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Bowls Rules and Regulations

The same laws of the sport of bowls apply to indoor or outdoor lawn bowls rules. This guide explains flat green bowling and crown green bowls rules.

BOWLS RULES: The history of world bowls rules stretches back to the 13th century period.

The ‘Southampton Old Bowling Green‘ is likely to be the original. We understand it to be the world’s oldest surviving bowling green as it dates back to 1299.

Bowling has a coloured history among British monarchs. In fact, they banned early versions of the game. They feared the sport may interfere with the archery practice of their troops.

William Wallace Mitchell was a Glasgow cotton merchant. He’s accredited with inventing the basis of the rules of the game of bowls as we know it today. He published the first set of bowls rules, called the ‘Manual of Bowls Playing‘, in 1864.

The home of the modern bowling game currently remains in Scotland. The World Indoor Bowls Rules Center has its home in its capital Edinburgh.

As you might expect, the sport of bowls – also known as lawn bowls rules and regulations – is a game of bowling. But you may not realize that there are several different formats in the sport.

Competitors play English Bowling Association rules of lawn bowls UK events outside. Even so, EBA regulations still adhere to the same set of simple indoor rules of bowls and guidelines as the indoor format.

Rules of Bowls

Aim of the Game Bowls

Objectively, the game has one simple aim. That is to roll your bowls and stop them as close as possible to the ‘jack‘.

There is one overriding tactical challenge in the game. Spherical shaped bowls do not travel in a straight line when bowled.

Players use several different bowling tactics. They try to ensure that at least one bowl stops closer to the jack than any of their opponent’s bowls.

Bowls Playing Pitches

Bowlers play indoors as well as outdoors. It takes place on level grass or artificial surfaces. The bowling rules are the same for both formats.

The typical playing surface for flat green bowls rules is a flat pitch. But the crown green bowls rules would get played on convex pitches (with slight curves). These are sometimes called ‘greens‘.

Bowls Rules and Regulations for Equipment

  • The actual objects which players roll are ‘bowls‘. They are available in a variety of different sizes.
  • As a rule, a bowl will generally weigh around 1.5kg. They roll in a curved path (not straight). That is because they are almost spherical objects with flattened sides. That design produces a weight bias.
  • The perfect sphere ‘jack‘ is a small white ball used as the target ball on the bowling green.
  • The rink divisions should be between 4.3 to 5.8 meters wide and 31 to 40 meters long for outdoor bowls rules. The measurements are between 4.6 meters and 5.8 meters wide for indoor bowls rules and regulations.
  • Several rinks can get used on one green in competitive play. In this case they should all have the same width measurements.
  • At each end of the green is a ditch. The ditches must be wide enough for bowls to fall into if they roll through the green.
  • Players are usually required to wear shoes with flat soles. Each player must also have foot mats to protect the playing surface when bowling.

Bowls Players and Bowlers

Bowling greens often get divided into individual ‘rinks‘. That means games can get played in different formats at the same time. Bowls player formats include:

  • Singles: One player against one other.
  • Pairs: Two players against two others.
  • Triples: Three players.
  • Fours: Four competitors.

General Bowls Regulations

  • A coin toss decides which player or team will bowl first.
  • The first bowler – called the lead – places their floor mat in position and rolls the jack down the green.
  • The jack must travel a distance of at least 23 meters to be ‘in play‘. Once it comes to rest and in play, it gets moved to the center of the rink.
  • Players take turns to bowl. You score points for each bowl that is closer to the jack than your opponent’s.
  • Bowling an end of play will recommence in the opposite direction after the end gets completed.
  • Bowls are not counted if they fall into the ditch – no matter how close the jack may be to the ditch. The exception is when the bowls get classified in play. This can happen if the bowls touch the jack before going into the ditch.
  • The jack remains in play even if it gets knocked into the ditch and rests within the side boundaries of the rink.
  • If the jack passes over the side boundary of the rink (whether in the ditch or not) no scores get counted. A ‘dead end‘ will get declared and the end is then replayed.
  • Rules for playing bowls permit – and often encourage – players to strike the bowls of other players. The aim is to use your own to hit theirs and gain strategic advantage.

Bowls Rules and Scoring Regulations

At the end of a round one point gets awarded to the player (or team) whose bowl is closest to the jack. Similarly, a corresponding number of points will get awarded if a player (or team) has more than one bowl closer to the jack than their opponents.

Scoring systems vary for different competitions. But in traditional bowls competitions the winner is the first player to reach 21 points. Some formats play to the highest scorer after 18 or 21 ends.

Bowls Umpires and Officials

An umpire must get appointed on behalf of the controlling body for the competition. Indoor bowls rules and regulations for umpires and their duties include:

Before the Game Starts

The umpire should make sure all bowls have a clear visible and valid World Bowls Stamp imprinted on them. Check the rink of play is the correct width and in line with lawn bowling law 49.1. Achieve this by checking the measurements of all rinks on a green.

During the Game

  • The umpire must measure any disputed shot or shots using suitable measuring equipment.
  • Decide whether the distance of the mat from the rear and front ditches are in line with the Laws of the Sport of Bowls. This also includes checking the distance of the jack or a bowl from the mat line.
  • Determine whether a jack or a bowl is in play or not.
  • The umpire must make sure that all aspects of play are in line with the Laws of the Sport of Bowls.
  • The decision made by a bowls umpire is final and in all circumstances. Exceptions may include those relating to the meaning or interpretation of a law. In this case there will be a right of appeal to the Official Controlling Body of Bowls.

Winning a Game of Bowls

Competition rules in bowls vary. But, winning the game in bowls is most often the first player or team to reach 21 points. Another method for winning is to have accumulated the greater number of points after 18 or 21 ends.

Players often play ‘sets‘ whereby the first to score seven points (for example) wins a set. The overall winner would be the first to five sets (or an agreed number).

Advanced Lawn Bowling Rules


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