The English game of bowls dates from the 13th century. The Southampton Bowling Club was founded in 1299 and continues to this day. Certainly the most famous story (or legend?) in lawn bowls is with Sir Frances Drake and the Spanish Armada. On July 18, 1588, Drake was involved in a game at Plymouth Hoe when he was notified that the Spanish Armada was approaching. His immortalised response was that 'We still have time to finish the game and to thrash the Spaniards, too.' He then proceeded to finish his match and the British Navy soundly defeated the Armada.

During the 16th century the biased bowl was introduced. The bias was given to the bowl by drilling a hole into its side into which a weight was inserted. This method has now been abandoned in favour of shaping the surface of the bowl.

Bowls in England takes several forms, outdoors as well as indoors, but in each of them the basic idea is to roll bowls that are biased and run in a curve to a smaller bowl called the jack.

The game is played up to 12 or 15 points.

The game is now played in over 35 countries: United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Thailand, India, Japan, Spain, Israel, South Africa, U.S.A. and The Netherlands, to name just a few.

Flat green bowls

The court (from: Bowls, flat & crown green - EP Publishing Ltd.)

Flat green bowls is played outdoors on a square level green with sides between 30 and 40 m. The green is divided into numbered rinks (lanes) with widths of about 6 m. The players deliver their bowls from a rubber mat of 36 by 61 cm that is placed about 1,25 m from the rear ditch and about 25 m from the front ditch. The mat has to be placed on the centre line of the rink. The jack must be round and white with a diameter of about 6.25 cm and a weight between 227 and 284 grams.

The bowls are of wood, rubber or composition with a diameter between 12 and 14.5 cm and a weight between 1360 and 1580 grams.

When rolled along a level ground the bowl will trace a curving path. The bias side of the bowl will always be on the inside of the curve. The effect of the bias on the bowl is negligible until the bowl has covered about three-fifths of its path. This point is known as the 'point of aim'. From then onwards the bowl follows a curving path and the amount of the curve increases as the speed of the bowl decreases until the bowl comes to rest.

There are two methods of holding the bowl: the 'claw grip' (the bowl is gripped with the middle fingers spread out under the bowl and the thumb on the top of it) and the 'cradle grip' (the bowl rests in the hand with the middle fingers placed fairly close together with the thumb, which is much lower down the side of the bowl than in the claw grip).

The delivering of a bowl (from: Bowls - Training and Education Associates Ltd.)

Bowls may be played by teams of one player (singles, each player has four bowls), two players (pairs, each player has four bowls), three (triples, each player has three bowls) or four (fours, each player has two bowls). Unlike the French games of boules, where a player has to deliver his boule not until the opponent's boule is closer to the jack or but, the players in the English game of bowls play alternately. Thus, when A and B are playing against X and Y, A and X will alternate until they have each delivered four bowls, then B and Y will alternate until they have played four bowls each.

All bowls of one team nearer to the jack than any bowl of the opponents counts one shot 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.

Crown green bowls

The court (from: Bowls, flat & crown green - EP Publishing Ltd.)

Crown green bowls is popular in the northern and Midland counties of England. The green is square, varying in size from 27.5 to 55 m. The surface of the green slopes slightly upwards, rising to a central crown between 15 and 30 cm higher than the edges. The surface of the green tends to be irregular, unlike the level surface of the rink green. The crown and the surface irregularities provide fresh factors to influence the running bowls.

Since there are no restrictions of size, weight and bias of the bowls, the player has a greater choice of bowls than in the flat green game. Many players have two or three sets of bowls, differently biased, and they use the most suitable to the green upon which is being played. The jack is biased like the bowls and has a diameter between 97 and 98.5 mm and a weight between 653 and 680 grams.

The delivery of the jack is an important part of the game, as it runs over the green it responds to the surface and to its own bias. Therefore, the player can gain much information about the irregularities and the shape of the green by watching the jack.

The footer is a round mat with a diameter between 128 and 154 mm on which a player must place a foot during the delivery of each bowl. Two players play the game, each player having two bowls. Like in flat green bowls, the bowls are delivered alternately until each player has delivered both bowls. The play is not just up and down in straight lanes like in flat green bowls, but in any direction and length provided the length is 19 meters or more. At the conclusion of each end, the footer should be placed at a position within a circle of radius one metre, taking the jack as the centre of the circle.

The number of points to be scored to make a game, usually 21, is mutually agreed by the players before play starts.

Indoor bowls

A variation on flat green bowls, indoor bowls, is popular chiefly in the United Kingdom, where it is played on carpet-covered indoor rinks with a length of about 30 m and a width of about 4.5 m. There are also variations on smaller carpets: 14 by 2 m (short mat bowls) and even 9 by 2 m (biased carpet bowls and Scottish carpet bowls).

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