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An Introduction to lawn bowls

At its basic bowls is a simple game to play, it has a long history going back to Egyptian times. In this country at school most children hear the story of how Sir Francis Drake insisted on finishing a game of bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada. All around the world bowls is played on a green, usually natural grass but increasingly an artificial surface. There is nothing more quintessentially English than playing or watching an outdoor game of bowls on a warm summer's afternoon. Like all good sports it takes a short time to learn the game but many years to master it. But don't worry, no one is going to hurry you, everyone who plays remembers when they started and believe me, you won't be short of advice.


The object of the game is to get as many of your bowls (Woods) nearer to a small white or yellow ball (the Jack) than your opponent.

Elsewhere on the website is a short video made by a club in the USA, which give a very straight forward description of the game and how to play it. Almost everything they mention would apply to playing at Bantham & Ongar, except I think 'The hog line' which we would call the 'edge of the ditch'. Clear here to go to it. (Opens in a new window)

A bowling green is normally square. It is surrounded by a shallow ditch.
The perimeter of the ditch is surrounded by a bank. The green is normally divided into six "rinks" allowing six games to take place at the same time. Greens can be grass or artificial surfaces. Bantham and Ongar's is artificial allowing us to play in most weather and provides a more consistent surface, some people say it's a bit like indoor bowls but with weather!
Surface wear is spread by moving the rink settings laterally (marked by colours) and by changing the direction of play daily playing either north-south or east-west, as indicated in the club diary.


Games of bowls can involve singles play or teams of two in pairs, three in triples or four in team (rinks) games. Roll ups, drives and friendlies, follow the same format. The club run annual internal competitions in all disciplines. League and Friendly Matches involve a number of teams from one club playing another club. For example a match could involve six rinks or 24 players (6x4) per team. Matches can be highly competitive particularly where a league format is adhered to, but friendly matches are as much a social occasion as they are a sporting activity. There are often after-match meals to continue the general atmosphere of friendliness and mutual respect.

If you're a new bowler to the club you will probably start with a roll up (a practice session), usually with a more experienced member offering you some coaching and encouragement. After that if you decide bowls is for you there is opportunity to play in drives and friendlies. Once a full member you can play in leagues, county, national and international competitions – but most members are content to play in local leagues, friendly matches and internal competitions. Elsewhere on this website you will find details of all those playing opportunities for members of Bantham and Ongar Bowls Club.


A Lead is 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. A lead is responsible at the end of each end ensuring all bowls are at least a metre behind the mat position.

The Second in a triples or rinks (fours) game is the player who plays second. In the rinks game the second is responsible for marking the score card. In the game of triples the Second is also responsible, with his corresponding opponent, for deciding the result of an end, i.e. who is lying the shot and how many shots have been scored

The Third is the third player to play in a rinks game. The Third is normally responsible, with his corresponding opponent, for deciding the result of an end, i.e. who is lying the shot and how many shots have been scored. The skips however have the final say in this in the event of any dispute.

The Skip is 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.