The Game

This outline is meant to provide the basic fundamentals of Lawn Bowling for orientation, training, and for problem solving. Even seasoned players can get into a slump and it’s good to “review the basics”.


Lawn Bowling is traced back to the ancient Egyptians where they were playing with 4 large stones and 1 smaller stone. The Polynesians used larger stones approx. 4” round and a smaller stone marker. Roman soldiers played the games, and in France it was called Petanque and the Italians called the game Bocce. The ancient Maori natives fashioned stones that took a bias similar to what we have today. The English began making wooden bowls from walnut or cherry wood. The early wooden bowls had lead poured in them to make them bias. For a while the bowls were made from hard rubber and then heavy plastic. Today bowls are formed from an acrylic plastic fired in ovens. Lawn Bowling is distinguished by use of a “bowl” rather than a “ball” due to the bias. The object of the game, primarily played outside, is to get your bowl or your teams bowls closer to the Jack than your opponent. Weather conditions and conditions of the Green, are additional factors that make this an exciting game besides your opponent (s).

The oldest active Lawn Bowling Club is in Southampton, England and it was founded in 1299. Some English and French kings forbade lawn bowling between 1361 and 1409 so the troops would not be playing games instead of practicing with the long bow. In 1555 Queen Mary of England forbade all bowling because it allowed people to congregate and make possible conspiracies against the Realm. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake was playing the game when the Spanish Armada was sighted off the English Coast, and it was said that he said “let’s finish the game and then we will finish the Spaniards”. It seems that lawn bowling took root in the United States in 1879 in San Francisco, and there are approx. 160 Lawn Bowling Clubs in the United States and many around the world. Most are open to play for people belonging to other Lawn Bowling Clubs and they are Public opposed to Private.

The American Lawn Bowls Association (ALBA) was founded in 1915, and in 1938 ALBA was admitted to the World Bowls Association. ALBA became the United States Lawn Bowls Association (USLBA) and there are now 7 geographic Divisions and over 110 Clubs in the United States. Each Division sends 2 persons to the USLBA and they meet at least once a year. Clubs join the USLBA and individuals belong to the USLBA through their Clubs. Southern California is in the South West Division.


On the Greens, bowlers must wear smooth soled, flat shoes, preferably with no tread. As you can imagine, heel marks and other indentations could cause problems with the Green, plus tread picks up weed spores and can cause weeds. In 1892 the Scottish Bowling Association drew up a dress code and in 1903 England accepted the Rules and in 1915 the ALBA accepted the Rules. Lawn Bowling was once the sport of gentlemen and ladies. At first it was primarily played at Private Clubs and large estates. The National Dress Code states that white or cream pants, shorts, skirts and culottes are to worn not less than 3” above the knee. All shirts were to have a collar and no t-shirts were allowed. Clubs wear “whites” for certain days of the week, and at Club Tournaments. Clubs may adopt “team” colors, and they can be worn in most USLBA Tournaments as long as all members from the team are wearing their team colors. There are no set rules for colors of hats or shoes. Common courtesy, good manners, and good sportsmanship are the rule! Never applaud shots or complain or be critical of others. Players always shake hands before and after the game. Be sure to thank the referee if there is one. Some BASICS-
1. Say or do nothing that will upset others around you.
2. When there is a person on the mat and you are next, stand at least 3’ behind and to their left.
3. Exit the mat to the right.
4. Help put away things after the game(s) are done on that rink.

GREENS (Private, Public) & RINKS

1. PHYSICAL DIMENSIONS – There can be some minor differences in sizes of Greens & Rinks. The Green is the entire grass area divided into rinks. The Green is not more than 132.3 feet wide and not narrower than 121.5 feet. Rinks range from 14 to 19 feet wide, but normally are 14 to 15 feet wide and they are 120 to 125 feet long. A ditch runs on the outside of the Green and it is 8 to 12 inches wide, 2 inches deep, and the BANK or backboard at 9 inches above the Green.

2. PHYSICAL CONDITION – The PACE of the Green is measured from the time the bowl is released until it comes to final rest approximately 88’7” from the front of the mat. Open Tournaments and Championships have a recommended PACE of not less than 12 seconds. On a FAST GREEN the bowl travels slowly because with little strength the bowl keeps rolling. On a SLOW GREEN the grass is higher or heavier and as it takes more strength to roll the bowl, it actually goes faster from point to point. Some Clubs may have grassy areas and dryer areas and as the bowl travels up the rink the heavy grass can slow the bowl down, and as it hits the dry areas speed up. Some Rinks may not be TRUE from side to side and it could tilt slightly. As you roll your forehand it may take more bias than rolling the same direction with your backhand. TERMS AS “take more grass” means you need to go wider. “Take less grass” means to go narrower. Going “NARROW” means you crossed over the center line to the other side (in alley bowling, it’s referred to as the Brooklyn side). “WIDE” means you were too far from the center. “JACK HIGH” means you are even with the Jack. “LONG” and “SHORT” are obvious. “WEIGHT” is considered the force used to roll the bowl. Saying you need more ‘weight’ means roll it harder. Depending on whether it is windy, rainy, wet, dry, natural undulations with the Green, etc, you need to read what to do with the line of shot you are about to take.


