Ancient Game Of Lawn Bowls Adds New Chapter To Glasgow

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A sports cliché to do this far beyond the world of sport is “The ball is in your court”. But when it comes to a game popular in the British Commonwealth, perhaps the cliché can be changed to ‘The bowl is on your lawn’.

This story, which originally aired on August 16, 2014, is reposted this week as part of Only one game Show of sports clichés.


The 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland attracted more than 4,500 athletes from 71 nations and territories that were once part of the British Empire. The Games – which ended on August 3 – featured many quick events, including the men’s 4×100-meter relay in which Usain Bolt and his Jamaican teammates won gold.

But fans have also turned to a decidedly slow sport: pétanque. Then again, when a game has been played for centuries, it can afford to take its time.

Bowls are not pétanque

There are three things I need to clear up right away about the sport of lawn balls. First, sod balls do not involve pins. Second, lawn balls are not bocce. Lots of similarities, understandable mistake … but it’s not the same game. And third, the word “lawn” is a misnomer – unless your idea of ​​a “lawn” is a rectangle of grass. pristine that could double as a massive practice green on a chic golf course.

The game was not invented in Scotland, but the Scots came up with many rules that are still in effect today. Bowlsclub.org lists 120 clubs in the city of Glasgow alone, so it’s the perfect location for one of the best competitions in the world.

[sidebar title=”More From Scotland” width=”330″ align=”right”]Although little publicized in the United States, the Commonwealth Games are a global spectacle.

Check out photos and posts from Doug Tribou from Glasgow 2014 (including a story involving a purple New York Yankees hat).[/sidebar]The lush and perfectly manicured greens of the Commonwealth Games pétanque center were in the shadow of Glasgow’s famous Kelvingrove Museum. After the Games opened with a few days of sun, humidity and temperatures in the 80s, a much more glaswegian weather set in. On my first day on the greens the skies turned gray and it rained, but hundreds of fans holding umbrellas or wearing ponchos turned out to watch the bowlers.

The Commonwealth Games are held every four years and lawn bowling has been part of almost every program since the first Games in 1930. There are men’s and women’s singles, pairs, trebles and foursome events. Twenty-six squads came to Glasgow.

Jacks, Rinks and “Ends”

“There is a small white ball at one end of the green, about 30 yards away. And the object of the game is to get your bigger balls as close as possible to that little white ball at the end, ”said Kate Smith, team manager for Norfolk Island, which is located in the South Pacific and is the smallest (population 2,100) member. of the Commonwealth.

This little white ball, which can also be yellow, is known as a jack.

Positioning and strategy are essential in lawn balls. (Mark Noble / Getty Images)

Greg Davis, a bowler from Jersey, a semi-autonomous island in the English Channel, summed up the game’s score.

“Effectively you have to get more balls closer to that jack at the end of the end than your opponent,” said Davis. “Obviously, the closer to balls you get when all the balls have been thrown, the more points you score. “

The greens are divided into several lanes called ice rinks. There are small ditches at each end. If a bowler sends a ball into the ditch without hitting the jack, it is out of play. Once all the balls have been thrown, the contestants descend the ice together and play the next set – or “end” – in the direction. opposite.

An integrated “bias”

Although the lanes are flat, a barrel is not a forehand as the balls are not perfect spheres causing them to bend.

“[Balls] all come in different sizes. You choose it based on your hand. And there is a bias there. So you have to choose which way you’re going to throw your ball, “said Chris Grimes, the Jersey team pitcher on the other side of the green.”

(A small clarification: in bowls, the balls are also called “bowls”.

Bowls (or balls) are not perfect spheres.  One side has a bias which creates a curve when rolling.  (Paul Gilham / Getty Images)
Bowls (or balls) are not perfect spheres. One side has a bias which creates a curve when rolling. (Paul Gilham / Getty Images)

Boules are a matter of strategy – placing punches to knock an opponent’s balls out of position or to hit a teammate closer to the jack. This is what pleases Richard Amos, who has come from Gloucestershire, England, to watch. Amos has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair. Pétanque is one of the five parasports presented at the Games. Amos plays boccia, a similar sport featured at the Paralympic Games.

“It’s all about the placement of the shots,” he said. “It’s about seeing how each player wants to approach the game, whether defensive or offensive.”

Shakespeare bowls

Bowlers often play almost silently – but like any good sport, athletes sometimes end up yelling at the ball. In a moment captured on a BBC broadcast, a bowler repeatedly shouts, “Come home now! Come home now!” as his ball slowly curves towards the jack.

Play-by-play – or roll-by-roll – television is a modern addition to this ancient game. According to tradition, the English sailor and explorer Sir Francis Drake insisted on completing a game before embarking to fight the Spanish Armada in 1588. And Shakespeare referred to it in some of his plays, including “King Richard II. “.

Queen: What sport are we going to imagine here in this garden,
To get rid of the heavy thought of care?

First lady: Madam, we are going to play bowls.

Queen: ‘Twill will make me think the world is full of friction.
And that my fortune turns against the tide.

But the game was hundreds of years old by the time the bard wrote her cries. The oldest pétanque club in the world is Southampton (Old) Bowling Green in England. It opened in 1299.

A sport for all ages

Today, this game for ages is also a game for all ages. Young and old play side by side. Grimes started bowling around the age of 40. Today, she is 63 years old.

“I made it a hobby and found out that I was pretty good at it. And then I was selected in competition, so the balls don’t know your age, ”she laughed.

Grimes’ teammate Greg Davis is just 25 years old. A daytime computer consultant, Davis discovered gambling at the age of 12.

“There are more people, more young people getting involved now than I have thought in a long time, especially here,” said Davis. “So the future is bright from that point of view, but we have to keep raising the profile of the game and what makes it more appealing to young bowlers, so that we have fresh blood and that can only be good. for Sport. “

The sport’s governing body, World Bowls, reports 51 member countries, including the United States.

At the Commonwealth Games, South Africa topped the medal count with Scotland, England, New Zealand and Malaysia completing the top five. But Julie Brunt, who runs a large bocce center in Australia and has traveled to Glasgow to find friends, says that in bocce the camaraderie trumps the competition every time.

“It’s like a big happy family,” she said. “We all feel great. It’s a very social game.

And this is the main reason why the game of bowls continues.

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