Lawn Bowls Around the World

Lawn Bowls is played in 52 countries on six continents across the world.  It was first in the Commonwealth Games in 1930, which was known then as the British Empire Games.  The average age of the English women’s team in the Commonwealth Games (in Delhi in 2010) was 28 years.

Before 1830, when Edwin Beard Budding of Thrupp, near Stroud (England), invented the lawnmower, lawns were often kept cropped by grazing sheep on them.  The world’s oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green, which was first used in 1299.

In England, there are two distinct games that go by the name ‘Bowls’.  One follows the game we play here in Canada and has the same equipment and measurements.  It has its origin in Boccé whose origin is credited to ancient Rome.  The other game has its own governing body called the British Crown Green Bowling Association.  Clubs are either Lawn Bowls or Crown Bowls–because the greens are entirely different.

Fortunately, Crown Greens are mostly in the North of England, North Wales, and England’s Midland counties.  Imagine a playing area with a raised mound at its centre (perhaps 18″ higher than the mat) so that the jack (which by the way has its own bias, and is called ‘the block’) sits on a hill.  Like Canadian bowling, the bowls used have a bias; so that when they collide, each has to contend with its own bias and the slope.  Oh, and by the way, the mat is circular!

To make the game a little more interesting, there are no official stipulations regarding the shape, size or height of the crown–so the surfaces often feature ridges, hollows and slopes (much like some golf greens).  Wherever the jack or block is delivered is up to the first bowler–no alignment needed.  Players have two bowls and may play singles or pairs matches, with much the same scoring system as our lawn bowls.  In England, they call one game ‘flat green bowls’ and the other ‘crown green bowls’.

British settlers brought Bowls to Australia in the 19th Century, founding a club in Melbourne as far back as 1865.  As elsewhere, when you think of bowls, you probably imagine elderly men and women in white, competing in sombre silence.  But a few years ago, Australia underwent a change:  the game is being taken over by the young and the hip–who want to have fun and walk barefoot on the grass.

Thus, in Sydney Australia, the game is undergoing a youthful transformation.  There are no dress codes, no rigid regulations, and no shoes!  Think swimming trunks rather than starched whites.  Fortunately, our government has a by-law that prevents clubs from permitting any player to bowl barefoot for health reasons.  That pretty well prevents youths from taking over our Manitoba greens.

Pétanque (pronounced petak) is one of the games in the group called Boule.  In France (and, for instance, at Club Med in Martinique) this game is played on any reasonably firm surface (a packed sand pit, a garden, park, or gravel parking lot or running track, etc.).  The ideal surface is hard packed earth with course sand or pea gravel about ¼” deep covering the surface.  The goal is to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball (called a cochonnet or piglet), while standing (with both feet firmly placed on the ground) inside a small circle.

Bocce (pronounced botchy) is another game from the Boule group, played in Europe (typically by Italians).  The balls can be of metal or plastic and have no inbuilt bias.  The jack is thrown into a prescribed zone on a soil or asphalt surface.  The first player throws his bowl.  The opponent then throws to try to get closer to the jack, throwing until he either does or has used up his bowls.  Then the first player can try to improve his score.  A game is typically 13 points.

Bowls on the green has been around for over 700 years, known as Bocce in Caesar’s day.  It almost died out in Europe when King Charles IV outlawed it (because archery was being neglected).  In England, King Edward III also outlawed it in 1361.  Fortunately, Scotland did not suppress it and developed the present flat green game and rules.  The Scots also brought golf to the Americas.