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  • The most famous story about the game of bowls involves Sir Francis Drake (1540-96), the famed English naval commander, who was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe in the West of England. News came that the Spanish Armada had been sighted. Drake is quoted as saying, 'There is plenty of time to win this game, and to thrash the Spaniards too.’

  • The game is played worldwide by both men and women, and can be played indoors as well as outside.


  • The playing area is known as the green. The game is played up and down strips known as rinks, and there are usually six to each green. They are marked out by tight lines of thin string. Each rink is about 5.5 metres wide. Around the green is a ditch to aid quick drainage, which is filled with pebbles corks.

  • The measurements for the indoor game are the same, and leading players compete winter and summer, indoors and out. Outdoors the grass is cut very short. Indoors it is synthetic surface, but still has a small ditch running around the green.


  • Each game is played with four bowls and a small white ball called the jack. During a game a rubber mat is used to stand on while bowling.


  • The jack is the target and whoever bowls it (chosen by the toss of a coin) there fore chooses how far down the rink it is. The nearest the jack may be to the players’ starting point is 23 metres, and the furthest almost reaching the ditch: 35 metres. As they bowl the players must keep one foot on or above the mat. There are usually 21 ‘ends’ to a game: each player bowls four shots. When all the players have finished their turn the umpire decides which bowls are nearest to the jack. It could be one or more. Whoever wins each and takes control of bowling the jack for the next one.

  • To make the game more full of action for television coverage, a three-set game, as with tennis, can be played which still adds up to 21 ends, but is more exciting because a winner is produced every seven games. If one player takes the first two sets the match is over.


  • David Bryant was born in Clevendon in England’s West Country in October 1931, and dominated world bowls until recently. He won six World Outdoor Championships between 1966 and 1988. Famous for playing with a pipe clenched between his teeth, he also won five medals at the Commonwealth games between 1962 and 1978. He is still playing and winning in top level bowls.


  • Bowls always seems to have had royal associations. King Charles II, his brother the Duke of York, and Duke of Buckingham introduced the rules for lawn bowls in 1670. James IV of Scotland had already enjoyed the game a century earlier.

  • Open entry to the Talbot Handicap bowls competition at the Talbot Hotel, Blackpool, became difficult to handle in 1919 – there were 1580 entrants!

  • Equality came early to bowls – in 1906 the London County Council decreed that at least one green in each park should be reserved for women.

  • In 1905, the cricketing legend Dr W. G. Grace was an official at the first national singles championships of the English Bowling Association, which he helped to found.

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