The History And Rules Of Lawn Bowling

Rules and history of lawn bowling! Lawn bowling by any name - bowls, bocce, bowling on the green; is thousands of years old, yet today it remains popular world wide. Here's why.

"Bowls", "Bowling On The Green", "Bocce", "Lawn Bowling": by all of these names, lawn bowling has been around for several thousand years.

Some rules have likely changed over that time, but the fundamentals seem to be consistent, certainly since the game's historic record was started in the 14th Century.

Historians suggest the game made its way across Europe with Julius Caesar's centurions. At that time, and still today among Italians, the game was known as "bocce". By the 13th Century, "bowls", was entrenched in the British Isles. At the turn of the century, 1299 AD, the Southhampton Old Bowling Green Club was organized in England. The club remains active today, the oldest of record in the world.

Global politics threatened the game for a time. In the 14th Century, it was banned for commoners in France and England because archery, essential for defense, was losing popularity. The Scottish were having none of it. In Scotland the game continued uninterrupted, a favorite among even such legendary notables as Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. In Glasgow today 200 public bowling greens are in operation, including some enclosed greens for winter play.

Today's rules, the flat lawn, and even a dress code, seem to derive from the Scottish. Over time, the waves of Scottish emigrants took their game with them and established clubs in many countries, the colonies of the Western Hemisphere among them.

One famous story, and it has some credence, is that Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were in the middle of a game when word reached them of the impending assault of the Spanish Armada. The story goes that Sir Francis insisted on finishing the game before setting sail to engage the Spanish; noble dedication, indeed. In fact, he had to wait for the incoming tide to peak before he could get his ship out of the harbor anyway.



The American Revolution and virulent anti-British feeling in the Colonies stifled the game for nearly a century. Luckily, the Canadians kept it alive, spreading it from coast to coast.

New Jersey gets credit for lawn bowling's resurrection in the United States, when a small private club was started in 1879. By 1899 the game had reached the Pacific.

With such an apparently rich long history, for many the question still arises, "What's it about?"

Lawn bowling is distinguished by use of a biased ball. That is, the ball is deliberately lop-sided so that it always curves toward the flat side as it slows down.

The object of the game is to obtain points by getting one's ball(s) closest to a small white ball, the "jack", which may be anywhere between 75 and 108 feet away. The skill, some say "the art", is to gauge the curve to achieve this even when an opponent may have guard balls blocking the "jack".

The play may seem very rigid, perhaps because instructors suggest that proficiency lies in being able to throw the bowl the same way every time; in that respect, not much different from ten-pin bowling or curling. The art, of course, is in the judgment that guides weight, curve, and distance.

The balls, or bowls as they are known, vary in size, weight, and degree of bias. Local conditions are factors in selecting bowls. Bowlers in the British Isles tend to prefer lighter bowls for their characteristically wet, soft grass. The hard bowling rinks of South Africa warrant as heavy a bowl as rules allow. Similarly local conditions may influence choice of bias; for example, minimum for Florida and extra for heavier grass in Canada and on the often moist West Coast.

Bowls are delivered either forehand or backhand, and never aimed straight at the jack. Which a bowler selects is dependent on the position of other bowls already in play. On the average bowling green six feet of curve for every 100 feet of distance is a reasonable expectation. However, every bowling green has its own peculiarities. Herein lies the challenge of the game and, perhaps too, its fascination for players.

Rules of the game vary somewhat from country to country. Whereas in Canada tournament games are played to 21 points, in the United States when the ends are completed the leader wins, much like the end of the frames in ten-pin bowling.

Rules of attire are among the most interesting aspects of the game, as much a part of tradition as baseball uniforms in the major leagues. Canadians, for example, specify unified shoe color; Australians white or tan shoes; and Americans have no specific color. For clothing, "whites" are the order of the day for tournaments. Australians demand a hat, tie, blazer, shirt, long trousers, socks and shoes, white or cream. The tie and blazer may only be worn if officially approved beforehand.

The ostensibly leisurely pace of a lawn bowling game suggests it may be only appropriate for the idle rich or long retired. This image does not hold in most countries of the world. The pace belies the tension of competition, the skill, and, yes, the art. As yet, lawn bowling has no champion like Tiger Woods, but as the game's popularity continues to increase, a Tiger Woods may emerge someday and bowl touchers (to the jack) as handily as Tiger lays approach shots on the pin.

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