The Game

Lawn Bowling is a game that has something for everyone.  Its at heart a social game, and many get pleasure from the social events at their local clubs.  It is easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master, which allows for play by anybody, from ex-jocks whose knees just can’t take the abuse anymore but still crave the adrenaline rush of competition to former couch potatoes who just want to make some friends and get a little fresh air and exercise.

History of the game

If you want to discover the roots of lawn bowling, you need to go all the way back to the Roman Empire (some would say Ancient Egypt). Roman soldiers played a game where they tossed stones at a larger target stone. These soldiers played this game wherever they were stationed, and the game eventually spread across the empire. In Italy, the game evolved to what we now know as Bocce. In Provence, France, it became Boules, know known as Pentanque.

At some point, the game made its way to the British Isles. How is not known for sure, but one speculation is that it came over during the Norman Invasion of 1066. The first written record of Lawn Bowling in England comes in 1299, with the founding of the Southampton Old Bowling Green Club, which, still active today, is the oldest club in the world. Lawn Bowling became incredibly popular in England, too popular in fact. It seems that the popularity of lawn bowling was causing a decline in participation in archery, vital to the defense of the country. This led to three separate bans on the game, the last one enacted by Henry VIII in 1511. It prohibited the sport among commoners, and if the wealthy wanted a green on their estates they had to pay an annual fee of 100 pounds. With the advent of firearms, enforcement of the bans ceased, but the Puritan Revolution all but ended sports in England, and even with the Restoration of the 17th century, lawn bowling did not make much of a comeback in England. There was no such problem in Scotland, where the sport continued to thrive, and in the 1840’s the Scots put together a series or rules and regulations which remain largely unchanged to this day. Like the Romans before them, the English spread the game across their empire.

Many of the countries in which lawn bowling is popular these days can trace their roots back to the English. English colonists brought Lawn Bowling to America as early as the early 1600’s, with the earliest known bowling green being in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1632. There was also a green in Battery Park, New York, located where the Customs House now stands. Washington even had his own green at Mount Vernon. But then the Revolutionary War happened, and all things British fell out of favor, including Lawn Bowling. It was not until a resident of New Jersey by the name of Christian Schepflin returned from a trip to Scotland in 1876 that interest in the sport was revived. Returning with a passion for a game he saw in Scotland, Schepflin established a private bowling club at his residence, and from their its popularity spread across the Northeast. It quickly made its way across the country, and in 1901, the St. Andrew’s Society, a fraternal Scottish organization, formed the first public lawn bowling club, the San Francisco Scottish Bowling Club, in the United States. A green was established in Golden Gate Park, where today it is green #1 of the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club. It was the first green on municipal grounds in the country.

In 1915, the American Lawn Bowling Association was formed(it later merged with the WALBA in 1970 to form the USLBA).  ( 2013- Bowls USA is a “Doing Business As” name for the U.S. Lawn Bowls Association.) They held their first National Championships in 1918. Over the next 25 years the game spread across the country, helped by the Works Progress Administration, a job creating New Deal part of the government that built many greens across the country. World War 2 put a halt to this growth spurt, and it was not until the 1970’s that the game made a comeback in this country, where it has continued to grow, most predominantly in Southern California, where the popularity is aided by year round bowling weather. Today there are over 100 clubs across the country, with about a quarter of them located in Southern California.

How the Game is Played

The Basics

Lawn Bowling is a game played between two teams of equal size; team sizes range from 1 for singles to four for rinks.  The field of play is a long rectangular area of grass known as a rink.  Each rink is 14 ft wide by 125 ft long, and there is room enough for 8 rinks on a green, which is approximately 125 ft square.  The grassy surface is cut very short and then rolled, thus providing a smooth surface for the bowls to roll on.  The surface is very similar to that of a putting green.  The game starts with one team rolling a small white ball (the Jack) to somewhere in the far third of the rink, where it is spotted along an invisible center line.  The teams then take turns rolling their off-centered (biased) bowls towards the jack, with the object being to get as close as possible.  Each bowl that a team has that is closer to the jack than their opponent’s nearest bowl scores a point.  When all players are done rolling their bowls, the score is tallied and recorded.  This completes an end.  The next end proceeds the same way in the other direction, and this continues through a prescribed number of ends, which can range anywhere from 10 to 21, or possibly more, but is typically 12-14.  At the end, the scores are totaled, and the team with the most points wins.

Well, that’s the basics, but like any game there are always details, and those wishing to learn about the game in a little more detail, feel free to read on.

The Field of Play

As stated above, the basic field of play is the 14′ x 125′ rink, eight of which comprise a green.  That means that on a green there can be up to eight games being played simultaneously.  Most clubs in Southern California have multiple greens.  At our Long Beach club, we have 3 greens, so we could have up to 24 games going on at once.

The putting green-like surface, cut very short and rolled, allows the bowls to roll smoothly.  But like a putting green, it is a natural surface, and as such is always going to have slight variations that affect the arc of the bowl.  On many rinks, you can have your aiming line be different for either hand and in both directions.

In addition to its effect on the trajectory of the bowl (the line), the surface also affects the speed of the bowl (the length).  The condition of the grass, be it wet or dry, long or short, just rolled or not, determines how much it slows the bowl.  This is known as the speed of the green.  A fast green is very smooth and hard and does little to slow the bowl.  On a fast green it takes very little effort to roll the bowl the length of the rink.  A slower green, however, can greatly slow a bowl, and it requires a great deal of force to get the bowl to the other end of the rink.  Green speeds are rated in seconds, as in the green is running at 12 seconds.  This number is the time it would take for a bowl to travel and come to rest 27 meters from the point of release.  The longer the time, the faster the green.  At first it seems counter intuitive that taking longer to reach the mark would mean a faster green, but  a fast green requires minimal release force and travels at a consistent slow speed and then gradually decelerates, all of which takes a great deal of time.  Meanwhile, on a slow green, there is a great deal of initial force and the bowl travels much distance in a short amount of time before decelerating rapidly, all of which happens in a short amount of time.

