How to Play the Game of Lawn Bowls

  • By: Jack Toucher
  • Date: August 14, 2023

Here follows as good a guide as any ever written on how to play the game of lawn bowls. It is in every way applicable to the game today. The writer was James Weir Greig, born in 1868, who served as secretary of the New Jersey Bowling Green Club in the USA in the early 19th century.

His guide to playing the game of lawn bowls appeared as a booklet in the Spalding’s Athletic Library Series.

The positions of lawn bowls players

As an illustration we will cite a rink game, that is, four players on each side, and according to the order in which he plays, so is his title.

The skip or captain always plays last, and his word is law at all times.
The first player on each side is termed “Lead.”
The second player on each side is termed “Second.”
The third player on each side is termed “Third.”
The fourth player on each side is termed “Skip.”

Playing the game of lawn bowls

The two skips toss for choice of which side plays first, and that settled, the lead of the side which plays first takes the mat and places it in the centre of the rink one yard from the ditch, He then stands with at least one foot on the mat and throws (rolls) the jack up the rink.

The jack must, however, be thrown not less than 25 yards from the mat, and if it runs to one side, it shall be moved straight across and placed in line of the pins numbering the rinks. Should the jack, however, run into the ditch at the first throw it should be moved out two yards from the ditch. If on the first throw or any time thereafter, the jack is thrown less than 25 yards

it shall be thrown back and the lead of the opposing side must throw it, but not play the first bowl. Should the jack be thrown into the ditch at any end after the first by the lead it shall be thrown back for the opposing lead to throw, but the first bowl to be played at that end is by the lead of the side who won the previous end.

It will be seen that it is necessary, therefore, to have each rink so marked as to show a one-yard line and a two-yard line from the ditch at each end of the rink, as well as one 25 yards from the ditch at each end. The lead is now standing on the mat ready to begin the first end. He throws the jack, which has gone the regulation distance, but is to one side of the rink. His skip moves it straight across so that it rests in the centre of the rink.

The lead then picks up one of his bowls and rolls it up according to the directions given by his skip. (Let it be understood that the skip is the captain and his orders should be obeyed under all conditions.) The opposing skip then directs his lead, who rolls his first bowl.

The first lead then delivers his other bowl, to be followed by that of the opposing lead. Each of the players follows in the same order until both the skips have rolled their bowls. This constitutes the finish of one end or head, and now the positions of the bowls are examined in relation to their nearness to the “jack,” and the side who has one or more bowls nearer than its opponents’ nearest bowl will count a corresponding number of points.

The lead of the side winning the end has the right to direct the lead of the losing side to place the mat where the jack rested at the conclusion of play or any point backward not less than one yard from the ditch, the mat in any case being placed in the centre of the rink. In starting play when the jack, at the finish of an “end” or “head,” as it is also called, lies in the ditch or less than one yard from it, the mat should be placed forward to one yard from the ditch. The mat placed, the players continue as shown above, when starting the game, and continue that way throughout.

A game of lawn bowls may constitute 21 ends or heads or less, or 21 points, as arranged by the two skips or the managing body under whose auspices the game is being conducted. The side who has the highest number of points at the conclusion of play is the winner.

Some rules of the game of lawn bowls

When playing the game of lawn bowls, the mat should under no circumstances be moved up down the centre line during an end or head, but if by mistake such should occur, it should be placed as near the original position as possible.

When delivering a bowl or the jack, at least one foot should be on the mat; otherwise the bowl will be counted dead and placed on the bank until the completion of the end or head. A jack so delivered should be treated the same as one not thrown 25 yards, or as a jack after the first end of a game, when it goes into the ditch, viz., thrown back for the opposing lead to deliver.

Where a bowl has been delivered by a player, the next person following him must not deliver his bowl until that of his opponent’s has come to rest.

A bowl which goes into the ditch without touching the “jack” before coming to rest is counted “dead” and should be immediately placed on the bank. Should a bowl touch the “jack” before coming to rest, it should be marked with a piece of chalk and is always a live bowl and must not be removed from the rink, even if it goes into the ditch or is subsequently knocked into the ditch by another bowl, until the end or head has been counted, unless it goes without the bounds of the rink.

Should the jack be moved by a bowl in play, it shall remain where it comes to rest, and must be played for in that position, even supposing it is knocked into the ditch. If it goes in the ditch its position should be accurately marked, but under no cir- cumstances should it be lifted from the ditch to the green, but the skip may indicate its position by displaying a handkerchief or other article.

When the “jack” is so knocked in the ditch it cannot be moved from its position excepting by a bowl which during the end or head has touched the “jack” and is resting on the green is knocked into the ditch.

A bowl which has not previously touched the jack during the end or head must not be allowed to touch the jack, but if such a thing should occur, the “jack” must be placed where it laid and the bowl so striking it removed to the bank.

If a bowl which has touched the “jack” during the end or head is knocked into the ditch it cannot be moved by another bowl unless it be a
toucher. Should the “jack” be hit without the bounds of the rink, the end shall be begun anew.

A player is not allowed to change his bowls after the game has started, unless having the consent of the opposing side.

No player is allowed to change his playing position during a game after it has commenced.

At the completion of an end or head any bowl
which has touched the “jack,” during the previous one must have the chalk mark rubbed off before it is again played, or it will be
considered a dead bowl and placed on the bank for that end.

The above are the principal points which enter into the game, and when one understands that the bowls have a bias it will readily be seen
that the game is a most scientific one, and by those who have seen it and understand it they call it “Billiards Out-Doors,” using the hand to direct the bowl instead of a cue.

The bowl being biased, by changing the hand of play, the same effect is gained as in billiards by using a different side.

Carrom or wick shots enter into the game very largely, and, as one gets more accustomed to it and studies it, the more he realizes how difficult it is to become an expert.

When three aside play the game of lawn bowls, the same conditions exist as when four aside (a full rink) play, and when but two aside the only difference is each player uses two pairs of bowls.

When it is a single-handed game each player has two pairs of bowls, but has to judge for himself what is the best way to play to try to get the shot.

Scorer (marker or umpire)

A scorer or umpire is generally acting in such a game, and he may tell who lies the shot, or the position of the balls, if so agreed by the players, but cannot give any directions for play or consult with either of the players as to the play.

In a four aside or three aside game of lawn bowls the duty of keeping the score is that of the second player, who shall also announce same at the completion of each end or head.

If a game of lawn bowls is being played under the conditions of so many ends or heads and at the conclusion of any end or head the score for that end or head be a tie it should be considered a played end or head.

Different types of shots in lawn bowls

There are different terms used to express the kind of shot which may be asked of you, some of which are as follows:

This is where you play so that when your bowl comes to rest it will if possible lie against the “jack.”

This is where your side lies a shot and you are asked to so play that you will stop your opponent from getting to it. It may be a long guard or a short guard, that is, a good distance back from it or a short distance from it.

This is when you cannot get directly to the shot, but by striking another bowl you can easily reach it.

Where your opponent is lying the shot, but with a full draw you are supposed to come up and carry the “jack” back a few feet or yards, as the case may be.

Where it is impossible to draw, carrom or trail, and in order to try and save your opponents from scoring you are asked to come up full speed and smash things up.

Rink or team work in a club is of the greatest importance, and, like base ball, foot ball and other games, it is not necessary for the skip to say a word to his players as to what he wishes them to play for. A certain sign or the position he stands, or something else immediately enlightens the player and at the same time keeps the opposing side in darkness as to the manner of play and its object.

Each club would do well to insist on having each player use shoes with rubber soles and no heels, so as to injure the green as little as possible.