top of page

History of Bowls

History of Bowls
Lawn Bowls is an official sport that is played across the world by players in 54 different countries. It has been a ‘core sport’ played at the Commonwealth Games since 1930. There are separate international and world championships held on a regular basis between players of competing countries, including the United States.
Historians believe that Lawn Bowling (or Bowls) developed from the Egyptians, dating circa 5,000 BC.   Sculptured vases and ancient plaques show the game being played some four thousand years ago, and archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls from 5,000 B.C. which indicate our ancestors enjoyed the game of bowling more than seven thousand years ago.  
The sport spread across the world, taking on a variety of forms: Bocce (Italian), Bolla (Saxon), Bolle (Danish), Boules (French) and Ula Maika (Polynesian). Historical evidence of bowls-like games have been found in the cultures of the  Aztecs, the early Polynesians, and various North American aboriginal cultures.


Bowl, as we know it, was so well established in England by 1299 A.D. that a group of players organized the Southhamptom Old Bowling Green Club. Records show that the green has been in operation since 1299 A.D. There are other claims of greens being in use before that time, but these are unsubstantiated by proper or sufficient documentation.




By 1319 Bowls had become so popular that King Henry VIII, who was an avid bowler, ban commoners from playing the sport to ensure that they focused on their archery and other trades.  It became a game for the wealthy. In order to play bowls you would be required to pay a fee of £100. The sport was also banned in France in 1361 for the same reasons. 


Fortunately, bowling was not suppressed in Scotland, where it attained a popularity which has increased over the years. Scottish bowlers developed the present flat green game, established rules, worked out a uniform code of laws, and were instrumental in saving the game for posterity. To the Scots goes the credit also for giving the game an international background, as emigrant Scots enthusiastically carried the game with them to all parts of the world.


Lawn bowling appears to have been introduced into the American colonies in the1600s, although archaeologists have uncovered biased stone bowls, now in a museum at Vancouver, B.C., which indicate that a similar game was played by native North American Indians centuries before this. Bowling greens were recorded in 1615, in Boston  New Amsterdam, as New York was then called, and not long afterwards in Washington and Virginia.

In 1726 George Washington’s father, Augustus, took over management of the family estate at Mount Vernon, and in 1732, the year George was born, constructed the bowling green. At this time the game was highly favored as a genteel pastime by the ranking officers of the British Colonial Army, and the green at Mt. Vernon was undoubtedly very popular. George grew up with the game, became an avid bowler in his youth, and apparently this love of the game was never lost. He kept the green busy through the years.

The game abruptly lost its popularity during the American Revolution. On July 4, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence, the Colonies were rent apart. Those still loyal to the British Crown fled to Canada, were imprisoned or killed, and their property confiscated. This wartime hysteria swept all thing British with it, including bowling greens. Greens were plowed up, converted to camp grounds, planted with flowers or trees, and hidden as much as possible. At Mount Vernon the abandoned green was planted with young full grown trees described as a rugged type of magnolia.


The first Southern California lawn bowling club was formed in Los Angeles about 1903 in Exposition Park, and today there are more than thirty active clubs and many private greens in this area.

Today bowls is enjoyed in many countries, both as a social sport and in international  


It was the Canadians that preserved the art of Bowling on the Green in America. 

The sport was again introduced in the United States in 1879 in a small private

club in New Jersey. Soon this expanded to a second club and in 1885 the Middlesex Bowling Green Club was officially organized. New clubs appeared in Boston, and soon bowling greens were once again flourishing along the eastern seaboard.

Fourteen years passed before the first West Coast club was formed. In 1899 the

St. Andrews Society of San Francisco and Oakland combined to construct the

first bowling green in the West in Golden Gate Park.


Old Photograph Lawn Bowling Green Blackw
lawn bowling england.jpg
social bowlin.jpg

Glossary of Terms


Delivery of bowl


Controlled  Weighted



A Bowl placed behind the Head, positioned so that if the opposition trails the Jack from its current position towards the back of the Rink, the back bowl may become Shot or reduce the number of Shots that the opposition may have if moved to this part of the Rink.


For a right handed player, delivering a bowl to the left hand side of the Rink, with the bias facing the center line of the Rink. For a left handed player, delivering a bowl to the right hand side of the Rink, with the bias facing the center line of the Rink.


The area on the outer edge of the Green, beyond the Ditch.


 A bowl that blocks someone (usually an opponent) from reaching the desired target


The official name of the sport, as defined by World Bowls.


After a bowl has been delivered and comes to rest, if it finishes in the Ditch, or outside the Rink boundary, it is considered a Dead Bowl, and is removed from play. However, if the bowl has touched the Jack, it remains a Live bowl even if in the Ditch, as long as it is within the boundary of the Rink.


The amount of curve that a bowl will take during its course to the Jack. Bowls are available with several different biases for use in different conditions and competitions. As part of the manufacturing process all bowls are tested against "Master Bowl", which defines the limits of this bias


The Jack has been knocked out of bounds during play. The End is not counted and played again.


