What do Sir Francis Drake, George Washington and me, Georgina Kelman, all have in common? A love of the game of lawn bowling! Though often confused with boules, bocce and pétanque, lawn bowling is its own distinct sport whose origins can be traced back to 13th Century England. It remains popular throughout the British Commonwealth countries and has a devoted following here in the United States as well.
Legend has it that Sir Francis Drake was in the middle of a game of bowls when it was announced that the Spanish Armada was coming to invade. Sir Francis then did what any self respecting bowler would do - he finished his game and THEN boarded the Revenge to pursue the enemy ships up the Channel!
The game was introduced to the New World at about the same time with the arrival of the Dutch in what is now Lower Manhattan. In 1664 the British built a proper bowling green in the spot where the U.S. Customs House now stands. It became the first public park in New York and the new United States, and was maintained by lawn bowling enthusiasts for the annual rent of one peppercorn. The park remains known as "Bowling Green" although it has not been used for bowls for many years. Our first president was so enamored of the game that he had a green installed in Mount Vernon for his own recreation.
But what exactly IS lawn bowling? The object of the game is to roll a ball (called a "bowl") so that it comes to rest closest to a little white target ball (called a "jack") at the far end of the "rink" (a section of lawn measuring 120' long x 15' wide). Teams play against each other in singles, doubles or triples games. After all the bowls (usually 4 per player) are delivered, the team with the bowls closest to the jack scores. Then the jack is re-set and the next end begins. Sounds simple, right?
Oh yes, I neglected to mention the the bowl is a 3 1/2 lb ball that is flat on one side so it does not roll in a straight line! Lawn bowling is a relatively easy game to learn, but a difficult game to master. Beginners are often amazed at how quickly they grasp the basics, but that confidence disappears just as fast as the intricacies of the game with the funny-rolling balls becomes apparent! I can tell you from personal experience, once you're hooked, you're hooked and there is no better place to be on a summer afternoon than out on the green playing bowls!
New Yorkers are fortunate to have a wonderful lawn bowling green and club right in Central Park. The New York Lawn Bowling Club has been been in existence since 1926 and its members are a diverse group of men and women who share a passion for this addictive activity! It may not be a cardiac workout, but it's a lovely way to enjoy the outdoors and play a friendly game with some nice people. I encourage you to give it a try, there are lawn bowling clubs all over and we love to initiate new players! But I warn you - the sport is habit forming!