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Overview Of The Game


Lawn bowls is a precision sport in which the goal is to roll slightly asymmetrical balls (called bowls) closer to a smaller white or yellow ball (the ‘jack’) than your opponent is able to do.

Health professionals recommend playing bowls, particularly for older people, as it provides a number of health benefits, including:

  • improved fitness
  • improved coordination and skill development
  • increased confidence and self-esteem
  • enhanced mental wellbeing
  • community connectedness and support.


For roll ups at the club you will be expected to wear suitable bowls shoes, grey tailored trousers or shorts (skirts or cropped trousers are permissible for female bowlers) and a white collared shirt.

For matches or competitions whites will be the order of the day and again these should be white tailored trousers or shorts (with the captain’s permission) and a white collared or club shirt should be worn. 

For home and away matches a club blazer should also be worn.

If you are a reserve for a match you should still arrive in the relevant attire and be ready to bowl if needed.


At the beginning of each end the mat is placed lengthwise on the centre line of the rink.  The front edge of the mat should be 2 metres from the ditch.  A baton is placed at the back of the green in order that you can measure this if need be.  The mat can be brought up to the first white side green marker if you prefer.

If during the course of play the mat moves it should be replaced as near as possible to its original position. The mat may be realigned should it slip.


A jack is either white or yellow and should be rolled towards the other end of the green.  Minimum length is 23 metres.  If the jack is delivered short it will be returned for your opponent to deliver although you will still have the first wood.


You will need a set of four woods.  There are a number of different woods, makes, sizes, colours.  Bowls shops or if you look online will tell you what woods are best for the different surfaces i.e. indoor or outdoor bowls.  It is personal preference if you have traditional black or brown woods or if you prefer coloured woods.  If you would prefer not to invest in a new set of bowls to begin with there are quite often second hand sets for sale.  These are usually advertised on our notice board or in our Newsletter.

The woods have a bias so when rolled along the ground it traces a curving path.  The amount of curve depends on the speed of the bowl.  The curve increases as the speed of the bowl decreases. To bring bowl to rest on the jack you must aim to the left or right of it and the biased side of the bowl will always be on the inside of the curve.


The main positions in bowls are Lead, Second (No. 2) and Skip and their individual roles are:

Lead – It is the responsibility of the lead to place the mat and deliver the jack.  The jack must be centred before the first wood is delivered.  The lead should draw towards the jack or place a wood behind the jack so their team has something at the back should the jack be moved.  Once your woods have been delivered you should stand back to let the No. 2 bowl their woods.  Once the lead and the No. 2 swap ends with the Skip you should stand back.  Once the end has been played it is the role of the No.2’s of both teams to agree the number of shots won for that end.  It is not for the lead to have input into this. 

Second (No.2) – In this role you should specialise in positioning i.e. if the Lead has a bowl nearest the jack then the No. 2 will deliver a bowl to protect this from the opponent.  If the lead has lost the shot then the No. 2 will attempt to replace this.

Skip - The skip is in sole charge of their rink for the period of the match and their instructions should be followed by the Lead and the No. 2.  The skip will inform you of the position of the shot, how far it is from the jack or if it is holding shot. The skip plays last.  The skip holds the score card.  The No.2 will advise the skip at the completion of the end of how many shots have been won or lost.

Markers – Should you be requested to mark a match you should always wear bowls attire.  For the match you will be required to keep an accurate score at the end of each end played.  The marker should wait for the opponents to join him/her at the head before recording the score.  The score will be agreed by the players, not the marker.  If during the course of play the bowler asks the marker which wood is holding he/she will point to the relevant bowl and advise whose wood it is but no other information should be given unless the bowler requests more information.  When the match players join the marker at the end of each end it is up to them to decide whether a measure is needed between the woods.  Once the score is recorded the marker should then move to the opposite end in readiness for the next end to begin.

On finals day, markers should wear formal bowls attire which is full whites with a club blazer.


When bowling in a singles or pairs match you will use all four woods, for a triples match only three woods are needed.  If you are playing rinks where four people are on each side you will only use two woods.

Live Bowl – A live bowl is a bowl which travels at least 14 metres or more from the front of the mat and comes to rest within the boundaries of the rink.

Toucher- A toucher is a wood that touches the jack before it comes to rest.  This bowl will be marked with a chalk mark so that if another bowl knocks this into the ditch it remains a live wood and will be counted if need be provided it lands within the boundaries of the rink.  All chalk marks on a wood must be removed before being bowled in the following end.

Live jack in the ditch – If the jack is driven into the ditch within the limits of the rink this is still considered “live”.  The place where the jack has come to rest should be marked with a white peg.  If the bowl that took it into the ditch lands in the ditch as well then this is marked with a red peg and is also considered “live”.

Dead Jack – If a jack is taken and knocked outside of the boundary of the rink this is considered a dead end.

Etiquette – If you need to leave the green or are a spectator you should be aware of other people bowling and not cross behind their rink if a player is on the mat ready to bowl.  You should stand still until their wood has been delivered.

The above is just a basic overview and you will learn a lot more as you play and progress.