Article provided courtesy of B. Weir of Vale of Leven Lawn Bowls Club

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 the "Jack".


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 wide.

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 mat.

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 bowls.

Who is lying and how many shots have been scored.

(Rest your cursor over the image of the bowls for the answer.)

There are two bowls belonging to player with the yellow markings nearer the jack than any of the other players so this player lies two shots

 


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) per team.


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.

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