What is Lawn Bowls?
Bowls (often referred to as “Lawn Bowls”) is one of the largest participation sports in Victoria with more than 60,000 registered bowlers and hundreds of thousands of people of all ages who play various casual forms of the game: barefoot bowls, social bowls, corporate bowls, party bowls, blind-date bowls and any other form which emerges in response to some lateral thinking by administrators and increasing demand by new generations of bowlers.
Dating back to origins in ancient Egyptian times, "Bowls", "Bowling on The Green", "Bocce", "Lawn Bowling" has been around for several thousand years.
Historians suggest the game made its way from Egypt 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 on record in the world.
In the 14th Century, bowls was banned for commoners in France and England because, due to its popularity, participation in archery, essential for defense, was declining. 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 is that Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were in the middle of a game of bowls when word reached them of the impending assault of the Spanish Armada. As the story goes, Sir Francis insisted on finishing the game before setting sail to engage the Spanish; coincidentally, 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.
The Royal Victorian Bowls Association (RVBA) was established in 1880, and the Victorian Ladies’ Bowling Association (VLBA) in 1907 making it the first ladies’ bowling association in the world.
In 2010 the RVBA and VLBA unified and became what is today known as Bowls Victoria.
Lawn bowling is distinguished by use of a biased ball, itself called a “bowl”. The bowl 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 bowl(s) closest to a small white (or yellow) ball, the "jack" which may be anywhere between 21 metres and 36 metres away. Scoring applies to having the highest number of bowls closest to the jack to a specified number, over a specified number of “ends” or within a time limit.
The art, of course, is in the judgment that guides weight, curve, and distance of each delivery to achieve the desired outcome.
The bowls vary in size, weight, and degree of bias. In addition to a person’s strength and size of hand, local conditions are factors in selecting bowls. The type of green played upon (various types of grasses or synthetic surfaces) and a preference for a bowl which curves significantly or minimally all need to be considered.
Bowls are delivered either forehand or backhand, with a “drive” being a high speed delivery aiming to negate the bias to a large degree. The delivery selected is dependent on many factors, including the position of other bowls already in play. On the average bowling green around 2 metres of curve for every 30 metres 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.
The Laws of the Sport of Bowls (Crystal Mark Edition) were released by World Bowls in September 2006 and define the laws of the game. Bowls Australia and Bowls Victoria have additional Domestic Regulations or Rules for Competition which further define the conditions of play for competitions.
Long perceived as a sport for the retired or aged, bowls has been reinvigorated in recent years and is highly attractive to a broad range of ages and demographics. Consequently, dress regulations have become far less stringent and now embrace a range of coloured attire along with the prevalence of numerous colours and varieties of bowls themselves.
Why is it so popular?
Bowls has some unique qualities:
1. Easy to learn – a novice can pick up the basics in half an hour – and spend the next 50 years trying to master it. Having mastered the basics, one can compete at a level appropriate to the mastery achieved and enjoy doing so for many, many years.
2. Open to everyone – people of all abilities.
People of all ages from 5 to 99 can play. People who have been outstanding athletes in other sporting pursuits play with and against many who were never likely to be great athletes, but who can really play bowls! People in wheelchairs, people with visual impairment, people with hearing disorders, people with other intellectual or physical disabilities – all can play the game with people of similar impairments or alongside able-bodied bowlers with little or no modifications to the game itself.
3. It is an inexpensive sport when compared to most. Membership of a Bowls Club varies from $60 to perhaps $180 for a full year. Opportunities to “drop in” and “have a bowl” are offered by most Victorian Bowls Clubs through FREE Come-and-Try Days, and through casual programs (Barefoot Bowls, etc) which normally cost around $5 to $10 a session with all equipment and coaching provided – normally with BBQ and drinks available (often included in the fee!).
4. Membership of a Club (which includes affiliation with Bowls Victoria) is recognised by any Bowls Club in Australia (and the world). Unlike other sporting clubs, a member is not restricted to those clubs with reciprocal rights. An affiliated bowler can enter any Bowls Club in Australia, be welcomed and join in various events run at the club (for a very small greens fee, normally around $5).