Bowling Guide

Beginners Guide to Outdoor Lawn Bowls

Bowls is the ultimate sport for all, a genuine sport for life. It is completely inclusive and accessible regardless of gender or age.

Anyone can play, but to be the best requires skill, mental strength, resolve and powers of endurance. No sport is easier to learn, but to achieve any sort of mastery demands determination, concentration and practice.

Club membership is inexpensive compared with most other sports, but for those who want to sample the game without making the commitment of joining the club can have 3 free lessons to try out the sport.

The Basics

Outdoor bowls is played on squares of closely cut grass known as "the green" which is then divided into a series of separate strips on which matches are played, known as "rinks".

The green is surrounded by a small ditch to catch bowls which leave the green, behind which is a bank on which markers are placed to indicate the boundaries of each rink and the centreline.

Players deliver their bowls from a mat placed on the rink by the bowler whose turn it is to deliver the jack. The jack is a small white ball which is the target. Both the mat and the jack must be placed on the centreline.

Bowls are shaped so that they take a curved path towards the jack. The object is to get one or more of your bowls closer to the jack than those of your opponents with one point scored for each counting shot after each "end" has been completed.

There is a wide array of formats. Matches are most commonly played by singles or teams of pairs, triples and fours. The number of bowls each player delivers varies according to the competition.

Traditionally matches have been played to one single score, commonly 21 shots, or over a specified number of ends, typically 18 in Spain.

The following information is reproduced from a booklet available from the Captain

Cabrera Lawn Bowling Club

A Guide To The Laws of the Sport of Bowls For Beginners

Thanks to Jan Dando of Indalo BC for compiling this booklet and allowing Brian Saunders of Cabrera LBC to amend it to suit their Club.

Amended April 2013

This booklet has been compiled using the current Law Book i.e.

The Crystal Mark Second Edition

Correct as at 8th August 2011

Issue Number 2

Welcome to the world of bowls! This booklet is designed to assist you, as a new bowler, with the intricacies of the Laws of the Sport. It cannot tell you how to bowl – that will be entirely up to you!!

Now, don't expect to learn everything from this publication. World Bowls produce a book containing all the laws and other appendices to help with the running of competitions. These books can be purchased at the club or just see any committee member and they will sort one out for you. They are well worth the read - (after you have read this guide of course!) For the non-technophobes amongst you, in addition, the whole book is available to peruse at your leisure on t'internet (as Peter Kay would say) at:-

Although this is a light-hearted look at the fundamental laws, there is obviously a very serious side to it all. The Laws are there for a purpose and we should all abide by them.

However, the very first paragraph in the Law Book is well worth a mention here. It says that the book cannot possibly cover all eventualities and that the Laws have been drawn up in the spirit of true sportsmanship. Should a situation arise that is not covered in the Law Book players, markers and/or umpires should use common sense and a spirit of fair play to decide on the appropriate course of action.

Your club officials should have informed you about the club dress code and it is a given that you have your flat-soled shoes and bowls already!! So this booklet will only be concentrating on the game itself.

Where to start then? As they said in the Sound of Music, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start"!

The Green

Sometimes in this booklet it will need to be a little boring and be reciting measurements. Apologies for this but, you do need to know the rudiments for varying reasons. Before we go any further and on the subject of measurements, horror of all horrors – bowls is now metric!!! So there will be no inches, feet and yards in this guide – all centimetres and metres I'm afraid. For the full ins and outs of the markings on a green there is a very good diagram in the back of the Law Book. However, you do not need them all at this stage.

At Cabrera LBC we play on between 6 to 8 rinks to try and even out the wear to the grass greens. Right now you don't need to worry about how long our green is – it is not important at this stage.

2m from the edge of the ditch and in line with the centre of the rink is known as the T. This 2m is critical for mat and jack placement but more about that later. At Clubs that play on Carpet you will see black marker marks in the shape of a T at both ends of the rink.

If you look to the sides of the rinks you will see four white strips. Standing in the direction of play and looking at the left hand ditch, Strip A is 2m from the ditch closest to you and Strip D is 2m from the ditch furthest away. Strip C is 23m from Strip A and Strip B 23m from Strip D!! Got that?!?! A little diagram to help with the next bit of the guide:

The Mat

If you have been chosen to play first i.e. Lead, this is very tedious stuff but you really should know that the mat is not one yard long – it is 60 cms.

