What is Lawn Bowling?

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On a hot summer day, one of the best things to do with your friends and family is to play a fun lawn game. Lawn bowling is one of those games sure to be hit with everyone who participates.

First of all, what even is lawn bowling?

Contrary to popular assumption, lawn bowling is not simply bowling but outside. Lawn bowling is played with two or more people. Rather than knocking down pins, each person rolls “bowls” down what is referred to as the “bowling green” towards a target.

Lawn bowling is simple enough that anyone can learn how to play and enjoy doing so. So gather the kids, neighbors, and the rest of your friends and have a lawn bowling tournament. Keep reading to learn about the history of lawn bowling, what is required to play, and the rules!

A Brief History of Lawn Bowling

Lawn bowling has been around for much longer than any of us would have guessed. In fact, the exact origin of lawn bowling is a guess of its own.

With the evidence available, historians believe that this “gentlemen’s game” has been around for over 7,000 years! After a few thousand years, bowling became so popular that in 1299 A.D. the Southhampton Old Bowling Green Club was established.

In fact, the game has been so popular over the years that during times of war, countries literally banned people from playing the game of lawn bowling. In the fourteenth century, King Charles the IV of Franch restricted gameplay to the upper classes only.

While historians believe that lawn bowling was born in Egypt and then spread across the world by the Roman Empire, the lawn bowling we know and love today was cultivated and prospered in Scotland. Lawn bowling is even thought of as the national game of Scotland!

Lawn Bowling and Bocce Ball

Another popular lawn game is the game of bocce ball. While many assume that lawn bowling and bocce ball are the same, in reality the two games are separate and distinct.

The game of bocce ball is played with a completely round ball; meanwhile, lawn bowling is played with an imperfect sphere (flatter on two sides, perfectly round on the other) called a bowl or boule.

Another difference between the two games is how the ball or bowl is thrown. When playing lawn bowling the bowl is rolled across the green while the bocce ball is simply thrown underhand.

As I mentioned above, lawn bowling is played on a flat green surface of grass. Bocce ball “courts” are often made of sand or long grass.

While there are several distinct differences between the two games, both bocce ball and lawn bowling use a target ball either referred to as a “pallino” or a “jack.”

Lawn Bowling Material

Before you begin learning to play lawn bowling, you will first need to gather all the materials to play!

A lawn bowling set should include a jack (small white ball), 8 bowls (4 of one color, and 4 of another), and a small square mat. Bowls can weigh anywhere from 1 to 5 pounds and should be durable enough to withstand hitting each other.

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In order to play a proper game of lawn bowling, you will need to either find or build a bowling green to play on.

A bowling green is any area of level ground measuring between 37 and 44 yards on each side. This area will then be divided into 6 equal lanes referred to as rinks.

At the furthest end of the bowling green dig a ditch with a higher bank on one side. The purpose of this ditch is for bowls rolled too far to fall into.

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How to Play

Once you have your lawn bowling set and have set up your bowling green, you can begin playing your very own game of lawn bowling! But first, the rules!

More likely than not, you will not be playing in a professional or highly competitive match of lawn bowling. Non-competitive or recreational lawn bowling matches are often referred to as “barefoot bowls.”


Lawn bowling is played by dividing up into two or more teams of one or two people each. The teams are divided up between the rinks and tournament or round robin play begins.

Play is initiated with one player standing on the mat and rolling the bowl down the green. The bowl should be rolled gently enough that the bowl does not bounce, so as not to damage the bowling green.

Each team takes terms having a player roll until all the bowls have been rolled down the green.

After all the bowls have been rolled, you can begin scoring. The team that has landed the most bowls closest to the jack win. You can determine this simply by looking at the bowls. In the event that the bowls are too close to call, you can use a tape measure to find out which bowl is truly closer.

Any bowls that have landed in the ditch do not count for any points.

If there are any disputes, a competitive lawn bowling match would call an umpire to resolves the problem. However, in a recreational match, or barefoot bowl, you will have to call a third party or find a resolution on your own.


In order to become a better lawn bowler, here are a few strategic tips and tricks to get the upper hand over your competitors.

Rather than simply attempting to land your bowls as close to the jack as possible, there are a few different moves you can choose to make.

First, ask yourself what your opponent might do on the next few of their turns. Is your opponent going to knock your bowls or are they going to attempt to land their bowls closer to the jack?

Next, think about what technique you can use to land the bowl closer to the jack. For example, you can use spin or attempt for a straight throw.

The different types of shots in bowling are the draw, the yard on, the running shot/ditch length shot, and the drive.

The draw is the most common shot used in lawn bowling. Draw shots are those throws that aim to land the bowl closest to the jack. This shot requires lots of practice, planning, and skill.

The next shot one can use while lawn bowling is the yard on shot. This is often used in order to move the jack away from your opponent’s bowls. The shot is achieved by throwing the bowl at the jack with enough force to move the jack a yard or two.

The running shot/ditch length shot and the drive all work to achieve the same result as the yard on shot. However, each shot increases in intensity to move either your opponent’s bowls or the jack.

When the Jack is in the ditch

Now you may be asking the question, “what do I do in the event that the jack is knocked into the ditch?”

When the jack is hit into the ditch by any player’s bowl, this is referred to as a “burnt end.” The term “end” simply refers to the round of play. In the event of a burnt end, or a dead round, the bowls are all collected, the jack is rerolled, and the entire end is replayed.

A typical match of lawn bowling typically consists of anywhere between 12 to 13 ends. However, if you are looking for a quick way to play against multiple people, you can play one end at a time. At the end of the match, the team who won the most ends wins the lawn bowling match overall.

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