Bowls is often considered as an old man's (or woman's) game but the majority of the world's best players are under 40years old and the degree of concentration, balance and stamina required to play bowls at the top level means that it is very much a young man's game. Nonetheless it is one of few sports that all ages and all genders can compete in at an equal level.
The basic aim of the game of bowls is simple. To finish each end with your bowls as close as possible to a small white ball called the 'jack'. That is true in all codes of the game, i.e. Association, Federation and crown green. Between each code there are important differences but the essential of finishing close to the jack in order to score is common to all.
Bowls can also be played indoors (Association only) or outdoors, and the rules are the same, except for some of the televised tournaments which have their own rules intended to make the game more accessible to a TV audience.
The following discussion attempts to cover the key points common to both the Association and Federation codes.
All the action takes place on a standard bowling green, which is a flat square 34-40m long. This is divided into playing areas called rinks. On any given rink, a match might be between two opponents playing singles (1 vs 1), between four playing pairs (2 vs 2), between six playing triples (3 vs 3) or eight playing fours (4 vs 4). But the match might also involve any or all of these combinations playing across 2 or more rinks. So a team game could be 24 in each team, with 4 players from each team playing against each other on six rinks.
The number of players on each team in each rink, will dictate how many bowls each player uses. Generally, in a singles game, each player has 4 bowls each. In a pairs game, each player has 4 bowls. In a triples game, each player uses 3 bowls. In a fours game, each player uses 2 bowls.
After a coin toss, the first bowler (the lead) places the mat and rolls the jack to the other end of the green as a target.
The jack must travel a set distance (usually 23m) and, when it comes to rest, it is moved across to the centre of the rink.
The players then take turns to bowl, according to their positions in the team. So the first player of each team will cast his bowls in rotation with his direct opponent, until all have been played, then the second set of direct opponents rotate until all their bowls have been played and so on.
When all the bowls have been played, a competitor or team gets one point for each of their bowls that is closer to the jack than the opponent's closest bowl.
After all the bowls have been delivered, and the points agreed, the direction of play is reversed, and the process is repeated. This is the end of an end!
The team captain, or 'skipper' (skip), always plays last and is instrumental in directing the team's shots and tactics. For example, it is often beneficial to bowls somewhere other than close to the jack, either in anticipation of the jack being moved, or in an attempt to block the approach of an opponent's bowl.
HOW THE SCORING WORKS
Scoring systems vary for different competitions.
In single play, it is usually the first player to reach 21 points who wins. In team games, it is usually the highest scorer after 18 or 21 ends.
Another system used (often on TV) is "set play", and there are many variations as to how this might be scored. One example might be the first to reach a given number of points is awarded a set, with the match played as best-of-five sets. Or, a set might be comprised of a given number of ends, with the set winner having the highest score after the ends are completed.
TYPES OF DELIVERY
Because bowls have one side that is slightly more convex than the other, they have a bias. So, as the bowl slows, it begins to roll in the direction of the bias. Bowlers will therefore change the side of the bias, depending on the direction in which they want the bowl to curve.
The challenge of all shots is to be able to adjust line and length accordingly, so that the bowl comes to rest at the desired point on the green. That is, unless you do not want the bowl to come to rest, and are playing the more destructive 'driving' or 'firing' shot.
However, most games are won with the drawing shot, where the bowl is intended to reach a specific location without disturbing the other bowls too much. For a right-handed bowler, 'forehand draw' is initially aimed to the right of the jack, and curves in to the left. The same bowler can deliver a 'backhand draw' by turning the bowl over in the hand and delivering it to the left of the jack. The bowl's bias will cause it to turn from left to right.
Running bowls are not delivered with as much force as a pure drive but usually with the intention of removing an opponent's bowl from its favourable position, or with the intention of trailing the jack away from the opponents' bowls to bowls belonging to your team.
The drive involves bowling with considerable force with the aim of knocking either the jack or a specific bowl out of play. There is very little curve on this shot.
If a bowl goes into the ditch it is removed from play, unless it has already touched the jack before first coming to rest. A bowl that has touched the jack after being delivered will be marked with a spray of chalk once it has come to rest. Should that bowl be knocked into the ditch it remains in play.
Similarly, if the jack is knocked into the ditch it remains 'alive'. Any bowls that is outside of the rink boundary, either to left or right, is of play and removed from the green. If the jack goes out of bounds, the end is usually replayed (except in some TV tournaments where it is placed on a designated 'spot').
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
There are thousands of bowling clubs across the UK, where you can learn the basics or play in leagues on a more serious level.
It's a game you can enjoy at any age, and with no experience - all clubs will encourage anyone wanting to learn or develop their skills.
You can also can play all year round - indoor bowls in the winter and out on the greens in the summer.
The British Isles Bowls Council has good information about the indoor game and details on clubs in the UK.
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