Are We Having Fun Yet?

Enough about being thrown into competition. Let’s get back to lawn bowling basics.

I guess most readers have a basic understanding of the game of lawn bowls. First you roll a small ball (called the jack or kitty) within the confines of a ‘rink’ and then you roll several ‘bowls’ (larger balls that are not perfectly spherical) to see who can roll their bowl closest to the jack. Does that sound like fun yet? Well I haven’t finished, but hey, does golf sound like fun? does ten pin bowling sound like fun?

What distinguishes lawn bowls is that your opponents’ bowls get in the way and their attempts physically affect your attempts and vice versa. Can you putt your golf ball into your opponent’s and send it into the rough? No, of course not, theirs must be moved out of the way. In ten pin bowling you have the rink to yourself and again there is no interaction between opposing bowls. In lawn bowls on the other hand this interactive dynamic is integral to the game.

So when considering lawn bowls, think beyond getting closest to the kitty. In a fours game 16 bowls end up in the head (the cluster of bowls at the jack end). After a few bowls have been delivered, getting closest to the kitty becomes a whole different challenge. You might have to get around an opponent’s bowl, you might have to slide inside it, or you might have to run into it, nudging it away and leaving yours closest. The list of possible shots is vast and too many to talk about here but this is what makes lawn bowls so challenging and so much fun.

So maybe I have your interest now and should talk a little about scoring. In most game formats at the conclusion of each ‘end’ you or your team score a ‘shot’ for every bowl you have closer to the jack than the closest opposing bowl. Now let’s say you have the last bowl in one end of a fours game. 15 bowls have been delivered and the opponents have the closest bowl but your team have the next four closest bowls. If that situation remains unaltered, they will score 1 shot for that end. However, your opponent’s shot bowl is exposed and they should be worried. You deliver a quality upshot (a faster bowl that still has some pace when level with the kitty), which makes contact with their shot bowl such that both bowls travel well away from the jack. Consequently your team now has the four closest bowls and scores 4 shots – a net turnaround of 5 shots as a result of your brilliant play. Successful shots like that are not rare even at intermediate standards.

Is lawn bowls sounding like fun yet? I certainly hope so and would encourage anyone who has not played to give it a try – your local club will likely be very welcoming to new members.

Deeper Still

As suggested in the previous post my second Pennant match was less satisfactory and it is one that I remember clearly. After supposedly performing well in our third side I was moved up to the second side the following weekend. Both seconds and thirds are in lower divisions and being just two divisions apart the standard of play can be similar or markedly different depending on the opponents and the venue.

It was during this match that it became clear that I needed to gain better control over the length at which I bowled. Length control is a critical skill, which improves with practice over time as much as by attention to any particular aspect of technique. In particular that day many of my bowls were coming up short, which is the bane of any skip’s well crafted strategy. Needless to say the skip that day was not best pleased and I didn’t see action again in the seconds for the rest of the season.

To be fair, spending the rest of the season in the third side was also partly aimed at keeping several novices together in a familiar team of four but it certainly gave me an opportunity to improve steadily ‘under the radar’ ready for a breakout season the following year.

Check back for upcoming posts on aspects of bowling technique such as length control as well as observations on selection challenges!

In at the Deep End

It may seem premature to post about playing in a competitive game before even discussing bowling technique or the fundamentals of the game but this reflects my experience just a year ago shortly after we had joined the club. The club Open Day was on a Sunday and just the following Thursday I received a phone call declaring the ‘good news!’ that I had been selected to play in their third side in the weekend ‘Pennant’ competition.

‘Pennant’ refers to the inter-club competition run in the Metropolitan area and across the State over 18 Saturdays throughout the bowling season. Club sides are grouped into Divisions according to bowling standard and Sections according to geographic location. Sides comprise four teams of four players. In other words it is a fours competition with each team comprising a Skip, a Third, a Second and a Lead and with each team-member bowling two bowls. Matches start at 1pm, last for 21 ends and typically finish around 4:30pm. Success in this seasonal competition is the major bowling focus of most bowls clubs in this part of the world.

