Grandpa’s game. That’s what I used to think about shuffleboard. I avoided the game’s allure for as long as I could. Then, after just one game, I was hooked! Move over, Grandpa! Or prepare to be skunked!
I got to wondering: How did this game originate? When did shuffleboard games become a common sight at parks and campgrounds all across America? Here’s what I discovered.
History does not note precisely when or where the game originated. Most historians believe that the game began as an indoor, tabletop game. In the 1400s, English pub-goers played with a groat—a large English coin. The purpose of the game was to slide the groat across the tabletop, getting it to stop while overhanging the table’s edge, without falling off. The English called their game “Shovegroat.”
In later years, players used a silver penny and played on a uniquely designed game table that featured painted scoring sections. Players attempted to shove the penny so that it landed on the sections with the highest score.
Shuffleboard comes to America
English immigrants brought the game of shuffleboard to America in the late 18th century. The game was known by several names: shove-penny, shovelboard, and finally shuffleboard. Sailors were known to pass the time during their ocean crossings by playing the popular game on the ship’s deck. Most often, gambling accompanied the pastime, and this helped the game’s popularity to grow.
Colonists enjoy the game
After winning independence from the British, shuffleboard continued to be popular in America. Many aristocrats brought tabletop shuffleboard games into their parlors. (You, too, can have your own tabletop shuffleboard. How fun for RVers!)
Some early state governments pushed to ban the game of shuffleboard, citing it as a “game of chance” and therefore an illegal activity—gambling. In 1848, the case of “Pennsylvania v. Bishop” came before a judge. In his final ruling the judge said, “Though the defendant kept a public gaming table, as charged, and though diverse persons played thereat and bet spirituous liquors on the game, the game was not a game of chance, but was altogether a game of skill.”
Over time, the game of shuffleboard evolved. While the game’s tabletop playing surface remained popular inside bars and home parlors, shuffleboard also began to be played outdoors. Players used long, forked sticks to push discs across narrow, waxed wooden surfaces. Points were given for discs that landed in high-score areas, and rules were adjusted, allowing players to knock their opponents’ discs out of play.
Shuffleboard Club and associations
In 1924, the St. Petersburg’s (Florida) Shuffleboard Club published standard shuffleboard game rules. They also detailed an official court size and detailed the game’s equipment standards.
In 1931, the National Shuffleboard Association was formed in St. Petersburg. This group immediately adapted the 1924 published game rules and play standards, many of which are still in effect today.
During this period of time, the game of shuffleboard continued to grow in popularity and could be found in many U.S. city parks and other outdoor public spaces.
Most modern-day shuffleboard courts are made of concrete, sealed with a waterproof product, and then polished with wax to a high, smooth gloss. This allows the pucks to glide oh, so smoothly. Players who learn the “feel” of individual courts often adjust the force used to push the disc into play. In my mind, shuffleboard is definitely a game of skill.
Anyone can play
Over time, the game of shuffleboard became popular (and virtually synonymous) with retirees, who enjoyed playing the game during warm Florida winters. Folks on cruise ships also enjoyed the game.
Today, however, people of all ages play shuffleboard. On weekends in downtown St. Pete, I’ve seen families of all ages enjoying the game! In fact, it’s often difficult to find an open court! So, don’t wait! Give shuffleboard a try. Like me, you just might become obsessed with it.
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll also enjoy…
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Thank you, Gail!
In the 1950s and 60s, the youth room in our church had a shuffle board court painted on the floor. So many bars did have the table top versions.
When I was a wee little one, one of the restaurants/bars our family visited had the same table game that is in the picture. We kids had a blast playing it. I haven’t thought about that game for 5 decades. Thanks for bringing back the memories.
YES!!! One game and I was hooked!! Just started playing this past winter at our RV park in Texas. I can’t wait for shuffleboard day!! At our park partners are randomly drawn so it gives lots of opportunity to meet and get to know new people. See lots of grand folks playing with their grand children when they come to visit. What fun! Love it, love it, love it!!
One of the oldest Shuffleboard suppliers, you can even get a portable court, or just your own discs and cues.
As a child, I played a version of this where the end of the board had 4 small slots into 4 catch areas. The goal was to score points (different amounts for each slot). Being Dutch, we had a Dutch name for it – I won’t attempt to spell it here, because I would butcher it.