Firstly it must always be placed on the centre line of the rink of play. For a mat to be "legal" the front of it must be on or past the T mark in the direction of play. A mat is considered illegal if the front of it is less than 2m from the edge of the ditch. So, to be on the safe side, if you want to do a minimum mat placement, always make sure that the front of the mat is just over 2m. You can always use the 2m measuring stick, that way you will know that it is just more than 2m from the ditch.

Another illegal mat placement would be the front of the mat being anywhere past Strip B in the direction of play.

Okay, why would a mat be illegal? The reason is that when you send (or cast) a jack it must travel a minimum of 23m. So if the mat was illegal, the jack could be too!! And we can't have that now can we?

A little scenario: When you are playing and you have placed your mat with the back of it on the T in line with Strip A. You send your jack. The people in the faraway place (OK – the skips at the other end) think that you may not have sent it far enough so you hear, usually, one of two things:

1. "Where is the mat?" or 2. "How far up are you?"

Armed with the above information you could shout back "60 centimetres up" but you could be accused of showing off your new found skills!! So, "A mat up" would tell the skip all they needed to know. You may then see them doing an impression of John Cleese as a Minister of Silly Walks when they pace out the distances to see if they can gauge how far past Strip C you are.

So, that question means that they want to know where the mat is in relation to the "T" and, on occasion, you may have to take part in the Silly Walk competition yourself if you have placed the mat more than a couple of metres away from the T.

The Jack

The first things not to worry about here are what its diameter is and how much it weighs. Leave that to the manufacturers! All you need to know at this stage is that they are yellow or white and slightly smaller than jacks on a carpet green.

Suffice to say that once you have placed your mat in a legal position you will be required to cast the jack a minimum of 23m.

As well as a mat being a sick bird, sorry, illegal, so can a jack be, and this is usually because:

  • It has not been cast 23m i.e. too short
  • It has been sent into the ditch i.e. too long
  • It has been sent into another rink i.e. should have gone to Spec Savers!!

Right then you have the mat and you commit one of the above offences. The privilege of casting the jack now passes to the opposite lead. You will not be sent to jail but your skip may not be a happy bunny because now the opposition can even move the mat to another legal position if they want to and you have lost your favourite length of jack. Boo Hoo!

Now, one of two things will happen. Either the opposite lead will send a perfectly good legal jack or, they won't. If the jack is legal, it is then still your turn to bowl first. However, if they too send an illegal jack, this is where the 2m rule comes in. The skip will now place the jack on the T and you can then put the mat wherever you want it, providing of course that it is legal, i.e. anywhere on the centre line between the T mark and Strip B.

As a matter of interest, when placing the jack on the T, the front of the jack must be 2m from the edge of the ditch. Therefore, the front of the jack must be level with the horizontal line of the T.

What Position Should I Be In?

Well it all depends on what we are talking about!! There will be no diagrams from the Karma Sutra – although that might be a little more interesting than some of these diagrams!

On the Mat

When you are about to send your bowl or the jack up the rink, you should begin your delivery with at least one foot fully within the confines of the mat. Examples of correct positions are shown in the diagram.

When you deliver your bowl or the jack i.e. let go of it, you must have one foot either wholly or partly on or above the mat. If you do not follow these guidelines, you could be pulled up for foot-faulting.

After Delivering a Bowl

There is a thing in bowls called "possession of the rink". Basically, you or another member of your team is in possession of the rink from the time your opponent's bowl comes to rest until your or your team-mate's bowl comes to rest. Again, this is best described with a little scenario:

It is the first bowl of the end and you have the mat. You are standing on the mat ready to deliver (with at least one foot fully on the mat remember!) and you send your bowl towards the jack. Until that bowl comes to rest i.e. stops rolling, you and your team are in charge!! The moment that it stops, possession of the rink passes to your opponent(s) unless your bowl touched the jack, in which case time is given to your skip to chalk it. Once possession passes to the opposition, that means:

  • Your skip cannot call any instructions to you e.g. you are 1m short.
  • You cannot ask your skip anything – it is now not your mat.
  • You, and this is where positioning comes in, should now be at least 1 metre behind the mat.

