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History of Lawn Bowls

Updated on May 28, 2010

Lawn bowls is a game played by rolling a bowl (ball) toward a jack (smaller target ball) at the opposite end of a rink so that the bowl will come as close as possible to the jack. The game is also known as lawn bowls or bowling on the green.

The regulation bowling green (outdoors) or playing area (indoors) is 120 to 132 feet square, laid out on a grass or composition surface, and divided into 6 rectangular sections, or rinks. A ditch surrounding the area catches stray bowls.

The equipment for the game includes composition or wooden bowls of not more than 3 pounds 8 ounces each and measuring 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 inches in diameter; a white 8 to 10 ounce jack, with a 2 1/2-inch diameter; and a 14- by 24-inch mat, from which the bowler starts his play. The bowl is slightly flattened so that it follows a natural curve when rolled. It must be delivered to allow for this curve and with sufficient force so that it will stop near the jack.


The game, as laid down in the rules of the International Bowling Board (IBB), may take the form of singles, pairs (doubles), triples, or fours. In singles, two persons use four bowls each; in pairs, each of two players on a side has four bowls; in triples, three players per side roll three bowls each; and in fours, four players per side roll two bowls each. A captain, or skip, remains near the jack in team events to direct tactics until he bowls his turn.

To begin, the two skips toss a coin to see which side rolls first. Thereafter, the winner of the previous session (end) plays first. A session is over when all bowlers have rolled toward one end. Play is then resumed in the opposite direction. The player bowling first rolls the jack, and the point where it stops becomes the target. Then he and his opponent bowl alternately. To get the bowl as close as possible to the target, a player may knock the opponent's bowls away from the jack. For each bowl closer to the jack than the opponent's closest bowl, one point is scored. A game is usually for 21 points.


The origin of bowls is lost in antiquity.It dates back to ancient Egypt, and it was popular in Greece and Rome. In England the game dates from the 13th century. The Southampton Town Bowling Club, which was founded in 1299, is still active. During the Middle Ages the game became unpopular because it was regarded as a "vicious form of gambling." Banned in England by King Henry VIII, bowls was played under succeeding monarchs because most of them enjoyed the game, but the ban was not officially lifted until 1845. The Bowling Association of Victoria and New South Wales, in Australia, was founded in 1880. The Scottish Bowling Association was formed in 1892. The Imperial Bowling Association, which became the English Bowling Association in 1903, was established in 1899. The International Bowling Board was organized in 1905 to govern competitions between member countries, including the United States.

Bowls was introduced into the United States in about 1690 and was extremely popular until the American Revolution, when interest in the game abruptly ceased. For the next 100 years the sport was hardly known in the United States until Christian Schepflin, a resident of Dunellen, N.J., made a trip to England and Scotland, became a bowling enthusiast, and reintroduced the game back home in 1879. Its popularity grew rapidly throughout the country. In 1915 the American Lawn Bowling Association was formed. In Canada, where lawn bowling is more popular than in the United States, the sport is governed by the Canadian Lawn Bowling Council.

Today bowls is played in more than 50 countries, 16 of which participated in the first World Lawn Bowls Championship held in Sydney, Australia, in 1966. The American Lawn Bowls Association, founded in Buffalo, N. Y., in 1915, governs the sport in the United States.


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