Created | Updated May 23, 2008
Lawn bowls is played with bowls which are not quite spherical thus giving them a natural curvature. The object of the game is to get as many of your bowls (aka woods) closer to the object ball (called a jack) than the opponent or opposing team1. It is still largely played in the nations that were formally part of the British Empire though it is starting to spread to other countries, most notably Israel, with Spain, the Netherlands and Scandanavia following behind.
Bowls was banned in England in the 14th Century by King Edward III so that the bowmen of England could practise their archery. Undoubtedly, the most famous game of bowls was played in Plymouth by Sir Francis Drake. During this game the Spanish were starting their attack on England. Drake is attributed with saying that the Spanish could wait till after the game, so he finished it off before going out to defeat the Armada in the English Channel.
The oldest bowling green in the world that is still played on is Southampton Old Bowling Green. Some of the greens in the north of England and south of Scotland are built in and around Hadrian's Wall.
The game is often perceived to be an old man's game. Today, however, this is a misconception with more young people taking up the game with the under 25 series played both indoors and out. Also, the majority of the top players and champions are under 40 with many more young bowlers biting at their heels. A Welsh 9 year old qualified for the final stages of his country's under 25 indoor singles tournament in 1999.
At the start of the 20th Century, the only real rules laid down for bowls were the rules used in Scotland. On retiring from cricket, the great WG Grace took up bowls and was involved in organising the countries of the British Isles into a standardised form of play. He also started to arrange competitive games between the countries which is the format still used to this day.
By far the most successful bowler of all time was David Bryant of England and his record of world titles is likely to last forever since bowls is now a lot more competitive and it is unlikely anyone will be able to remain at the top of the game for as long as him. In the 1990s, Scotland repeatedly produced World Champions and dominated the British Isles team championship.
However, the traditional and common image of bowls, up and down the parks of Britain and the Commonwealth, is still that of old men, in cloth caps, spending their mornings and afternoons doddering up and down the lawns after their woods.