I cannot provide a full description of
the rules and objectives of Bowling here but hopefully I
can provide a brief insight into our game of bowls and how
it is played. You can also read a bit about the history
of the game at our Lawn
Bowling History page.
Like most sports bowls uses its own language so I have
provided a glossary of common
lawn bowling language on another page.
It is said that Bowls is a game that can be played by anyone
aged from nine to ninety and in my time in the game I have
came across several nonagenarian players.
It does tend to have a crusty, "old people's game"
image due largely to the use of sponsors like Saga and over 55's
insurance companies. The reality is somewhat different and at
county level in Scotland the average player's age is probably
somewhere in the thirties. Competitive bowling can be an exhausting
game and in matches players are expected to perform for three
to four hours without a break. During these games they can walk
two or three miles and bend up and down about 100 times. It's
no wonder that bowlers traditionally suffer from both back and
knee injuries. Add to that the concentration and effort required
and you can see why we need a seat and a few beers after the match!
The Game is played on a Bowling Green. The surface is generally
grass but in some of the hotter, drier countries artificial surfaces
are increasingly being used. In countries with long winters, like
the UK and Canada, many indoor bowling centres have sprung up
where the game is played on a carpet like surface. While the weight
required to deliver the bowl changes on these surfaces the rules
and objectives of the game are essentially the same.
- The bowls are different sizes with a mid sized men's bowl
being between 116mm and 131mm in diameter.
- They are made of a hard plastic material which is able to
withstand the constant contact between bowls during play.
- Their weight should not exceed 1.59kg.
Until 2001 all bowls were either black or brown in colour. The
rules have now been changed to allow bowls in virtually any colour
and the manufacturers have taken up the challenge by producing
bowls in just about every colour imaginable, even pink!
During a game players deliver (roll) their bowls up the green
in turn trying to finish closest to a smaller white ball called
A bowling green is normally square and the Scottish Bowling
Association rules say that it shall be not less than 34
metres and no more than 40 metres in the direction of play.
It is surrounded by a shallow ditch.
The perimeter of the ditch is surrounded by a bank, which
should be not less than 230 mm above the surface of the
green. The green is normally divided into six "rinks"
allowing six games to take place concurrently. The rinks
should be not less than 5.5 metres nor more than 5.8 metres
Surface wear is spread by moving the rink settings laterally
and by changing direction of play every two or three days,
playing either across the green or up and down.
Rink extremities are marked off by boundary markers with
the centre of each being indicated by a "pin"
which also carries a number for the rink. The rinks are
numbered 1 through 6. Players deliver their bowls from one
end to another during an "end" then, when the
end is complete, they turn around and play back again.
Lawn bowls are not spherical, they are shaped on one side such that they follow
a curved track to the jack. They carry a mark to indicate
to which side the bias is applied.
As shown on the adjacent diagram the bowls can be delivered
on the "forehand" or the "backhand"
depending on the players preference or where bowls that
have already been played are located.
The curved path helps the player to find a way past bowls
that have been delivered short of the jack. Note that bowls
may travel outside the boundaries of the rink during their
course as long as they come to rest within these boundaries.
The players must stand on a rubber mat when delivering
their bowl. The mat is placed on the centreline of the rink
with its front end no less than 2m from the rear ditch or
less than 25m from the front ditch. Its position is chosen
by the player who throws the jack to start the end.
During an end the bowl nearest to the Jack is referred
to as "the shot". You may hear players on the
mat asking, "who is lying the shot?".
The player who first delivers the jack must ensure that
it is properly centred. If it comes to rest within two metres
from the front edge of the green it must be moved out to
a mark at that distance. The player delivering the jack
can choose the length to play it but it must finish at least
23m in a straight line of play from the front edge of the
The players then take turns to deliver their bowls. When all
the bowls have been delivered the number of "shots"
is counted. A shot is a bowl which is nearer the jack than any
of your opponents bowls. For example, if you have three shots
nearer the jack than any of your opponents bowls you score three
shots at that end.
At the conclusion of this typical end of
bowls in a singles match each player has has played four
Who is lying and how many shots have been scored.
(Rest your cursor over the image of the bowls for the answer.)
Games of bowls can involve singles play or teams of two in pairs,
three in triples or four in "rinks" games. Matches generally
involve a number of teams from one club playing another club.
For example a match could involve six rinks or 24 players (6x4)
The jack can be moved by the bowls during play. When a bowl moves
the jack it is left in the new position provided it remains within
the rink boundary markers. It can also be moved into the ditch
by a bowl. In this case it remains in the ditch and the players
must try to play their bowls as close as possible to the jack,
at the edge of the green, without falling into the ditch.
A bowl which moves the jack is marked with chalk and classed
as a "Toucher". If it touches the jack before falling
into the ditch it stays there, remains "live" and may
feature in the final shot count. A toucher that remains on the
rink and is later driven into the ditch by another bowl is also
a live bowl. A bowl that goes into the ditch and that has not
touched the jack is classed as being "dead" and it is
removed. All bowls which finish outside the side boundaries of
the rink are dead.
Bowls is a highly tactical game, which indeed is one of its attractions.
It is not always about "drawing" closest the jack. Players
must constantly anticipate what shot their opponents may play.
For example when a team has a few bowls behind the head the opposing
team may see the need to place a bowl amongst these to cover the
possibility of the jack being moved.
Similarly, if one side is already lying the shot, they may elect
play a guarding shot short of the target area to prevent their
opponents from moving anything. These are only two examples and
there are many other situations, too many to discuss here, where
tactics come into play.
There are basically four different types of shot, or delivery
in Lawn Bowling. These are ...
A Drawing Shot is the most common and it is really what the game
is all about. This shot is the one in which the player attempts
to play with the exact weight required to finish closest to the
jack or to a point on the green dictated by strategy or tactics.
This shot is often considered to the most skillful.
The "Yard On" shot is when the player plays his bowl
with the weight that will carry it a yard or two past the target.
The objective of this shot is usually to drag the jack away from
the opponent's bowls towards your own or to push a bowl out of
the "head" and take its place. This is often referred
to a as a "chap and lie" shot in Scotland.
The Running Shot is one which uses more weight than the yard on.
The object of this shot is to remove opponents bowls from the
head, to move the jack to the ditch or have some other effect
that requires the bowl to be played with weight. This can be a
difficult shot to play as the line required to get to the target
changes with different weight.
The Drive is probably the most spectacular shot on the bowling
green. A drive is when the player delivers the bowl at high speed
and with maximum weight so that he can strike the head or the
target with full force. The object of this shot can be to completely
remove opponents bowls from the head or from the rink or to drive
the jack into the ditch. It is also commonly used when a player
has a few shots against him. In this case the object is to destroy
the head or to "burn" the end by driving the jack out
of the rink. This can be a very effective and intimidating shot
to have in your armoury but many players have difficulty controlling
their direction when concentrating their efforts on so much weight.
Well, that's a brief introduction to the game of bowls that should
give you some idea what it's all about. Hopefully for those of
you who don't play the game but watch it on television it will
make your viewing more enjoyable.