Accept and Continue

Cookies on this site

This site uses cookies. For more information, please see our privacy policy.
Skip to main content

The Game of Bowls

Howard Park Bowls Club The Game of Bowls

Lawn Bowls - The Object of the Game

It is not possible to provide a full description of the rules and objectives of Lawn Bowls here but hopefully we can provide a brief insight into our game of bowls and how it is played.  Follow the link for a more definitive idea on how to play.

Like most sports, bowls uses its own language so we have provided a glossary of common lawn bowls language which we will explain at the end along with some questions and answers.

Playing the Game of Lawn Bowls

It is said that Lawn Bowls is a game that can be played by anyone aged from nine to ninety In our club that is certainly true, we believe there are several nonagenarian players still playing in the UK.

It does tend to have a crusty, "old people's game" image due largely to the use of sponsors like Saga and over 55's insurance companies. The reality is somewhat different and at county level the average player's age is probably somewhere in the thirties or forties. Competitive bowling can be an exhausting game and in matches players are expected to perform for three to four hours without a break. During these games they can walk two or three miles and bend up and down about 100 times. It's no wonder that bowlers traditionally suffer from both back and knee injuries. Add to that the concentration and effort required and you can see why we need a seat and a few beers after the match!

The Game is played on a bowling green. The surface is generally grass but in some of the hotter, drier countries artificial surfaces are increasingly being used. In countries with long winters, like the UK and Canada, many indoor bowling centres have sprung up where the game is played on a carpet like surface. While the weight required to deliver the bowl changes on these surfaces the rules and objectives of the game are essentially the same.

Lawn Bowls are available in different sizes with a mid-sized men's bowl being between 116mm and 131mm in diameter. They are made of a hard plastic material which is able to withstand the constant contact between bowls during play. Their weight should not exceed 1.59kg.

Until 2001 all lawn bowls were either black or brown in colour. The rules have now been changed to allow bowls in virtually any colour and the manufacturers have taken up the challenge by producing bowls in just about every colour imaginable, even pink!The object of the game is for players to players deliver (roll) their bowls up the green in turn trying to finish closest to a smaller white ball called the "Jack". The team which wins the most ‘ends’ is the winner

A bowling green is normally square and the

A bowling green is divided into rinks which are 4.3 to 5.8 metres wide and 31 to 40 metres long.    It is surrounded by a shallow ditch.The perimeter of the ditch is surrounded by a bank, which should be not less than 230 mm above the surface of the green. The green is normally divided into six "rinks" allowing six games to take place concurrently. The rinks should be not less than 5.5 metres nor more than 5.8 metres wide.Surface wear is spread by moving the rink settings laterally and by changing direction of play every two or three days, playing either across the green or up and down.

Rink extremities are marked off by boundary markers with the centre of each being indicated by a "pin" which also carries a number for the rink. The rinks are numbered 1 through 6. Players deliver their bowls from one end to another during an "end" then, when the end is complete, they turn around and play back again.

Lawn bowls are not spherical, they are shaped on one side such that they follow a curved track to the jack. They carry a mark to indicate to which side the bias is applied.

As shown on the adjacent diagram the bowls can be delivered on the "forehand" or the "backhand" depending on the player’s preference or where bowls that have already been played are located.

The curved path helps the player to find a way past bowls that have been delivered short of the jack. Note that bowls may travel outside the boundaries of the rink during their course as long as they come to rest within these boundaries.

The players must stand on a rubber mat when delivering their bowl. The mat is placed on the centreline of the rink with its front end no less than 2m from the rear ditch or less than 25m from the front ditch. Its position is chosen by the player who throws the jack to start the end.

During an end the bowl nearest to the Jack is referred to as "shot wood". You may hear players on the mat asking, "who is lying the shot?” which simply means who is nearest to the jack? And more common you will hear “shot wood” from a team member confirming that bowl is the nearest to the jack.

The player who first delivers the jack must ensure that it is properly centred. If it comes to rest within two metres from the front edge of the green it must be moved out to a mark at that distance. The player delivering the jack can choose the length to play it, but it must finish at least 23m in a straight line of play from the front edge of the mat.

The players then take turns to deliver their bowls. When all the bowls have been delivered the number of "shots" is counted. A shot is a bowl which is nearer the jack than any of your opponent’s bowls. For example, if you have three shots nearer the jack than any of your opponents bowls you score three shots at that end.

At the conclusion of this typical end of bowls in a singles match each player has played four bowls.

