Why Are Bowls Called Bowls?

  • By: Jack Toucher
  • Date: June 9, 2023

In old English, to “bowl” something means to hurl it or throw it in a controlled fashion. That is why throwing a ball at a target came to be called bowling. By inference, the ball being bowled became known as “bowls” rather than balls. A bowl is distinct from an ordinary ball in that it has a bias, which is a deviation from circularity that makes the bowl curve when it is bowled toward the target bowl.

What is the game called bowls?

The game called bowls is an old English lawn game that over 1 million people worldwide, mainly in the British Commonwealth countries, play on grass or on artificial indoor “greens”. The game involves:

  • Teams or individuals playing against each other, delivering bowls (a type of ball) toward a small target ball known as a “jack”, a “kitty” or simply a white ball.
  • Teams can include from two to four players. Pairs play with four bowls each, trips (or triples) play with three bowls each (or sometimes two bowls, which is a difficult game) and fours play with two bowls each. In the singles game, each player delivers four bowls.
  • Once all the bowls of the teams have been delivered from one end of the green to the other, the players then check the score. Only the team with the bowl closest to the target ball earns points so only one team per end may score. If the second closest to the bowl also belongs to that team then they score another point, and so on. Then the teams start again, bowling their bowls to the other end of the green until all the “ends” for the game are complete. The team with the most points wins.
  • There is no set number of ends per game but there are usually between 10 and 18 ends, depending on the time available or the Conditions of Play of the competition.

Pic above: A set of antique Spalding bowls made from Lignum Vitae. Today bowls are made from sophisticated plastics in an endless variety of colours and patterns.

How do you play lawn bowls for beginners?

The best way to start playing lawn bowls is to show up at your local club and ask to start playing. Bowlers are friendly souls and there will be no lack of encouragement. It is important to get some coaching so you know how to deliver the jack (the small white target ball) and the bowls themselves.

Once you know how to step on the mat and delivery the jack and a bowl, you can start playing social games. Usually a coach will accompany for the first few games until you get the hang of it. From then on, it’s a lifetime of pleasure and competition on the green.

Do you need to buy bowls to start playing?

You don’t have buy a set of bowls when you begin playing bowls, and no one expects you to buy a set until you have been playing for a while. Every club has some sets of bowls for general use. You can start playing with those.