A Beginner's Guide To Lawn Bowls
This page gives a brief overview of the game of bowls. It is not a comprehensive guide but is designed to enable a complete beginner to understand the basics of the game.
A simplified description of the game
The basic aim of the game is to get your bowls (also known as “woods”) nearer to the “jack” (small target ball) than your opponent.
A match consists of a number of “ends”. Each end starts with one player placing a mat at one end of the green and rolling the jack up towards the other end. They then bowl one of their woods up towards the jack. Their opponent then bowls one of their woods up to the jack and the players alternate until all their woods have been used. If there is more than one player in a team, the rest of the players continue in a similar fashion, with each team taking alternate turns.
When all the woods have been delivered, the team with the wood that is closest to the jack wins the end. They score one shot for each wood that is closer than their opponent’s nearest wood. The team that wins an end starts the next end which is bowled back down the green in the opposite direction.
A match continues until a certain number of ends have been played or one team reaches a particular score.
Woods are manufactured with an in-built imbalance so that one side is heavier than the other. This is called the “bias”. When a wood is on its way up the green, as it slows down, the bias starts to take affect and the path of the wood veers towards the heavy side. The slower it gets, the more the wood curls. This is useful in that it allows a wood to bypass a wood that is in the way so that it can reach the jack.
If you look at a wood, one side has a small circle (about the size of a 10 pence coin) and the other has a larger circle (about 1½ times the size of the small circle). The side with the small circle is the heavier side and should have the maker’s information imprinted on it. When you bowl the wood, it will curl towards the small circle. One way to remember this is to think of a wine glass which has a small circle as a base and a wider circle at the top. If you roll the glass along, it will naturally roll towards the base, that is to say the small circle.
The green is about 40 metres by 40 metres (130 feet by 130 feet) with a ditch running round the outside. The green is divided up into a number of parallel sections called “rinks”. These are about 5 metres (16½ feet) wide and run from one end of the green to the other. Each match takes place within the confines of a rink.
Woods that end up outside the rink are no longer in play (unless they have touched the jack before entering the ditch) and do not count towards the scoring. A wood that has touched the jack but is still in play (a “toucher”), is marked with chalk so that, if it subsequently gets knocked into the ditch, it is identified as still counting.
The most essential item of clothing is proper bowls shoes. These have completely flat soles so that they do not damage the green.
Convention dictates that players wear white shirts with collars and grey trousers to play. For some games, especially those at the weekend, white trousers are worn and, when representing the club in official matches, club shirts are worn.
For beginners, however, common sense is the order of the day. Hopefully most people will own a white collared shirt and dark trousers. Trainers can be warn to start with as long as the soles are not too ridged.
Some Beginner's Questions
Isn’t bowls an expensive game to take up?
No. The minimum equipment that you need is a white collared shirt, dark coloured trousers or skirt, flat soled shoes and a set of bowls.
Most people already have suitable shirts and trousers but, if not, these can be bought fairly cheaply. As a guide, a pack of 2 shirts can be bought for £14 and a pair of trousers for the same amount. Flat-soled shoes are about £20 but trainers are likely to be fine to start with, as long as the soles do not have ridges that would damage the green.
Westborough has a selection of bowls that can be lent to beginners for free until they decide what size and type of bowls suit their game.
If I get hooked on the game, how much does it cost to get fully kitted out?
A set of second-hand bowls costs in the region of £40 upwards. A second-hand bag would be about £20. If you play for the club, you are likely to need white trousers, which are worn for weekend matches, at about £20 per pair. We do have a few second-hand club shirts (needed for league matches) but new ones are ordered as demand dictates.
You may want to buy additional equipment like a white fleece (£15), a bowls carrier (£10), spray chalk (£4) or a measurer (£12). There is always something to put on your Christmas list!
How often should I play?
That is entirely up to you. Westborough has roll-ups twice a week where members get together to play in a friendly, relaxed environment. We also have a large number of friendly games against other local clubs, typically one midweek, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Although these are competitive matches, they are always played in great spirit and the outcome is always secondary to having an enjoyable time — and we always have a break for refreshments halfway through.
If you like a more competitive game, the men are in a local Triples League that plays on Friday evenings.
Do men and ladies bowl together?
Yes. Most friendly games are mixed, with men and ladies playing together on the same rink. In fact, it is not unusual to see a lady as skip in a mixed team. We also have mixed pairs and mixed triples club competitions.
What happens if it rains?
For friendly matches, common sense prevails. If the rain makes playing too uncomfortable, the match is usually suspended until conditions improve. This is usually the opportunity to have an early tea!
League and other competitive matches against other clubs will continue in the rain unless conditions are unplayable or dangerous, for example if there is too much standing water on the green or the ground becomes too slippery. Play would then be suspended but restarted at the earliest opportunity. In extreme circumstances, the match may have to be resumed or replayed on a later date.
What about the winter time?
Play continues outdoors until about the end of September when the green is closed for the winter. Many of Westborough’s players are also members at Mote Park Indoor Bowls Club where they continue to play throughout the winter. Be aware, though, that playing indoors is a bit different, with a much faster playing surface so the bias on the bowls is much more pronounced. But at least it is warm and dry!