cord.
TETHER BALL GAMES
Does this game sound familiar to you: a ball is tied to a rope, the rope is tied to the top of a pole, two people stand on either side of the pole, one person smacks the ball so that it swings toward their opponent, the opponent tries to smack the ball back so that it begins traveling in the opposite direction, and play ends when one player manages to keep the ball moving their direction long enough for the rope to wrap completely around the pole? The origins of this type of sport date back to at least 1880 when English publications began reporting on a “new game” in which tennis balls were tethered to poles and smacked with tennis racquets. They referred to this game as “tether ball.”
Modern “ball-attached-to-a-rope-attached-to-a-pole” games generally come in two varieties. If you grew up in America then there’s a good chance you have played or at least heard about the game known as “tetherball” (one word). In “tetherball,” a ball about the size of a volleyball hangs at the end of a rope that is tied to the top of an upright steel pole. Players use their hands to smack the ball back and forth. Another very popular version of the game is played in a style similar to the original “tether ball” of the 1880s. “Swingball,” “totem ball,” “totem tennis,” and “Zimm Zamm” all refer to a game in which players hit a tennis ball hanging from a pole using thick plastic racquets. The pole in this style of play is shorter than that of American “tetherball” and usually features a corkscrew shape at the top that prevents the rope from wrapping. Hence, the objective of the game is to get the rope to travel either all the way up or all the way down the spiral.
Tether ball games have the double benefit of providing kids with both plenty of entertainment and exercise. In addition to offering a good cardiovascular and large muscle workout, “tether ball” games can strengthen skills needed for other sports as well. Andy Murray,a world renowned tennis player, references Swingball as a game that contributed to his success on the court.
Our Picks for the Best Tether Ball Sets
Mookie All Surface Pro Swingball
This “all-surface” swingball set stays upright via a base that fills with water or sand for stability. The entire set can pack into the same base for a trip to the park or beach. The top of the base includes a device to keep score and hooks on the pole give you a place to hang the paddles when not in use.
Lifetime Portable Tetherball System with Extra Soft Tetherball
Give kids a real tetherball experience with this portable and highly rated system from Lifetime. There’s no need for cement as the 8-foot powder-coated steel pole attaches to a 30” sand or water filled base. The set is rated for kids as young as 4, but can easily handle aggressive adult play as well. Nylon cord, 8” soft-touch ball, and ball pump included.
Bocce has been around for a long time. How long? Well, according to the United States Bocce Association, it may be the oldest game known to mankind. The name “bocce,” on the other hand, is Italian and plural for the word “boccia,” which is the Italian word for ball. Bocce belongs to a group of games called boules, which share the same common objective: throw or roll a larger ball so that it comes to rest as close as possible to a smaller target ball. Like most sports, bocce has governing bodies that publish official rules and specification for how the game must be played. But the informal bocce played on suburban lawns across the United States is a much more casual affair.
The international standard bocce ball is 107mm wide and weighs about 2 pounds. Recreational bocce sets sold in the U.S. include lighter balls that are typically 90mm or 100mm in diameter. A formal game of bocce is played on a rectangular court that is enclosed by a perimeter wall approximately 6” tall. Court dimensions range anywhere from 8’ x 14’ all the way up to the international standard of 60’ x 91’. In real life, though, people are inclined to play bocce in any spot they so desire, and one may find that playing bocce across the natural contours of the land adds a level of excitement to the game, particularly when kids are involved. Bocce is often described as a social sport, so the true fun of the game lies well outside the bounds of any international standard or specification.
Our Picks for the Best Bocce Sets
The idea of tossing objects for entertainment and sport has surely existed for the vast majority of human history. What’s varied through time, of course, are the specifics. One of the most documented throwing games of ancient times was the discus throw. The importance of the discus is evident by its inclusion in the ancient Olympic games. And considering the fact that the ancient Olympics were dedicated to the gods, it’s reasonable to assume that a discus wasn’t cheap. Some histories claim that Grecians, eager to enjoy a game of discus throw but unable to afford a real discus, improvised by bending horseshoes into hoops. The hoops were thrown competitively in a game to see who could throw the farthest. Then, at some point, people started placing poles in the ground as targets and the game became more about accuracy than distance. The result of this practice is the purported origin of a game known today as Quoits.
