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The Rules of Bowls


The Rules of Bowls

There are many varieties of the game of bowls. For the purposes of this document, three of the most popular variations are given, Lawn Bowls, Crown Green Bowls and Table Bowls. In all, the basic rules of the game are exactly the same - it is only the equipment and the playing area that differ. Accordingly, the descriptions of each game are given separately but the common rules of play are given only once. As in all such games, specific rule variations abound according to the area and the club or pub.

Please note that 1 metre = 100 cm = 3.28 feet. 3 feet = 1 yard.

See also: Bowls Equipment.

Bowls - Basic Play

The Equipment

Each person has a set of uniquely marked bowls called "woods" which are slightly eccentric balls - each bowl is a tad less than spherical on one side. The resulting weight differential is called the "bias" and woods are rolled with the bias on the left or right side so that the bowl adopts a curved path towards the target. In the past woods were normally made from lignum vitae but these days hard rubber or a compound material is often used. The target is a smaller ball, usually white, called a "jack".

The Play

A coin is tossed to decide which player will start the first "end" or "leg". After that, the player who won the previous end bowls the first wood of the next one.

To start, players take turns to bowl the jack until one bowls it to a position that is in accordance with the rules. The player who is to bowl the first wood of the end is the player who has the first chance to bowl the jack. Under most circumstances, the first try is all that is needed.

Once the first wood has been bowled, the other players then take turns to roll their bowls towards the jack. Woods are not always played with the aim of being closest to the jack - they are often played to knock opposing woods out of contention or to move the jack or other woods of the same team into a more advantageous position.

The winner of the leg scores one point for each wood that is closer to the jack than the opposing team's closest wood. The player or team that first reaches 21 points or some other amount agreed up front, wins.

Lawn Bowls

Lawn Bowls or Flat Green Bowls is popular throughout England and the world.

The Equipment

A standard bowling green is a flat square lawn between 33 and 44 yards long. Delimiting the edge of the lawn is a ditch. The surface is divided into strips or "rinks" 19 to 21 feet apart so that multiple games occur across the whole lawn, one in each rink.

The unbiased jack is 2 1/2 inches in diameter while the woods are 4 3/4 - 5 1/8 inches in diameter and weigh 2lb 12oz - 3lb 8oz.

The Play

The game is played up and down a rink. In "singles", each player plays four bowls. In "pairs", for each end, each player plays four bowls - the first player on each side bows all four bowls and then the second player bowls four bowls. In "triples", three players play three bowls each. And in "fours" or "rinks", four players play just two bowls each. A player must stand with one foot on a centrally placed small black mat, 24 x 14 inches while bowling.

The mat is placed by the player who starts. For the first leg, it is placed four yards in from the ditch, thereafter it is placed anywhere more than 2 1/2 yards in from the near ditch and more than 25 yards from the far ditch. Once the end is over, the mat is moved to the other end of the rink and play starts in the reverse direction.

The jack must go at least 23 yards, must stay within the rink and must not fall into the ditch. If it is within 2 1/2 yards of the ditch, it is moved back so that it lies 2 1/2 yards in from the ditch. Before the first bowl is thrown, the jack is always carefully centred to the middle line of the rink.

A bowl that falls into the ditch is out of play unless it is a "toucher" meaning that it has previously touched the jack during the end. To keep track of this, any bowl that touches the jack is marked with a cross using chalk.

If the jack is knocked into the ditch by a toucher, it is still in play and its location is marked by a small white peg on the bank above the ditch. No subsequently played bowls can become touchers - if they touch the jack in the ditch, they are still considered to be out of play.

Crown Green Bowls

Crown Green Bowls enjoys an enthusiastic following in the Midlands and North of England

The Equipment

Warmingly, the Crown Green Bowling Association do not specify a strict size of bowling green. The game is made more challenging due to the fact that each Crown Green lawn usually has its own character - perhaps one side is slightly more banked or lower than the other, perhaps the lawn is not exactly square or the grass is slower in one corner. Some greens have two crowns. However, greens are often around 130 feet square and usually no larger than this. Minimum size is around 80 feet square. The crown is usually in the centre and height is 8 - 19 inches higher than the edges. A common height is 10 inches.

The jack is biased and weighs 23 oz. The woods can be any size although on average they tend to be lighter than the Lawn Green variety and have less bias. The place to bowl from is marked by a round black mat called a "footer" between 7 and 10 inches in diameter. This must always be placed with its centre at least 1m from the edge of the green.

The Play

Crown Green Bowls is a two player game and each player plays just two woods. For the first leg, the footer is placed 1 yard in from the edge of the green and not more than 3 yards from the entry point to the green. Thereafter it is placed not more than one yard from the position of the jack at the end of the previous leg.

The defining principle of Crown green Bowls is that the jack may be played to anywhere on the lawn within certain parameters. The player who rolls the jack thus has a distinct advantage since the jack will be thrown long or short, across the crown or along the edge according to the preference of that player. To begin a leg, the players take turns to roll the jack but the roll of the jack is only counted if it achieves a "mark" which means that it must meet the following rules:

  • The jack is more than 19m from the footer

  • It is not prevented from falling into the ditch by resting on any object in or out of the ditch.

Any bowls that roll into the ditch are out of play. If the jack is knocked out of play, the leg comes to a halt, no points are scored and the next leg is started immediately.

Table Bowls

Table Bowls is a more unusual game that comes from the district of Carlisle.

The Equipment

The game is played on a standard 12 x 6 feet Billiards table with an unbiased jack that is half an inch across and with bowls 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Instead of rolling the bowls and jack by hand, they are rolled down an 18 inch wooden chute with a groove down the top surface.

The Play

The chute must be positioned so that its end is on the table and its body lies on the end cushion. It is not permitted to push or provide any impetus to a bowl at all - it must simply be released from a point on the chute and allowed to roll down it. All control is therefore provided simply by the direction of the chute and the choice of distance that the bowl rolls before hitting the table.

The jack must be bowled at the start of each end so that it comes to rest in the other half of the table and at least 12 inches from any cushion. Any wood that hits a cushion is out of play and is removed from the table. If the jack is knocked into a cushion, the leg comes to a halt, no points are scored and the next leg is started immediately.



These rules are provided by Masters Traditional Games, an Internet shop selling quality traditional games, pub games and unusual games. For general information or for copying and copyright, see our Rules Information page.

Our rules are comprehensive instructions for friendly play. If in doubt, always abide by locally-played or house rules.

Copyright Masters Traditional Games © 2019. All rights reserved.

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