The action performed by a player to propel the bowl from the mat end of the Rink to the Head at the other end of the Rink .


Demarcation of the Green, the area surrounding a Green, usually identifiable as a shallow trench at the edges of the Green. The Ditch forms the 120 foot boundary on all four sides of the Green. 


Expression to confirm if your opponent has one or more bowls closest to the Jack. If a Marker is providing this information in a Singles game, the Marker can also indicate this status by holding a clenched fist downwards towards the ground.


Draw can have several meanings in Bowls.

1.  As a noun, it can refer to the most common type of shot and it is really what the game is all about. This shot is the one in which the player attempts to play with the exact weight required to finish closest to the Jack or to a point on the green dictated by strategy or tactics. This shot is often considered to be the most skillful.

2.  As a verb,  you may hear a Skip issuing an instruction such as, "Just draw to the Jack".


A bowl delivered with maximum force toward the target, the aim being to kill the End, disturb the Head, or hit opposition bowls out of the Head


A bowl delivered from above the Green so that it bounces on the turf when it first leaves the hand. Dumping a bowl is an indication of poor technique, or may indicate the player has an injury or disability that does not enable the bowl to be let go of parallel to the ground.


An End of Bowls comprises the placing of the mat, the delivery of the Jack and the delivery of all the bowls of all of the players in one direction on the Rink.


If a bowl is delivered and finishes past the intended target, it is said to have been a "fast bowl".

 a Green is described as "Fast" when the bowls travel at a faster  and further rate over the surface compared to a Slow Green relative to the same amount of effort required when delivering a bowl.

Foot Fault

Occurs when the bowler does not have one foot over the mat on release of the bowl. Foot may be on the mat or in the air.


 1.  Refers to the width of the trajectory line required of a bowl   to enable it to stop at a designated point within the Rink. To take more Grass is to bowl wider than your previous delivery.

2.  Refers to the type of playing surface that the Green has been manufactured from, as opposed to a synthetic or artificial green.


The area collectively including  the Jack and the bowls that have been delivered and have come to rest within the boundaries of the Rink..


When a player unintentionally delivers a bowl beyond the Jack or the intended target it is described as being Heavy


The small markers on the edge of the Rink. They are 76 feet from each Ditch. The Jack must go beyond the Hog Line to be in play.


The small white ball that is the target in Bowls, colloquially referred to as the "Kitty" 


If a bowl is Jack High it means that it has reached a position such that its nearest part is laterally aligned with the Jack. Effectively it means that the bowl and Jack are precisely equidistant from the mat.


The person who plays first in Pairs, Triples or Fours (Rinks) game. The Lead is responsible for setting the mat and delivering the Jack to start the end. The Lead of the losing side is also responsible for raking the bowls behind the mat before the  start of the next End.


The curved route  the bowl takes to the Jack., i.e. the bowl's trajectory toward the Jack.


After a bowl has been delivered and comes to rest, if it stops within the confines of the Rink it is considered Live. if a bowl finishes in the Ditch, or outside the Rink boundary, it is considered a Dead bowl. However, if the bowl has touched the Jack, it remains a live bowl even if in the Ditch, as long as it is within the boundary of the Rink.


 In a game of Singles, a non playing bowler who assists the players by aligning the Jack on the Center Line after it has been rolled, answer questions asked by the players about the state of play, chalk bowls that become Touchers, and keep the scorecard and scoreboard up to date during a game.


A piece of coarse material measuring 14 inches by 24 inches which is placed with the front edge at least 2 meters from the Ditch. The Mat is the point from which bowls and Jack must be delivered.

  1. (instrument) a small pocket sized hand held tape measure used to judge the distance between the Jack and one or more bowls at the conclusion of an End, which will determine the number of shots held by a player or team.

  2. (distance) if at the conclusion of an End of Bowls, the number of shots held by a team or player cannot be determined by agreement, the designated Measurer will use a tape measure to determine the result - "Call for a Measure".



The furthermost position that the Jack can be placed following the Lead bowler rolling the Jack at the start of an End. If the Jack is rolled past this point, and remains within the Rink boundaries, the Jack is spotted on the designated mark, positioned 2 meters back from the ditch .

  1. (bias) a Narrow Bias describes the relatively narrow line that a bowl's arc takes from the point of delivery to the point at which it stops. Modern manufactured bowls are known as "Narrow Bias" bowls as they are designed to take a narrower line, compared to some older brands of bowls manufactured decades ago. Bowls must comply with minimum bias standards determined by World Bowls but vary to suit different styles of play and different playing conditions throughout the world.

  2. (bowl) if a bowl is delivered and finishes to the inner side of the intended target, it is said to have been a "narrow bowl".


the vertical trim in a Ditch, usually constructed of wood or concrete, and often has a covering of carpet or rubber to dampen the impact of bowls when they travel off the Green into the ditch.


 the bowling area on the Lawn for your game. It measures 120 feet from the front of one Ditch to the other Ditch and is 20 feet wide.