The modern game of horseshoes, also called horseshoe pitching, is believed to have originated from the game of quoits. When and how the offshoot happened remains unclear. Perhaps it was the point when no one could remember why they were spending extra time hammering the horseshoes into hoops and started throwing them as they were. It’s also believed that horseshoe pitching was a popular pastime for soldiers during both the Revolutionary and Civil War, which seems very plausible considering the availability of players and horseshoes, and lack of television. The popularity of horseshoe pitching spread across the United States as soldiers continued playing the game after returning home from war.
Our Picks for the Best Horseshoe Sets
St. Pierre American Professional Series Horseshoes Set
If you’re looking to give your kids a true “campground” style horseshoeing experience, then these drop-forged, solid steel, made in the U.S.A. horseshoes from St. Pierre are certainly the way to go. After all, if you’re going to take the time to build a horseshoe pit you might as well pick a set of shoes that are built to last.
Classic metal tipped lawn darts are an item many people born prior 1980 have experienced first hand, yet enough time has elapsed since their disappearance from store shelves to give the story of their existence the mystique of a legend. Lawn darts, also known as Jarts, Lawn Rockettes, and Javelin Darts, were introduced as a yard game in the 1950s. As the popularity of lawn darts rose, so did the number of reported injuries associated with their use. Lawn darts had originally been marketed as a game intended for both children and adults, but after a 4-year old boy was fatally injured as the result of a lawn dart accident in 1970, the game’s safety fell under intense scrutiny. Soon afterwards, the Consumer Product Safety Commision (CPSC) banned the sale of lawn darts in toy stores and began requiring manufacturers to include warning labels on the product’s packaging informing consumers that the game was not intended for use by children and may result in serious or fatal injury.
Even with tighter regulations in place, millions of lawn dart sets continued to be purchased and the number of reported injuries continued to increase. Between 1978 and 1986, an estimated 6,100 people were treated in emergency rooms for lawn dart related injuries. 80% of these individuals were under the age of 15. After a lawn darting accident lead to the death of 7-year old California girl in April 1987, the CPSC began investigating additional regulatory measures to protect the public from future harm.
In a ruling that took effect on December 19, 1988 the CPSC declared lawn darts a banned hazardous product, which made it illegal to offer them for sale in the United States. In their report, the CPSC estimated that at that time 1-1.5 million lawn dart sets were being sold each year within the United States. The CPSC encouraged consumers to destroy any lawn dart sets purchased prior to the ban.
Modern day “lawn darts” are tossed in a manner similar to that of their metal tipped predecessors but feature soft rubber ends that are designed to bounce on impact as opposed to stick. The objective of the game is to toss your darts toward a target ring placed on the ground so that the dart lands within the ring.
Our Picks for the Best Lawn Dart Sets
The game of washer toss has a variety of styles, each sharing the basic concept of tossing a metal washer toward a target hole in attempt to land the washer in or as close to the hole as possible. The aspects of the game that tend to vary relate to the dimensions of the washer and design of the target holes. The game has a few aliases as well, including “washer pitching,” “washers,” and the Spanish name “huachas.” The Wikipedia entry for “washer pitching” offers a closer look at some of the game’s various styles.
Specific details about the origin of washer toss tend to be anecdotal. The game bears a resemblance to other throwing games such as horseshoes and quoits, and a few words like “ringer” and “leaner” share a common meaning among these games. One theory suggest the game originated in the oilfields of Texas in the early 1900s when idle workers began tossing washers into empty oil cans. Another highly likely explanation is that the game is simply the innovation of “hard-working rural folks with few resources available for recreation.”