Unless it has been invented after this booklet was compiled, it is not possible to teleport – Star Trek wasn't real you know. So, when your bowl is about to come to rest, start to walk backwards so that when it does stop, you are not encroaching on your opponent's rink possession. This is one good reason why players' bowls not in use should be placed well behind and to the side of the mat. Bowls can be replaced – ankles take a little longer!

You will read that last paragraph and you will say, "Crikey – we see that all the time!" – and it is true, you will. However, it does not mean that it is correct. We all develop bad habits and it is a fact that this one is one of the most prevalent. This is not an easy one but try not to get into the custom and practice of being in front of the mat when your bowl has come to rest. At the same time, try not to turn your back on your bowl either – even if it is the worst one that you have ever delivered!!

You see some people charging down the rink after they have delivered their bowl. This is fine and dandy (if the local rules permit "visiting the head"), but, if you are going to get into this particular kettle of fish, you must be behind the jack when your bowl comes to rest. So, not to be recommended after you have done a firing shot then! Well, not unless they really have invented teleporting since this booklet was produced!

When You Are Not Bowling

When your opponent(s) or a team-mate are bowling, you should be at least 1 metre behind the mat. If you are at the head end and you are not involved in controlling the play i.e. telling your team-mate where to bowl to etc. then you should be well behind the jack and away from the head.

If you are controlling play, you may step into the head to give instructions but, once your team's bowl comes to rest you must be back behind the jack and away from the head.

If the jack is close to the ditch then, obviously, you are permitted to stand on the bank.

Where can't you go? It is probably obvious to everyone, even the newest of bowlers, that when you are changing ends, you do not walk down a neighbouring rink where play is in progress. What a lot of people do not know is that you are not permitted to step into a neighbouring rink whilst an opponent is about to deliver or is actually delivering a bowl EVEN IF THE RINK IS EMPTY! Also, if you are on rink 1 or rink 8, the same applies to the dead area between the rink boundary and the side ditch.

In actual fact the laws are quite strict on you actually leaving the rink during the course of play, but, for club mornings it is obviously much more relaxed. Be careful if you are in a serious match though – you are really supposed to ask your opponents for permission to leave the rink! Honest!

This booklet is all about the laws. However, whilst on the subject of where you should be standing here are a couple of points of etiquette:

  • Try not to practice your RiverDance routine when you are standing behind the jack and someone is on the mat – it can be very distracting.
  • Discussing what you will be doing at the weekend whilst standing behind the mat with someone about to deliver can also be very distracting.

"Etiquette on the Green" has been reproduced in its entirety at the end of this booklet. This section is ingeniously entitled: Etiquette on the Green!

Competition Formats

Other than Club Mornings the club holds various types of competitions and all have different rules. So, when you enter a competition, make sure you are conversant with the rules before you start. Is it a knock-out, round robin, league? Make sure you know what you are putting your name down for. Are you going to be available to play on all the dates published? Do not enter any competition if you are only able to play in part of it. This is particularly relevant to the knock-out tournaments. It would not be fair to play in two rounds of a competition knowing full well that you will be sunning yourself in Mexico or on the beach in Blackpool for the rest of the rounds. Be fair and think of the people you have knocked out along the way.

Some competitions are handicapped. Do you know what your handicap is? If it hasn't been done already, ask a member of the Selection Committee to assign you one. This handicap is relevant only to the Cabrera Lawn Bowling Club.

Singles – You play against one other person. It is usually the first to reach 21 shots but there are exceptions – check the published competition rules. You will need a marker to assist you and these are allocated if the competition is on a set day and you must organise your own if it is a "play by date". The number of woods depends on the competition.

Pairs – It does what it says on the tin really. It is you and one other versus two others! This is usually with four woods each and the winning team is normally decided after 18 ends, but again, there are exceptions.

Triples – This time there are three of you in the team and, usually, you have three woods each. As for pairs it is usually 18 ends.

