History Of Lawn Bowls
Lawn bowling, or “bowling on the green,” is an outdoor game that has fascinated both young and old for centuries. The actual origin of the game is hidden in the haze of antiquity. We do, however, have authentic records of well over seven hundred years of bowling history.
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.
When Caesar rules Rome, the game was known as “Bocce,” and the conquering Roman Legions may well have carried the game to Europe and the British Isles. By the thirteenth century, bowling had spread to France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and England.
Bowling was so well established in England by 1299 A.D. that a group of players organized the Southhamptom Old Bowling Green Club, the oldest established bowling club in the world that is still active. The game became so popular in England and in France it was prohibited by law because archery, essential to the national defense, was being neglected. The French king, Charles IV, prohibited the game for the common people in 1319, and King Edward III issued a similar edict in England in 1361.
The American Scene
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 be the North American Indians centuries before this. Bowling greens were recorded in Boston in 1615, New Amsterdam, as New York was then called, and not long afterwards in Washington and Virginia.
Bowling at Mount Vernon
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. By 1754 he had come into his inheritance and settled down with Martha. They kept up the family tradition of sponsoring bowling on the green as “suitable for the intelligentia and ranking army officers.” The game abruptly lost its popularity during the 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. One of these trees, “The Washington magnolia,” planted in the garden entrance to the bowling green is reputed to be hale and hearty today. Apparently all local records went too, as our national archives had no record of bowling activity for this period until our first edition. Recent research by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union record authentic maps which date back to 1726, locate the bowling green, and confirm our previous reports.
Canadians Preserve the Sport
To the Canadians we owe the preservation of Bowling on the Green in America. With peace, the game spread across the continent to Vancouver, and grew in popularity. In time, friendly games across the border began, and eventually old animosities were forgotten.
There is a certain magic in this game that builds lasting friendships, and Bowls has done a lot to cement the friendly relations that now exist between Canada and the United States. The game was not revived in the United States until 1879 when a bowler named Shepplin started 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.
The first Southern California lawn bowling club was formed in Los Angeles about 1908, and today there are more than thirty active clubs and many private greens in this area.
Lawn Bowling is an outdoor game in which a ball (known as a bowl) is rolled toward a smaller stationary ball, called a jack. The object is to roll one's bowls so that they come to rest nearer to the jack than those of an opponent. This is sometimes achieved by knocking aside an opponent's bowl or the jack.
Bowls is generally played on a flat lawn, about 40-42 yards square. The green is divided into six rectangular sections, or rinks, each of which is about 18-21 feet wide. The bowls are also called woods, but they may be made of rubber, wood, or some other thing-a-ma-jigger. Bowls measure from 4 3/4 to 5 3/4 inches in diameter and have a maximum weight of 1.5 kg. They are black or brown in color.
They are also flattened on one side, so that they follow a curved course when rolled. The jack is white in color, weighs 0.2 to 0.3 kg, and has a diameter of 2 1/2 inches. Players roll their bowls from a rubber mat of 24 by 14 inches. To begin play, a jack is rolled to the opposite side of the rink, and it becomes the target so long as it stops at least 25 yards (23 m) from the delivery mat. Players then bowl in turn. In singles and doubles games, each player uses four bowls; in triples, every player has three bowls; and in fours, or rink games, two bowls per player are used. When all of the bowls have been thrown, an end is said to be complete. In scoring, all the bowls of one team nearer the jack at the finish of an end than the nearest bowl of the opposing team count for one point each. A game consists of 21 points in pairs or fours, and 18 points in triples. There is no prescribed number of points in singles matches, but the usual number played is 21.