Game in which 4 players per team compete: a Skip, a Vice, a 2nd Lead and a Lead. Typically each player uses 2 bowls in this game


The Running Shot is one which uses more weight than the yard on. The object of this shot is to remove opponents bowls from the Head, to move the Jack to the Ditch or to seek some other result that requires the bowl to be played with weight. This can be a difficult shot to play as the line (Bias) required to get to the target changes with different weight.


 The player who plays second, in a Triples or Rinks (Fours) game, . In the Rinks game the second is normally responsible for marking the score card


A bowl that does not reach the Jack or the intended target.


1.  The number of points scored in an end.

2.  The type of delivery, e.g. a Drawing shot, and

3.  During an End, it can be used to describe the bowl that is currently nearest the Jack.


The captain of a team in Pairs, Triples or Rinks play. The Skip is always last to play and is responsible for directing the play during an End. The other players in a team must follow the Skip’s instructions.


a bowl that during its course touches the Jack before finishing within the boundaries of the Rink. A Toucher remains live even if it finishes in the Ditch.


The team member who plays before the Skip.  Vice is mutually responsible (with the opposing team's Vice) for determining the winner of the End and counting the Points.


The relative effort required to ensure a Bowl, when delivered, reaches its intended target


The action of a bowl striking another bowl, changing its direction and speed of travel


A description of a bowl Delivered at too great of an angle from a straight line to the target ("Too much Grass"). The bowl comes to rest on the Delivered side of the target


A bowl delivered where the biased side of the bowl has been placed opposite to the desired position for a given delivery. If a right handed player plays a forehand delivery, but has the biased side of the bowl on the right, the bowls bias will take an arc away from the intended target, and in most cases, outside the Rink boundary. As well as becoming a Dead Bowl, the person delivering the bowl is sometimes subjected to gentle "ridicule".


Delivery of the bowl with sufficient weight to finish 1 yard (or 1 meter) past the objective (usually the Jack, or another bowl within the Rink)



According to the dictionary etiquette means “the art of behavior”. Etiquette is not the explanation of the duties of the various players in a team; but it is that behavior that gives the sport of bowls its great charm. Friendly sporting acts towards  team mates and opponents are appreciated and reciprocated. 
Always remember the sport of bowls is a game for pleasure, played to win but where the ability to have a laugh and to enjoy the company of others is surely as important.

Code of Bowling Etiquette (Bowls USA Handbook)

Bowls' Etiquette, proudly observed and honored by lawn bowlers over time as the written laws of the sport, is foundational to the game's legendary sociability. The canons of etiquette are a combination of good sportsmanship and good manners. They are not optional.


  1. Be conversant with the laws of the sport of bowls and observe them at all times.

  2. When bowls need to be measured, the team or singles player that will probably or certainly concede a shot or shots should do the measuring and place identified counters together.

  3. Be punctual in come to each game properly attired.

  4. The player whose turn it is should step onto the map from its left side and exit to the right.

  5. Keep quiet and refrain from moving when players are on the mat.

  6. Stand behind the mat while your opponent is delivering a bowl.

  7. The team or singles player that rakes the bowls should mark the scoreboard if one is being used.

  8. Always stand still at the head when a player is about to bowl. Movement, talking or gesturing at the head is very distracting and is considered gamesmanship. Do not use gamesmanship to beat your opponent. Win your matches on the green.

  9. Always pay your skip the respect of waiting for his/her instructions.

  10. Keep track of play and be ready with bowl in hand to step on the mat when it is your turn.

  11. Be sure that complete access to the head is accorded to the team with possession of the rink.

  12. Never applaud lucky results-accept them graciously.

  13. Never complain about lucky shots-they tend to equal over time.

  14. Do not say "thanks" for a bad shot that goes your way.

  15. Learn to be a good marker. markers can make or break a game. Obtain a current copy of the Laws of the Sport of Bowls to learn the duties of a marker.

  16. Admit a "fluke" in good spirit.

  17.  Compliment a team member or an opponent for a good shot.

  18. When an umpire is called, retire away from the head as you no longer are part of the decision making. Respect the decision made.

  19. Players should assist in collecting bowls when the end is complete. The lead who will roll the jack should hasten to gather and place the mat in preparation for the next end.

  20. Walk close to the center of the rink with minimum delay when changing ends as you could distract play on adjacent rinks.

  21. Respect the green at all times. Do not drop or loft bowls. Walk on greens only when playing.

  22. Always inform your opponent if you wish to leave the green

  23. If you lose, be a good loser. Don't blame your loss on other people, the green, weather conditions, etc.

  24. After each game, congratulate the winners and shake hands with all. Don't be too impressed with your win today as positions could reverse tomorrow.

  25. Be a bowler who is renowned for always helping put the equipment away.

  26.  When playing singles, whether you have won or lost, but sure to thank the marker. Remember that markers are volunteers and have given their time to assist you in your game. Your courtesy is their only payment.

  27. It is always gracious and appropriate to thank event administrators and the umpire(s) before leaving the green. 

  28. Skips should always remember that the players on their team are doing their best.

  29. Above all, enjoy the game of bowls for the fun, fitness, pleasure and the lasting friendships it provides. 

bottom of page