Rinks or Fours – Again, pretty self explanatory. You have two woods each. This is pretty repetitive but again, it is usually over 18 ends but can vary.

Just to re-iterate – the competition formats and rules do vary so . . . . . Check, Check and Check again!

Players and Their Duties

The Lead

  • Place the mat in a legal position and wait for it to be centred *
  • Deliver the jack and wait for it to be centred **
  • If you have lost the end you should be the "Officer in Charge" of the trolley to scoop up all the woods

* The Skip will indicate the direction to move the mat if required.

** There are black marker lines on some greens but it's pretty difficult to mark it out on grass!! So, if there are no marked lines it is very helpful to the Skip if you indicate the direction they need to move the jack and by how much.

The Second

  • In a triples game the Second will assume the responsibility of the Third.
  • Put the score on the score board.
  • Assist in scooping up the woods.

The Third

  • In a Rinks/Fours game this player is usually responsible for the measuring of disputed shots.
  • He/she can control play and assist the skip with the type of shot to be played.
  • Assist in scooping up the woods.

The Skip

  • Moan a lot *
  • Shrug shoulders *
  • Shout "You're not here!" *
  • Be responsible for the score card.
  • Control the play and give instructions to assist his/her fellow team-mates.

* Only joking guys!

On the subject of measuring – it is too large a topic to discuss in these guidelines. If, as a new bowler, you find yourself in the position of a number two in a triples game you will be expected to do the measuring. However, if you do not feel confident, ask your opposite number if they will do all the measuring until you have more experience and feel that you are up to it.

Bowling Terminology

Dead End - The jack has been moved and has landed outside the confines of the rink of play. If the jack has gone into the back ditch but remains inside the rink markers then the end and jack is still live. A dead end is replayed. It can be replayed from the original end or the opposite end but both Skips must agree. If Skips disagree then the end should be replayed from the original direction. Certain competitions do not allow Dead Ends and if a jack leaves the confines of the rink then it will be replaced on the small marks level with the T and 1.5 metres away. The jack will be placed on the spot on the side from which it left the confines of the rink.

Toucher - Any bowl that, in the course of its original path comes into contact with the jack – except a live jack in the ditch. The Skip, number Three in Rinks and number Two in Triples will mark the bowl with chalk. A toucher will remain in play even if it is knocked into or travels into the ditch, providing it remains within the confines of the rink. If a toucher is knocked out of the confines of the rink it becomes a dead bowl.

Dead Bowl - Any bowl that is a non-toucher that leaves the confines of the rink or goes into the ditch. Any bowl that has been delivered to a length of less than 14 metres is illegal and must be removed from the rink.

Tied end - Any end where it is not possible to decide which bowl has shot. These ends are recorded on the score card/score board but with no score shown.

Burn/Kill the End - An end can be killed or burned by purposely hitting the jack into a position outside the confines of the rink to make a dead end. See also Dead End.

Trial Ends - Before the start of play in some competitions players may be allowed two trial ends on the rink they are playing on. It is up to the players to decide how many woods to trial with. However, each player should not use more than the number of bowls being used during the game. For example, if you are playing triples you may decide only to use two woods, but if you are playing in a rinks match you may not use more than two woods.

The Head - This is the collection of bowls around the jack.

Some F.A.Q.s (Frequently Asked Questions!

Can I practice?

This is a sticky one. Suffice to say that practicing is allowed under certain conditions but, it is definitely not permitted to practice on a rink where you have a match later in the day. To be safe, it would be advisable to not practice on the green at all on the same day that you are taking part in a competition. If you are in any doubt, ask the competition organiser. See also Trial Ends.

The mat has moved – what should I do?

You are permitted to straighten a mat that has moved off the centre line. You cannot move it forward or back – just to straighten it. If you or someone else picks the mat up by mistake e.g. before the last bowl is delivered, then an opposing player should replace the mat into its original position.

Who has the mat?

At the start of a game you and your opponent in a singles game or the Skips in a team game should toss a coin to decide this. Thereafter, the mat belongs to the player/team who won the previous end. The only time you can decide not to keep the mat and bowl first i.e. give the mat away, is after the toss of a coin where you called correctly – be that at the start of a match/extra end/tie break.