Bowls are made off center with a slight taper to one side and when rolled with the larger logo outside will BIAS to the left. When rolled with the large logo on the left side will bias to the right. Bowls come in a set of 4 with the manufacturer name and model name on it. It is weighted or tapered slightly in the direction of the smaller emblem, which causes the bowl to roll in that direction. The size of the bowl is stamped on the bowl. Bowls should last approx. 30 years or more. Bowls come in different grading levels depending on weight and size. They go from the smallest and lightest 00 to a size 7 for a total of 9 different sizes. The weight generally varies between 3 and 4 pounds. The bowls additionally can be “heavy” which for example takes a size 5 bowl to a 5 “heavy” bowl. There are approx. 18 different weights. The sizes, weights, and biases of the bowls are based on individual preference and it is wise to try some different bowls out prior to purchase. See the video on “How Lawn Bowls Are Made”.

Jacks (Also called the Kitty) are about 2 ½ inches wide and they can be white or yellow in color. Practicing setting the Jack down the center line and at varying lengths is important. The Jack looks like a CUE ball used in playing pool.


There are various names given to different ways people hold or grip the bowl. You should try a few different ways to grip a bowl and see what you feel is most comfortable for you, and modify it until your delivery is smooth and on-line consistently. Here are a few recognized grips.


(Centered, Short, Medium, Long). – (Front of mat at least 6’6” from the front edge of the back ditch & 81’ from front ditch). Varying mat placement can be strategic and allows you to see strengths or weaknesses in your opponents. A mat needs to be centered on the centerline. If you are hitting your mark and your opponent is not, you may want to keep placing the mat about the same place. However, if your opponent is consistently hitting their mark, you want to set the mat and Jack at different distances. If you place the mat before the HOG LINE, you need to set the JACK 6’ 6” or less from the front ditch. A front mat placement at just over 6’ 6” from the back ditch means you need to set the JACK past the Hog Line.


Depending on your weight, strength, physical make-up, etc., the stance can vary. Whatever the stance, the key is what makes you feel the most comfortable and allows you the best consistency in delivering the bowl to the Jack.

  1. FIXED (1 foot forward-roll your weight)
  2. ATHLETIC (1 step forward)
  3. CROUCH (start in crouch, stand, step)


As you get to know the bias of your bowls, you look to the far backboard and determine a line of delivery from where your bowl starts on the mat to that mark that should allow the bowl to start towards it and bias to the center of the rink. Once you get the feel for the amount of bias on each side of the Rink, you are able to vary your line of sight for Jacks that have been moved or to place your bowl in a strategic place. Some bowlers look for their line of sight and then look to a distinguishing spot or area 10-20 feet from the front of the mat and with a small adjustment can bring the bowl to the right “grass”.


The word “weight” for lawn bowling relates to the amount of weight or speed needed for the bowl to get “Jack High” or even with the Jack. Telling someone you need more weight means put a little more ‘umphh’ into your shot. Good weight means you are close to the Jack.


Typically the wrist and arm act together as a pendulum with the arm next to the body and extending the hand in line with the “mark” consistently. Depending on the Stance, some hold the bowl in front of them as they would a bowling ball used in alley bowling, and they bring it into a back swing and then a forward motion. Some allow the arm with the bowl to be extended to the ground and then as they shift their weight to their front foot they vary their back swing to be in line with the amount of weight they have determined is needed for that shot. Some have little back swing and the arm and bowl is close to their back leg and extended as they shift forward. Whatever the Stance and Delivery, it’s important to see if the bowl is released smoothly in line with your mark. If it is wobbling or going into a line different than what you intended, review your grip, stance, and delivery, and adjust accordingly.


To DRAW the bowl means to roll it so it will turn into the intended target area. It is the primary shot.

  4. TRAILING SHOT (Touch Jack and follow)
  5. WICK (hit and carrom)
  6. WREST (hit and stop)
  7. DRIVE OR RUN (Through)
  8. TOUCHER – This is a bowl that “touches” the Jack and remains in play. It is marked with a spray or mark from chalk in case the bowls are moved.


  4. BOWLS FROM FRONT OF MAT (Too short – dead)


  1. A match with 1 player against another player is SINGLES. Points or ends are pre-determined. All 4 bowls are used by each player.
  2. A match with 2 against 2 is PAIRS. All 4 bowls are used by each player. The SKIP is the Director of the team and the other person is the LEAD. The LEAD sets the mat, rolls the Jack, and measures and keeps score. The SKIP centers the Jack based on the LEAD’S directions. The SKIP directs the strategy as the game progresses.
  3. A match with 3 against 3 is called TRIPLES. Each player uses 3 bowls. The SKIP is the same as Pairs, The Lead is similar to Pairs, and there is also a VICE or SECOND, that measures, keeps score, and gives advice to the SKIP when the SKIP is on the mat.
  4. A match with 4 against 4 is called RINKS. Each member bowls 2 bowls each, in rotation with the LEAD against the other team’s LEAD, and ends with the SKIPS play.


In order to see the BIG picture, a SKIP might ask for a bowl in the back to counter an opponents bowl already back there. They might want a bowl in a certain area or position knowing that it will be used in the grand scheme of things. The others may be allowed independence by their SKIPS to do whatever shots they feel is best, but depending on the situation and the SKIP, there might be specific directions, and the team member needs to try their best to carry out the request without disagreement or a bad attitude. Most SKIPS are open to input, but the final direction is up to them.