So now, a year on, I would agree that the call was good news. It was a privilege to be asked to represent the club competitively (even if they were desperate for players!) and a huge motivation to learn to play the game and continue to improve. At the time, however, I was less sure. I had bowled my first lawn bowl just four days earlier and didn’t even have the kit required to comply with dress regulations. Nevertheless the caller was persuasive and the following day I was off buying flat soled shoes, white trousers and a club shirt.

That first match was an away match played on grass. Now you might think that lawn bowls is always played on grass but in fact there are a variety of artificial surfaces that can be used and our home green is itself an artificial surface – a kind of outdoor carpet. Typically this change of surface would disadvantage the visiting team, although in my case I had hardly become used to any surface. Perhaps that is why I had some notable success early in the game, although I did fade a little towards the end. Nevertheless I was told that my performance had been noted as outstanding – at least to some degree. This was certainly an enjoyable and encouraging start. The following week however would be a different story!

Joining a Club

Close to where we live is a pretty little park with a bowling green at it’s center. We often walked by and contemplated checking it out. One day we noticed that they were having an open day.  We peeked into the clubhouse and ran into the club champion who might have been passing himself off as the janitor. His description of the club was colorful but welcoming so we decided to check out Open Day.

Open Day was heaps of fun. Many existing members were there helping visitors bowl their very first bowls and encouraging them to take up the sport. Knowing nothing better I applied my ten-pin bowling delivery technique to the lawn bowl and having been given a few pointers on determining the right ‘line’ achieved a respectable degree of success. Indeed our host suggested that I should be bowling in the pennant team the coming Saturday. Pennant is the regular inter-club competition that runs throughout the bowling season. He said ‘you think I’m joking, don’t you?’ I did think he was joking, but he wasn’t. More on that in another post.

Now a year later we’re still happy with our choice of club, which is just as well since the next nearest would be inconveniently further away. So what are the factors that might be considered in selecting a club?

One obvious first step would be to look at the facilities. Ours is a small club and although the clubhouse is decent enough with kitchen and bar facilities you could certainly find others with more extensive catering facilities. More importantly the club has just one artificially surfaced green with no scope to expand. Bowling capacity, say in terms of number of pennant teams that could be fielded, will therefore always be limited. Some people may also prefer a real grass green although the artificial surface is easier to maintain and is available all year round.

Another thing to consider would be the existing membership and culture of the club. We’ve often heard people observe that our club is less male dominated and drinking oriented than nearby clubs. That’s quite likely to be an important consideration one way or another.

Other factors to consider would be the kind of events, bowling or otherwise, that are on the calendar, the availability of coaching and of course their membership and other fees. If you’re lucky as we were you’ll find a club able to nurture your bowling aspirations as well as providing a convivial social community.

Starting Young

Many years ago the idea of playing lawn bowls intrigued me but I only imagined doing so later in life. This intention was fulfilled last October but did the delay in taking up the game make any sense? Without doubt the challenges presented by lawn bowls are appealing to young and old alike. It is also clear that if you want to compete at the highest level an early start is desirable – the top players are generally younger than the average lawn bowler. On the other hand, if you are still young and fit enough to play a more active sport, such as tennis, then for the sake of cardiovascular fitness surely it is better to do so. Nevertheless, you may have a more natural aptitude for lawn bowls than for other sports. To find out if that is the case I would recommend giving lawn bowls a go sooner rather than later. Full fitness can always be maintained by other means.

Welcome to Bowl Movements

Yes, I know, the title is a bit corny but I hope it makes you smile. Some might regard it as appropriate for what they see as worthless content but I’d prefer to think of this blog as a fertile base from which new interest in the game of lawn bowls can grow – so it still might be appropriate! Read on to learn more about my experiences a year after having taken up the game. These posts might be a bit irreverent so names have been changed to protect the reticent.