About Lawn Bowls
The game of lawn bowls is played on a RINK (lane) within the GREEN. A green is 125ft square and markers are used to define the active rinks. Each rink is 14ft wide and they are layed out in different directions on different days to protect the grass. Multiple rinks, and hence multiple separate games, can be live at the same time.
BOWLS come in sets of four and each set has its own unique emblems engraved on the sides. Bowls are perfectly smooth and round in one direction, but slightly flattened in the other. The bowls are also weighted (or tapered slightly) in the direction of the small emblem, causing the bowl to curve in that direction when rolled. This is known as the BIAS and allows you to curve your bowl around others. Bowls come in different sizes,
weights, colors and biases, and last for 30 or more years.
The objective of the game is for each team member to roll their bowls closer to the JACK (a small white marker ball). A player may roll their bowls however they like, as long as one foot is on (or above) the MAT at the time of release. After all players have rolled their bowls (completion of an END), points are determined based on who is closest to the jack. Any bowl that goes too long (and into the ditch), or comes to rest outside a rink boundary marker, is DEAD and is removed from play. If the jack is knocked or moved by any bowl, it is still LIVE as long as it is in the rink, including if it is in the ditch.
In a PAIRS game, to start an end, the LEAD player of one team places the mat, rolls the jack and then signals their SKIP to center the jack as needed. The lead players take turns rolling their bowls into the HEAD (as the developing arrangement of bowls is called). When the leads are finished, they cross to the head, and the skips take turns bowling until all bowls are rolled. In triples, there are also VICE SKIPS, commonly just called VICE.
Games typically consist of 14 ends (social) or 18 ends (competition). The sport is easily learned, but can take years to master. Different greens and rinks are all different challenges, in addition to all the millions of jack and bowls combinations in the head. Club members may be 18 years old (or younger) or 81 years old (or older) and still compete against one another!
Thanks to the Palo Alto Lawn Bowling Club for this great description!
Here’s a link to a video version of the basics of lawn bowling.
Some Basics regarding Leads, Seconds, Skips, and Measures
The full set of rules for lawn bowling as played in the USA can be found on the Bowls USA website. That site has a link to the international Laws of the Sport of Bowls. The Bowls USA site also has an excellent section on etiquette—more comprehensive than we include in the BLBC Handbook.
The function of the lead is (A) to place the mat and roll the jack, ideally to the spot where the skip is indicating he or she wishes it; (B) the lead of the side losing the end rakes the bowls to the correct position (behind and to the right of the mat, from the perspective of someone bowling from the mat); (C) the lead of the side losing the end puts up the score on the board. (In triples, the losing second does this.) Rake first, then mark the score.
The primary role of the second is to replace the skip in the head when the skip is on the mat. As mentioned, the losing second puts up the score while the losing lead rakes. When at the head, the second should keep the skip informed of the count by the normal hand signals (X pats on the shoulder or on the thigh, depending on whether you are up or down).
The skip is in charge. He or she literally “calls the shots.” A good skip, however, is a benevolent dictator and rules with a gentle touch and voice. Admittedly, given wind conditions and some bowlers’ hearing capacity, the gentle voice part can sometimes be difficult to ensure. Also, to be frank, because leads and seconds do not always follow the roles outlined above, a frustrated skip may feel he or she has to make their point forcefully.
If there is any question about which bowl is the point, measure. It’s unproductive to discuss it if it’s not obvious. Start with the measure just touching the jack and bring the end of the tape to the fat part of the bowl being measured. It’s best to measure the opponent’s closest bowl first and then compare the length of the tape to the position of your team’s bowl(s). If the lead is ready to rake, s/he should wait until all measuring is complete. When you have the count, signal to your skip clearly by tapping your hand to your chest (one tap per point you have) or your hip (one tap per point given to the other team.
Etiquette and traditions for employing it are meant to make the game a pleasant experience.