Who is lying and how many shots have been scored.  The example shown is where the orange bowls have two ‘shots’

Types of Lawn Bowls Games and Matches

Games of bowls can involve singles play or teams of two in pairs, three in triples or four in "rinks" games. Matches generally 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.


The jack can be moved by the bowls during play. When a bowl moves the jack it is left in the new position provided it remains within the rink boundary markers. It can also be pushed into the ditch by a bowl. In this case it remains in the ditch and the players must try to play their bowls as close as possible to the jack, at the edge of the green, without falling into the ditch.

A bowl which moves the jack is marked with chalk and classed as a "Toucher". If it touches the jack before falling into the ditch it stays there, remains "live" and may feature in the final shot count. A toucher that remains on the rink and is later driven into the ditch by another bowl is also a live bowl. A bowl that goes into the ditch and that has not touched the jack is classed as being "dead" and it is removed. All bowls which finish outside the side boundaries of the rink are dead.

Lawn Bowls Tactics

Bowls is a highly tactical game. This is one of its attractions. It is not always about "drawing" closest the jack. Players must constantly anticipate what shot their opponents may play. For example when a team has a few bowls behind the head, (behind the jack), the opposing team may see the need to place a bowl amongst these to cover the possibility of the jack being moved.

Similarly, if one side is already lying the shot, they may elect to play a guarding shot short of the target area to prevent their opponents from moving anything. These are only two examples and there are many other situations, too many to discuss here, where tactics come into play.

Types of Shots in Bowling

There are basically four different types of shot, or delivery in Lawn Bowling. These are:

The Draw
A Drawing Shot is the most common and it is really what the game is all about. This shot is the one in which the player attempts to play with the exact weight required to finish closest to the jack or to a point on the green dictated by strategy or tactics. This shot is often considered to be the most skilful.

The Yard On
The "Yard On" shot is when the player plays his bowl with the weight that will carry it a yard or two past the target. The objective of this shot is usually to drag the jack away from the opponent's bowls towards your own or to push a bowl out of the "head" and take its place. 

The Running Shot or Ditch Length Shot
The Running Shot is one which uses more weight than the yard on. The object of this shot is to remove opponent’s bowls from the head, to move the jack to the ditch or to seek some other result that requires the bowl to be played with weight. This can be a difficult shot to play as the line (bias) required to get to the target changes with different weight.

Lawn Bowling Glossary

Bias is the amount of curve that a bowl will take during its course to the jack. Bowls are available with several different biases for use in different conditions and competitions. As part of the manufacturing process all bowls are tested against "Master Bowl", which defines the limits of this bias. Click this link for a description of this lawn bowls testing process.


A Burned or "burnt" End is one where the Jack has been moved outside the boundaries of the rink by a bowl in play. In normal competition Burned Ends must be replayed.


Deliver is the term used for throwing or rolling a bowl.  The delivery is the action of delivering a bowl.  A good bowler with a good delivery can be compared to a golfer with a good swing.

The term draw can have several meanings in bowling. As a noun it can refer to the type of shot being played. A "dead draw" is an attempt to deliver the bowl as close as possible to the target (generally the jack). It can also be used as a verb. You may hear a skip issuing an instruction such as, "Just draw to the jack".

A drive is type of shot in bowling where the player delivers the bowl with maximum force toward the target. 
This shot can be to completely remove opponent's bowls from the head or from the rink or to drive the jack into the ditch. It is also commonly used when a player has a few shots against him. In this case the object is to destroy the head or to "burn" the end by driving the jack out of the rink. This can be a very effective and intimidating shot to have in your armoury but many players have difficulty controlling their direction when concentrating their efforts on so much weight.

An end of bowls comprises the placing of the mat, the delivery of the jack and the playing of all the required bowls of all of the opponents in one direction on the rink.

A Guard is a bowl played to a position that restricts the opposition from getting to the target.

The head refers collectively to the Jack and the bowls that have been delivered and come to rest within the boundaries of the rink.

When a player unintentionally delivers a bowl beyond the jack or the intended target it is described as being Heavy.

The Jack is the small white ball that is the target in bowls. You may also hear it referred to colloquially as the "White", the "Kitty" or the "Sweetie".

If a bowl is Jack high it means that it has reached a position such that its nearest part is laterally aligned with the jack. Effectively it means that the bowl and jack are level.

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.

The Line or Road is the curved route taken to the jack. e.g. "You are a yard short but your line was good."

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. The Second can only if delegated by the Skip also measure but this is normally the function of the Third

A bowl that does not reach the jack or the intended target is described as being short.


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.

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.

Weight is the term used to refer to the power applied to a delivery.

