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Articles: Bowls


The game of bowls or lawn bowls is a sport where the objective is to roll balls across a green in order to get it as close as possible to a smaller ball called a jack. The balls have a slightly different weight left and right side making them roll in a curve. Bowls can be played both indoors and outdoors on a flat surface or on an uneven surface, in which case it is referred to as crown green bowls.

Although sports that consist of rolling a ball towards a target can be traced back to Roman times, lawn bowls can only be traced back to the 13th century in the United Kingdom. Like most interesting pastimes of the day, it was banned by the king and parliament as it was deemed that it would interfere with the practice of archery, a crucial military skill. The laws banning bowls were not repealed until 1845. The first bowls club was formed in 1849 in Scotland, and the first set of rules were published in 1864 by William Wallace Mitchell.

The modern game of bowls is currently played in more than 40 countries worldwide; the spiritual as well as administrative heart of bowls still remains in in Scotland, where the world governing body World Bowls is based.

The game of bowls

Bowls is played by both men and women of all ages, and competitions are split into junior, adult and master series to fit various age groups. Matches are held as singles, doubles, and team formats.

The match is played on a large rectangular pitch covered in either grass or an artificial surface, with a length of 31 to 40 meters in the direction of play. At one end, a 60 x 38 cm mat is placed on the green. The players must always have a foot on this mat when they are rolling a bowl. Players wear white shirts (short sleeves or long sleeves) and white trousers, and wear trainers with special stippled soles to enable better grip on the surface.

Bowls used by players are made of either wood or a plastic composite and range in diameter from 11.2 to 13.1 cm. They are biased by having more weight placed in one side. When rolled the bowl will have a curved trajectory which a player must compensate for or use to his advantage.

Beginning of play

Play begins by the tossing of a coin, the winner takes the mat and places it on the green. He then rolls the jack from the mat to the other end of the green, which serves as a target for the rest of this “end”. At this point, a 4.2-meter wide area running from the centre of the mat to the jack is defined as the rink. All bowls must fall within these two imaginary lines to count towards the score. The player then bowls his ball in an attempt to get as close as possible to the jack.

Rules of play

The fundamental objective of the game of bowls is to earn a point by having a closer bowl to the jack than the nearest opponent’s bowl. After the start of play, players take it in turns rolling their bowl towards the jack.

There are three scoring formats in bowls: shots, where the first player or team to score 21 points is the winner of the match; ends, where a pre-determined number of ends are bowled, and the team or player with the most points at the end is the winner; finally, there is a time format where play continues for a designated period of time and the player with the most points at the end of the allotted time is the winner.

In terms of the format, matches are played between either single players or teams which can be made up of two, three, or four players per team. There is also a sides format which is a combination of different teams and/or players whose combined scores determine the winner. There are no draws in bowls and in the event of a tie, there is a 3 end play-off to determine the winner.

Bowls is governed by World Bowls, which was originally founded in 1952.

Game flow and tactics in bowls

The game ebbs and flows with both players vying for positional advantage. Initially players attempt to place one or more bowls as close to the jack as possible in order to be in a scoring position. Once a player has a bowl or two that are the closest to the jack, they usually chose to be defensive and try and position their remaining bowls to protect and block the current scoring bowl. The opponent can try to place a bowl even closer to the jack or they may choose an aggressive approach and try to knock away their opponents bowls by rolling a bowl with great velocity.

Bowls competitions

Bowls is a core Commonwealth sport and must be included in every tournament, but it is not an Olympics sport to date. Aside from the Commonwealth Games, there is the World Indoor Bowls Championship which is held every year, and the World Outdoor Bowls Championships held every four years. These three competitions are considered the pinnacle of the sport. There is a professional bowls tour with matches played around the world.

Similar to almost all niche sports, bowls is predominantly an amateur sport with no set route for turning professional. It is merely a matter of practice and winning tournaments before a player can turn professional.

Betting on bowls

Betting on bowls is generally restricted to the major tournaments. Most bets take the form of an outright bet on the winner of a match, with very few other specialised bets available, such as first player to reach a given number of points and such.