My bowl has touched the jack but it is in a precarious position – what should I do?

You should not attempt to mark it with hard chalk – use a puffer by all means. If you are not able to mark a toucher for fear of moving it, you should nominate it as a toucher and mark it thereafter at the first available opportunity.

I have inadvertently kicked a bowl at rest in the head – what happens now?

A lengthy issue this one! There are umpteen pages on bowl and jack displacement in the Law Book!! However, if the bowl in question was at rest and you have just moved it by mistake, it, and any other bowls that it may have disturbed, should be put back into their original position by the opposing skip. This very rarely, if ever, happens as they might be 30 metres away. But if not the skip, it should always be a member of the opposition and not that replaces the bowl(s).

How short am I? How far through am I?

If it is your job to tell a player the answer to this question, the distance they are usually after is all about their weight. So, look at the following diagram:

Now whilst it is true that the Law Book is totally metric, people in the main revert to yards, feet and inches in this situation. It is usually only a guide that they are after and you don't need to be talking down to the last half an inch. In the above scenario you could tell the Skip that Bowl A is 18ins. past the jack and Bowl B is 6ins. Short. If you hear more experienced bowlers talking about "Jack High" or "Jack Level" it usually means that they want to know where their bowl is in relation to the front of the jack. Jack High and Jack Level mean exactly the same thing and it is where, to quote the Law Book, the nearest part of a bowl is in line with and at the same distance from the mat line as the nearest part of the jack. Ergo, to be precise, Bowl A is 18ins. plus 63 to 67 millimetres* past Jack High/Level, Bowl B is still 6ins. short and Bowl C is exactly Jack High/Level. Now, as Michael Caine would say, "Not a lot of people know that!".

* The diameter of a jack!

Etiquette On The Green

The etiquette of the game of bowls is a combination of good manners, sportsmanship and sociability; these courtesies are best described as the unwritten Laws of the Game.

They are extras and designed to promote social ability and the excellent reputation for friendliness and sportsmanship the game of bowls has rightly earned.

  • Be conversant with the Laws of the Game and observe them.
  • Respect the decision of the umpire.
  • Be punctual to commence play at all matches and be properly attired.
  • Keep quiet and refrain from moving when players are on the mat.
  • Stand behind the mat while your opponent bowls.
  • Always stand still at the head when a player is about to bowl; movement at the head or talking at the mat end is very distracting.
  • Always allow your opponent the right to the head as spelt out in the Laws of the Game, failure to do so decreases the enjoyment of the game.
  • Walk close to the centre of the rink with minimum delay when changing ends; you could distract play on the next rink.
  • Do not delay play; always play your bowl with the minimum of delay.
  • Never deliver your bowl before the previous bowl has come to rest.
  • Keep track of play; be ready to bowl when it is your turn.
  • Every player at the head end should assist in collecting bowls when the end is completed.
  • Always pay your Skip the respect of waiting for their decision. Don't step on the mat and indicate which way you intend playing, wait for the Skips instruction.
  • Never applaud lucky bowls, accept them graciously.
  • Never complain about lucky bowls, they tend to equal each other out over the course of a game.
  • Respect the green at all times. Do not:-
    • Drop bowls on the green
    • Stand on the edge of the green – (grass.)
    • Stand on the bank – (grass)
    • Walk in the ditches
  • Always take care to protect and conserve the green at all times.
  • Always inform your opponent when you wish to leave the green.
  • If you lose, be a good loser, don't blame your loss on other people, the green, the weather, etc etc.
  • Win or lose, always shake hands with your opponent and thank them for the game. Don't be too taken with your win today, the position could be reversed tomorrow.
  • Offer your opponent a drink after the game.
  • When playing singles, whether you have won or lost, be sure to thank the marker and offer to buy them a drink. Remember that they have given their time to assist your game. You can repay them by being courteous in return.
  • It is polite to thank the umpire of the day before leaving the club.
  • Learn to be a good marker. When offering your services, remember that a marker can make or break a game.

Above all ENJOY THE GAME of bowls for its pleasure and the lasting friendship it provides