Before the introduction of plastic composition bowls they were made from the heaviest most dense wood available, Lignum Vitae. At this time bowls were often called Woods and some people still use this as a generic term for bowls.

A Toucher is a bowl that during its course touches the jack before finishing within the boundaries of the rink. A Toucher remains live even if it finishes in the ditch.

                                                       FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Can I use any Bowls, to play in a team I have just joined?

A. Broadly speaking yes - BUT they MUST be, or from, a matched set of 4,
i.e. the same Make / Colour/Size/Weight/Engraving/ Serial Number, and each with a Legal Date Stamp,

What happens if a Bowl is damaged during a game?

A. It may be replaced from the same set, but if using 4 bowls you need to replace the whole set to continue.

If I win the toss to start a game must I play first?

A. No - You have the choice to either do so, or ask your opponent to do so. Note however that if this first end is eventually 'burned' or a 'no shot', the player who played first shall again do so to replay it.

How many trial ends are allowed, and where must the Mat and Jack be placed?

A If agreed to be played, not more than 1 in each direction, (they are not mandatory), no 'must' positions as such can be placed anywhere within normal limitations

 Are you allowed to change, or try out different Bowls, during trial ends?

 A. Yes - You can also start the game with a different set providing they have been checked and passed beforehand.

Can any member of a Team:
(1) deliver the Jack, or
(2) mark the scorecard, or
(3) measure shots?

 A. (1) No- only the Lead.
(2) Yes - but the Second must carry it throughout the game and compare scores with the opposition Second after each end,
(3) Yes - as delegated by the Skip, but this is usually the Third.

 I deliver the Jack and it strikes someone going up the Rink, what happens?

A. (1) if it was an opponent or neutral person (or object) that was struck, - you re-deliver it-or
(2) If it was one of your own team that was struck, - your opponent re-delivers it, and can re-position the mat to do so if they wish. No matter who it is however, the winner of the last 'scoring' end delivers the 1st bowl.

How often can the Leads, in turn, deliver illegal Jacks to start an end, and what then?

A. Only once each, - the Jack is then set at the distant 2 metre mark, with the Mat placement at the option of the first due to play.

I deliver the Jack because of an illegal delivery by my opponent, and that end is 'burned' do I deliver the jack to replay the end?

A. No - After the 1st end the winner of the last 'scoring' end always plays first.

Must I have two feet on the Mat to deliver Jack or Bowls?

A. No - but one must be on, or in the air over the Mat, at the moment of delivery.

Is there a time limit for a bowl to be a 'Toucher', i.e. comes to rest then falls over to touch the Jack?

A. Yes - it must make contact before the next Bowl to be played leaves the player's hand, or if it is the last Bowl to be played; this must be within 30 seconds of it coming to rest.

Is there a time limit for marking a 'Toucher'?

Yes - It must be marked with 'chalk', or ('nominated' to the opposing Skip, if that act might cause it to topple) before the next bowl played comes to rest, otherwise it ceases to be a Toucher'.

What if the Jack is in the ditch and is touched by, or stops, a newly delivered bowl?

A. the Bowl becomes 'dead'. A Bowl can never become a Toucher after the Jack is in the ditch.

What does 'Rink Possession actually mean?

A. Once the Bowl currently in play comes to rest, the player who delivered it must be either at the back of the Mat, or up at the Head, because at that moment 'Possession of the Rink' passes to the opposing Team. And the Team not in possession may not hold up, nor distract in any way, the player about to play.

What happens if a Bowl, or the Jack, rebounds from the bank back onto the Rink?

A. If a 'Non Toucher', it becomes a dead bowl, and any bowls disturbed by it are restored as near as possible to their original position by a member of the opposing Team. A Toucher', and / or the Jack, remains in play and disturbances caused by them are legal and valid.

What if I play one of my opponent's Bowls by mistake?

A. Nothing happens - once at rest, mark its position and angle, replace it exactly with yours and return it to its owner.

What happens if I play before my turn?

A. If the bowl is on its way, the opposing Skip can stop it and return it to be played in the proper sequence. If it is not noticed until it comes to rest, providing it is (a) still "live" and (b) has not disturbed the Head. The player, who should have played, plays 2 bowls in succession, to restore the proper sequence, If, however, it has disturbed the Head, the opposing Skip has 3 options: - (a) Leave things as they are and have his/her player play two Bowls in succession, or (b) Replace the Head to its original position and return the bowl, -to be re-played in its proper turn, or (c) Declare the end dead.


This just a simplified version of the full set of rules which can be found in the club house.