Green speeds are taken very seriously at higher levels.  Bowls Victoria actually makes available on the website a green speeds log that is to be filled out weekly.  They also include instructions on determining green speeds, and directions for what to do if you feel a green you bowled on was not in compliance.

The Players

Teams range anywhere from one to four players. In discussing different positions, we will use a triples (3) as an example as that is the game most often played at clubs in this country.  In triples the team is made up of three players, the Lead, the Vice-Skip or Vice, and the Skip, the captain of the team.  Each position comes with its own tactical goals and duties to perform.

First up is the lead.  The lead starts by setting the mat and rolling the jack, both of which are done to the Skip specifications, though some skips will leave the decision up to the lead.  Once the jack is set, the lead rolls his bowls, alternating shots, as usual with their counterpart.  Although strategies may vary, typically it is the goal of the lead to set the head or get bowls in the head.  Getting multiple scoring or potentially scoring bowls from the lead starts the team off with good momentum, and gives the following bowlers something to work with.  Conversely,  starting the end with no bowls in the head is a great way to give the opponents a big scoring end.   Leads are often frustrated because they often see their scoring bowls knocked away by following players, but they need to understand that they are setting the tone for the end, and every bowl they place near the jack adds a bit of pressure to the other team. At the end of each end, the losing lead is charged with raking the bowls back to the mat, though etiquette dictates all give some assistance in this.

Next up is the Vice.  It is their job to take what the lead did, and build upon it.  If the lead left the team with three scoring bowls. the Skip may have the Vice play some tactical bowls.  If the other team is holding shot, the Vice may be asked to draw in for shot.  They may even be asked to do a weighted shot, if there are opponent’s bowls that need to be removed from the head.  Bottom line is this:  the Vice needs to be able to play multiple kinds of shots, and play them well.  The possible pitfall for the vice is that there are more bowls in the head at this point, and care must be taken not to let an errant shot improve the opponent’s position or score.  In addition to their bowling duties, Vices also communicates the disposition of the head to the Skip when the Skip is bowling, and along with the opposition’s Vice, determines the score for each end.

Last up is the Skip, the Captain of the team. The skip’s job is twofold.  The first part of their job is directing the other bowlers.  The skip may indicate whether or not a certain hand should be played, and what kind of weight should be used.  They may also point out available wicking opportunities or dangerous spots.  Once a bowl has been bowled, the skip should communicate how far off the weight was.  And while doing all of this, the skip must also be managing the personalities of their squad, knowing who wants specific guidance and who needs to sort themselves out.  Once all other positions have finished bowling it is the skips’ turn.  The skip needs to be a very versatile bowler, as there is not always an opportunity to draw into the head.  They should be accomplished at weighted shots and be able to tell when to play each type of shot.  There is also a bit more pressure in the skip role, as when they are done bowling, that is it.

More to Come…


  • It is customary to wear your name tag.
  • Compliment a good shot and ignore a poor one.
  • Excessive talking is distracting to other players.
  • Don’t wander to other rinks.  It makes it hard for you to know the relative placement of bowls in the head.
  • Follow a pattern of clock-wise rotation on and off the mat.
  • Failure to be ready to play in your proper turn is impolite and annoying to others.
  • It is essential to cooperate fully with the Skip.  Give your Skip the same cooperation you would like to have in his/her place.
  • The Skip should respect his/her teammate’s efforts to do their best.
  • Don’t talk or move suddenly when a bowler is about to bowl or bowling.
  • Don’t stand where you obscure rink markers and the center-line.
  • Don’t change ends until the last bowl of the group has been delivered and comes to a stop.
  • When changing ends. Walk inside your own rink and down the center.
  • Do not use gamesmanship no matter how tempting.
  • At the completion of each end:

-Each Vice should signal score to Skip

-Leads rake or set the mat right away

-Each Vice kicks in the outlying bowls

-Vices pick up any bowls sitting on the ledge

-Vice on the team that rakes posts the score

  • Shake hands with all players at the end of the game.


Aiming Point:  Point to direct your bowl. Some pick a spot on the bank … others try to imagine the should of the arc and bowl to that point.

Be Up:  Don’t be short – short bowls are harder for the Vice and Skip to negotiate.

Bias:  The weighted or small insignia side of bowl.

Burned End:  The jack has been knocked out of bounds.  The End is not counted and played again.

Draw Shot:  Where the object is to deliver the bowl to the jack.

End:  An End is from the starting point of the rink to the other end.  Most games have 12 – 14 Ends and the score is registered on the scoreboard.

Hammer:  The team whose Skip takes the :hammer” rakes the balls into position and bowls last.

Head:  A term describing rolled bowls in the vicinity of the jack.

Jack High Bowl:  A bowl to one or the other side of the jack on a line horizontally with it.

Point Bowl:  Bowl closest to the jack … sometimes called the Shot Bowl.

Rink:  The area between the markers to the left and right of the center marker and from end to end of the green.  The center marker can be either white or yellow.

Shoulder of the Arc:  The point where the arc of the bowl curves inwards towards the head.

Toucher:  A bowl which has made contact with the jack.  It is live even if it passes into the ditch within the boundaries of the rink and is marked with chalk.

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional Wisdom coming soon.