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What is Lawn Bowling?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 23, 2024
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Lawn bowling is a popular game across the world and suitable for participants of all ages. The object of the game is to roll a ball, or bowl, closest to the target ball, a small white ball called a jack. The ball's design, slightly flattened on one side, creates the challenge of the game. The shape of the ball causes it to travel a curved path, or bias.

This game requires little equipment: a set of matching balls; a pair of flat, smooth shoes; a jack; and a mat. Two teams compete, each with one to four players. Usually, lawn bowling takes place outdoors on a green — a grass or synthetic surface — measuring 120 feet (11.15 m) square. A green contains multiple rinks, and each rink has marked boundaries.

A rubber mat is placed at one end of the rink and the jack is placed in the center. Players roll each of their balls toward the jack. The player must keep one foot on the mat when releasing the ball.

After each player rolls all of his or her balls, the play has reached an "end" — similar to an inning or period in other sports — and the score is calculated. The team whose ball is closest to the jack receives a point. Each ball belonging to the same team that is closer to the jack than any of the competitor's balls also receives a point. If a ball hits the jack during play, there is no penalty. An out-of-bounds jack results in a "dead end," however, and is replayed.

Prior to the start of a lawn bowling game, the teams determine its duration, meaning the number of ends for that particular game. In tournaments, most games consist of 21 ends. During the game, placement of the jack varies in distance. Each team gets to control the position of the mat and the jack based on who won the previous end.

Players can roll the ball using either a forehand or backhand motion, and many learn to gauge the curve. A set of balls, or bowls, has a distinctive marking so as to be recognizable. The sets can vary in size, weight, and curvature. Rules, ball weight, and dress codes can vary according to the country of play.

Lawn bowling has an ancient history which most likely originated with Roman soldiers tossing stones at a target rock. It is similar to the Italian game, bocce. In the U.S., the United Lawn Bowls Association governs the game.

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Discussion Comments
By titans62 — On Aug 23, 2012

@JimmyT - I agree. People always like to gather around and watch things like that. I am glad that the article mentioned bocce, because that is what I was thinking of the entire time I was reading the article.

I remember my town having bocce ball tournaments during our Fourth of July festivities. It was always a blast to play in even though my team was never very good. After reading this, I think I might have to pull the bocce set out and play sometime. Maybe I'll even get into lawn bowling. Who know?

By JimmyT — On Aug 22, 2012

@cardsfan27 - Great advice. I never thought about using the rubber bases. Since they come in packs of 4, it would be perfect. My friends and I just started playing lawn bowling a few weeks ago as an excuse to get out of the house on the weekends.

Like you mentioned, needing a well-kept lawn is pretty important, but we've gotten around that. We usually just play at the park in an open field. Although the ground isn't perfectly flat, we have found that the random bumps and pits make the game a little more exciting.

Since very few people have actually seen lawn bowling being played before, we usually end up with a few curiosity seekers who we invite to play with us, so it's a great way to meet new people, as well.

By cardsfan27 — On Aug 22, 2012

@Izzy78 - It is unfortunate that lawn bowling isn't more popular in the United States. It's really a fun game. I think part of the problem is that it's seen as a retirement game, and it takes a large, well-manicured area to play in. In America, most lawn bowling greens are only found at country clubs or in retirement communities. That definitely shouldn't stop you from playing, though. Obviously, a game like this can be modified in any number of ways to suit your lawn or park or wherever you will be playing.

As far as equipment goes, bowls will come in sets of 4. Depending on the number of people on each team, you would roll 2 to 4 bowls in each end. Although there are special bowling mats, anything will work. The thin, rubber bases used for wiffle ball would work well, but you could use pieces of cardboard if you wanted to.

By Izzy78 — On Aug 21, 2012
Very good article. I always wondered how lawn bowling was actually played. I have a few children that are in the 7 to 12 range, so we are always looking to buy lawn games that can keep the whole family interested. I guess it helps that we are all pretty competitive, as well.

Where can you buy lawn bowling sets though? I don't recall ever seeing them in any stores. Also, it seems like when I have seen pictures of lawn bowling that there are quite a few bowls being used. How many are in a set, and if I were to find some lawn bowls for sale, how much should I expect to pay?

By anon145016 — On Jan 21, 2011

The bias of modern lawn bowls is not created by a weight inside them but by the asymmetry of their shape. Their interiors are homogeneous. Weights were indeed used in the past.

By panda2006 — On Oct 19, 2010

Lawn bowling is very similar to two other sports. Bocce, an Italian game, is played on grass but with a tossing of balls rather than rolling. A second sport, curling, is played on ice with "stones" which are circular and have one flat side. They are pushed to be closest to a center target.

By anon87422 — On May 30, 2010

One point of clarification. The bowls do travel a curved path, but not because the sides are flat (creating a center "running surface"). The bias is created by a weight one one side (marked by a smaller button, compared to the larger button on the unweighted side). The player can throw the bowl "forehand" (curving across the body) or "backhand" (curving away from the body).

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