One of the the things that makes washer toss great is its lack of complication. Playing the game doesn’t require huge amounts of space and the equipment is lightweight and portable. If you’re looking for a laid back, easy to set up game that’s fun at any age, then washer toss is an obvious choice.
Our Picks for the Best Washer Toss Sets
The game of ladder ball is likely to have originated on American campgrounds in the early 1990s. Based on historical search data available from Google Trends, the term “ladder ball” (or the variants “ladder golf,” “ladder toss,” “ladder game,” and “golf toss”) did not appear on America’s search radar until 2005. Prior to that time, ladder ball games were mostly homemade DIY efforts. In 2005 a company known as Ladder Golf LLC, began selling a patented version of the game under the trademark name Ladder Golf. Commercialization of the game helped bring it to the attention of a national audience and numerous companies now offer ladder ball games for purchase.
Ladder ball equipment is not manufactured using a common set of specifications and variations in material and dimensions can exist from company to company. Even with variation, the basic design of a ladder featuring 3 equal width and equally spaced rungs hung between a pair of uprights that attach perpendicularly to a base seems well enough established that one may consider it the standard design. The other important equipment used in ladder ball are the bolas. A single bola consists of a length of rope with two weighted ends. The weighted ends of the bola are often constructed by drilling holes into golf balls and threading the balls onto a nylon rope. In an attempt to make the bolas safer, some companies use a softer sided ball that has a weighted center.
Ladder ball originated as a campground game and is frequently played at tailgating parties, so the game is made to be portable. The ladders are usually designed to disassemble easily so the parts can fit into a storage bag. Materials used to construct the ladders include PVC, metal, and wood. Ladders built from PVC pipe will usually be the lightest. Metal and wood ladders are often heavier but may prove more durable in the long run.
Our Picks for the Best Ladder Golf Sets
Bollo Ball Game Set
This set is built with metal tubing but still weighs less than 10 pounds. The telescoping design of the ladder’s side rails make set up and take down quick and easy. The top two rungs slide down into the bottom rung making it small enough to fit in the storage case. 6 rubber ball bolas are included.
Maranda Enterprises Metal Ladderball Game
This all metal Ladderball game is made of heavy duty steel and designed to be easily disassembled for portability. 8 removable bolts with large grip handles are used to connect the uprights to the legs and rungs. 6 weighted, soft-plastic bolas and carrying case are included.
If you’re in the United States and do a Google image search for the name “ring toss,” you’ll notice the term used generically to describe any game involving the tossing of a ring at a target. Many of the images show the kind of ring toss you’d find at a carnival or kid’s birthday party in which rings are tossed at a cluster of targets, such as a crate of empty bottles. There are also many images of a ring toss game characterized by an x-shaped target board with 5 upright pegs. (There are images of a single peg version as well.) The similarity in these pegged game boards is not a mere coincidence. This style of game originated in England, where it goes by the name garden quoits. Try an image search for the term “garden quoits” and the distinction is clear. Garden quoits developed as a casual version of traditional quoits, one that required less room and could be enjoyed by people of all ages. The target board used for a game of garden quoits usually has 5 pegs, while a few boards can be found that have 9 pegs. Other names used for garden quoits include rope quoits and deck quoits, though these names tend to associate more with a single peg version of the game. The name “deck quoits” comes from the practice of playing quoits with hoops made of rope on the deck of a boat.
It’s true, the history of garden quoits gets a little complicated. This might explain why people in the United states just call the game ring toss. Fortunately, remembering every detail about the game’s origin is not a prerequisite for having fun with the game today.
Our Picks for the Best Ring Toss Sets
Wooden Garden Quoits Ring Toss Set
The quality of materials used in constructing this ring toss set are readily apparent and the game is sure to provide years of enjoyment. The posts are thicker than that of most sets and the braided rope hoops have buckles finished in a rich brown stain. The addition of a sturdy and great looking storage bag make this set a top choice.