The Basics of Lawn Bowls

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There aren’t many people in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. who aren’t at least familiar with the game of lawn bowls, which is why folks in these countries are sometimes surprised to learn that the game barely has a presence in other areas. It has minor popularity in a few Asian and African nations, especially those that have a heavy British influence, but it’s practically unheard of in the U.S., South America, and much of the European mainland.

But even in places where lawn bowls are popular, not everyone is familiar with all of the rules, which are actually quite complicated in spite of the deceptive simplicity of the sport. So let’s go back to the basics. If you’re interested in following or participating in lawn bowls, here’s what you need to know.


In this sport, the term “bowls” refers to the small balls that are used in the game. There’s the jack, which is a small, white ball, and there are the larger, black bowls that are made slightly asymmetrical according to the standards of the sport.


The first player, usually chosen via coin toss, rolls the jack out onto the bowling green (a large rectangle of grass). Then, the players take turns rolling their bowls, trying to get them as close as possible to the jack. In singles, each player usually rolls three bowls. In doubles it’s three, and in triples it’s two.

At the end of the round, a referee measures the distance between the jack and the players’ bowls. You earn a point for every bowl that is closer to the jack than your opponent’s closest. Scoring varies, but many competitions play to 21 points, which may take anywhere from 10 to a couple dozen rounds, depending on how close the game is.


There are several aspects of lawn bowls in which strategy comes into play. First, when rolling out the jack, the player wants to position it in a location that plays to his or her strengths. Second, the shape and bias of the ball must fall within a certain range, but within this range players are free to choose balls to suit their preferences. Third, depending on the skill of a player, it’s possible to use your bowls to knock the jack, one’s opponent’s bowls, or one’s own bowls into different locations. It takes a skillful player to master this aspect of the game.

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