Lawn Bowls - The Object of
I cannot provide a full description of the rules
and objectives of Lawn Bowls here but hopefully I can provide
a brief insight into our game of bowls and how it is played. You can also
read a bit about the history of the game at our Lawn
Bowls History page.
Like most sports bowls uses its own language
so I have provided a glossary of
common lawn bowls language at the
bottom of this page.
I have also included a Lawn Bowls Frequently Asked Questions page. The answers to these questions refer to the Scottish Bowling Association rules but will be broadly similar in other national associations. Have a look at them, some of them may surprise even the most experienced bowlers.
Playing the Game of Lawn Bowls
It is said that
Lawn Bowls is a game that can be played by anyone aged from nine to
ninety and in my time in the game I have come across several
It does tend to have a crusty, "old people's game"
image due largely to the use of sponsors like Saga and over 55's
insurance companies. The reality is somewhat different and at county
level in Scotland the average player's age is probably somewhere
in the thirties. Competitive bowling can be an exhausting game
and in matches players are expected to perform for three to four
hours without a break. During these games they can walk two or
three miles and bend up and down about 100 times. It's no wonder
that bowlers traditionally suffer from both back and knee injuries.
Add to that the concentration and effort required and you can see
why we need a seat and a few beers after the match!
The Game is played on a Bowling Green. The
surface is generally grass but in some of the hotter, drier countries
artificial surfaces are increasingly being used. In countries
with long winters, like the UK and Canada, many indoor bowling
centres have sprung up where the game is played on
a carpet like surface. While the weight required to deliver the
bowl changes on these surfaces the rules and objectives of the
game are essentially the same.
Lawn Bowls are available in different
sizes with a mid sized men's bowl being between 116mm and 131mm in
diameter. They are made of a hard plastic material which is able
to withstand the constant contact between bowls during play.
Their weight should not exceed 1.59kg.
Until 2001 all lawn bowls were
either black or brown in colour. The rules have now been changed
to allow bowls in virtually any colour and the manufacturers
have taken up the challenge by producing bowls in just about
every colour imaginable, even pink!
During a game players deliver
(roll) their bowls up the green in turn trying to finish closest
to a smaller white ball called the "Jack".
green is normally square and
the Scottish Bowling Association rules say that it shall
be not less than 34 metres and no more than 40 metres in
the direction of play. It is surrounded by a shallow ditch.
The perimeter of the ditch is surrounded
by a bank, which should be not less than 230 mm above the
surface of the green. The green is normally divided into
six "rinks" allowing six games to take place concurrently.
The rinks should be not less than 5.5 metres nor more than
5.8 metres wide.
Surface wear is spread by moving the
rink settings laterally and by changing direction of play
every two or three days, playing either across the green or
up and down.
Rink extremities are marked off by boundary
markers with the centre of each being indicated by a "pin" which
also carries a number for the rink. The rinks are numbered 1 through
6. Players deliver their bowls from one end to another during an
"end" then, when the end is complete, they turn around
and play back again.
Lawn bowls are not spherical,
they are shaped on one side such that they follow a curved
track to the jack. They carry a mark to indicate to which side
the bias is applied.
As shown on the adjacent diagram the
bowls can be delivered on the "forehand" or the "backhand"
depending on the players preference or where bowls that have
already been played are located.
The curved path helps the
player to find a way past bowls that have been delivered
short of the jack. Note that bowls may travel outside the
boundaries of the rink during their course as long as they
come to rest within these boundaries.
The players must stand on a rubber mat when
delivering their bowl. The mat is placed on the centreline
of the rink with its front end no less than 2m from the rear
ditch or less than 25m from the front ditch. Its position
is chosen by the player who throws the jack to start the
During an end the bowl nearest to the Jack
is referred to as "the shot". You may hear players
on the mat asking, "who is lying the shot?".
player who first delivers the jack must ensure that
it is properly centred. If it comes to rest within two metres
from the front edge of the green it must be moved out to
a mark at that distance. The player delivering the jack can choose
the length to play it, but it must finish at least 23m in
a straight line of play from the front edge of the mat.
The players then take turns to deliver
their bowls. When all the bowls have been delivered the number
of "shots" is counted. A
shot is a bowl which is nearer the jack than any of your
opponents bowls. For example, if you have three shots nearer
the jack than any of your opponents bowls you score three
shots at that end.
the conclusion of
this typical end of bowls in a singles match each player
has has played four bowls.
Who is lying and how many shots have been scored.
(Rest your cursor over the image of the bowls for the answer.)
Types of Lawn Bowls Games and Matches
Games of bowls can involve singles play or teams
of two in pairs, three in triples or four in "rinks" games.
Matches generally involve a number of teams from one club playing
another club. For example a match could involve six rinks or 24
players (6x4) per team.
The jack can
be moved by the bowls during play. When a bowl moves the
jack it is left in the new position provided it remains within
the rink boundary markers. It can also be pushed into the
ditch by a bowl. In this case it remains in the ditch and
the players must try to play their bowls as close as possible
to the jack, at the edge of the green, without falling into
A bowl which
moves the jack is marked with chalk and classed as a "Toucher".
If it touches the jack before falling into the ditch it
stays there, remains "live" and
may feature in the final shot count. A toucher that remains
on the rink and is later driven into the ditch by another
bowl is also a live bowl. A bowl that goes into the ditch
and that has not touched the jack is classed as being "dead" and
it is removed. All bowls which finish outside the side
boundaries of the rink are dead.
Lawn Bowls Tactics
Bowls is a highly tactical game. This is
one of its attractions. It is not always about "drawing" closest
the jack. Players must constantly anticipate what shot their opponents
may play. For example when a team has a few bowls behind the head,
(behind the jack), the opposing team may see the need to place
a bowl amongst these to cover the possibility of the jack being
Similarly, if one side is already lying the shot,
they may elect to play a guarding shot short of the
target area to prevent their opponents from moving anything. These
are only two examples and there are many other situations, too
many to discuss here, where tactics come into play.
Types of Shots in Bowling
There are basically four different types of shot,
or delivery in Lawn Bowling. These are ...
A Drawing Shot is the most common and it is really what the game
is all about. This shot is the one in which the player attempts
to play with the exact weight required to finish closest to the
jack or to a point on the green dictated by strategy or tactics.
This shot is often considered to be the most skillful.
The Yard On
The "Yard On" shot is when the player plays
his bowl with the weight that will carry it a yard or two past
the target. The objective of this shot is usually to drag the jack
away from the opponent's bowls towards your own or to push a bowl
out of the
"head" and take its place. This is often referred to
as a "chap
and lie" shot in Scotland.
The Running Shot or Ditch Length Shot
The Running Shot is one which uses more weight than the
yard on. The object of this shot is to remove opponents bowls
from the head, to move the jack to the ditch or to seek some other result that requires the bowl to be played with weight. This can
be a difficult shot to play as the line (bias) required to get to the
target changes with different weight.
The Drive is probably the most spectacular shot on the bowling
green. A drive is when the player delivers the bowl at high speed
and with maximum weight so that he can strike the head or the
target with full force. The object of this shot can be to completely
remove opponent's bowls from the head or from the rink or to
drive the jack into the ditch. It is also commonly used when
a player has a few shots against him. In this case the object
is to destroy the head or to "burn" the end by driving
the jack out of the rink. This can be a very effective and intimidating
shot to have in your armoury but many players have difficulty
controlling their direction when concentrating their efforts
on so much weight.
Well, that's a brief introduction to the game of
bowls that should give you some idea what it's all about. Hopefully, for those of you who don't play the game but watch it on television, it will make your viewing more enjoyable.
If you have any questions
or comments on the above or if you see any errors or typos please
feel free to
email me but bear in mind that we are not an official body. We cannot answer formal questions on the rules the game.
Bias is the amount of curve that a bowl will take during its
course to the jack. Bowls are available with several different
biases for use in different conditions and competitions. As part of the manufacturing process all bowls are tested against "Master Bowl", which defines the limits of this bias. Click this link for a description of this lawn bowls testing process.
A Burned or "burnt" End is one where the Jack has been moved
outside the boundaries of the rink by a bowl in play. In
normal competition Burned Ends must be replayed.
Deliver is the term used for throwing or rolling a bowl. The
delivery is the action of delivering a bowl. A bowler with
a good delivery can be compared to a golfer with a good
The term draw can have several meanings in bowling. As a noun
it can refer to the type of shot being played. A "dead
is an attempt to deliver the bowl as close as possible
to the target (generally the jack). It can also be used
as a verb. You may hear a skip issuing an instruction such
as, "Just draw to the jack".
A drive is type of shot in bowling where
the player delivers the bowl with maximum force toward the target.
Otherwise know in Scotland as a "blooter"!
An end of bowls comprises the placing of the mat, the delivery of
the jack and the playing of all the required bowls of all
of the opponents in one direction on the rink.
A Guard is a bowl played to a position that restricts the opposition
from getting to the target.
The head refers collectively to the Jack and the bowls that
have been delivered and come to rest within the boundaries
of the rink.
When a player unintentionally delivers a bowl
beyond the jack or the intended target it is described as being
The Jack is the small white
ball that is the target in bowls. You may also hear it referred
to colloquially as the "White", the "Kitty" or the "Sweetie".
If a bowl is Jack high it means that it has reached a position
such that its nearest part is laterally aligned with the
jack. Effectively it means that the bowl and jack are level.
A Lead is the person who plays first in pairs triples or fours
(rinks) game. The lead is responsible for setting the mat
and delivering the jack to start the end.
LINE OR ROAD
The Line or Road is the curved route taken to the
jack. E.g. "You are a yard short but your line was good."
The Second in a triples or rinks (fours) game is the player who plays
second. In the rinks game the second is responsible for marking
the score card.
A bowl that does not reach the jack or the intended target
is described as being short.
Shot can have several meanings. The shot or shots are the number
of points scored in an end. It can also mean the type of
delivery, e.g. a drawing shot, and during an end, the bowl
that is currently nearest the jack.
The Skip is the captain of a team in pairs, triples or rinks
play. The Skip is always last to play and is responsible
for directing the play during an end. The other players in
a team must follow the Skip's instructions.
The third is the third player to play in a rinks game. The third
is normally responsible, with his corresponding opponent, for
deciding the result of an end, i.e. who is lying the shot and
how many shots have been scored. The skips however have the
final say in this in the event of any dispute.
A Toucher is a bowl that during its course touches the jack
before finishing within the boundaries of the rink. A Toucher
remains live even if it finishes in the ditch.
Weight is the term used to refer to the power applied to a
Before the introduction of plastic composition bowls they were
made from the heaviest most dense wood available, Lignum
Vitae. At this time bowls were often called Woods and some
people still use this as a generic term for bowls.
If you think that any other lawn bowling definitions should be included please let us know and we will add them.