Lawn Bowling - Rules of the Game


Note that many of these articles refer to etiquette - as opposed to laws - of the game.
But it is an important component too in order to ensure a smooth and pleasant game for all.

Step up to the Mat

  1. Once on the mat, look at your Skip/Director for guidance or information about the head.
  2. Stay on the mat and follow the path of your bowl until it comes to rest. You can learn something from every delivery - line, length, the amount of draw and any irregularities on the rink that day.
  3. Once your bowl has stopped, you must relinquish the mat to the opposition and no further discussion can take place with your skip until you next are back on the mat.
  4. When back on the mat, look at your skip to see if he/she has any specific directions to give you regarding your next delivery, then proceed as above.

Line Bowls

Whenever you deliver a bowl that comes to rest on or near your rink's boundary line, it is your responsibility (or another member of your team who is at the same end) to check to see if it is In or Out of the rink. To do this, stand on the bank behind the center of the white marker. Look directly towards the corresponding white marker at the other end. Then signal clearly to let your skip know if this bowl is in or out.

This action is often overlooked, leaving the skip shouting and waiving at the owner of the errant shot! Sometimes none of the players at the mat end seem to know what the skip wants. Please, if you do roll a marginal shot, go straight to the rinks (the lane you are in) marker and communicate with your skip.

A bowl is not considered outside the line unless it is entirely clear of the line. (Like tennis and soccer, on the line is in). If in doubt, ask your opponent to check too.

Wayward Bowls

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what to do when a bowl from an adjoining rink crosses into your rink. What should you do? The number one rule to remember is that you are responsible for everything that takes place on your rink. So, if any bowl from an adjoining rink comes into your rink, someone in the head must take action if the bowl is likely to collide with any of your bowls.

  1. If the bowl is clearly a wrong bias, then stop it.
  2. If it is the correct bias and is only likely to hit one of your bowls before returning to its own rink, you should lift your bowl to allow the neutral bowl to pass. Then replace your bowl in its original position.
  3. If the bowl entering your rink is likely to disturb a number of your bowls or the jack, then you must stop the bowl.


A Touchy Subject

The most important thing to remember is that only a bowl, which, in its original course on the green, touches the jack, shall be be called a "toucher". If, after coming to rest, a bowl falls over and touches the jack, it is also a toucher provided the next succeeding bowl has not been delivered or, in the case of the last bowl of an end, before 30 seconds has elapsed.

Marking: A toucher shall be clearly marked with chalk immediately or before the next succeeding bowl comes to rest. All chalk marks shall be removed before the bowl is played again.

Remember, once the jack is in the ditch, no further bowls can become touchers. Players should be therefore be ready to stop a bowl that is about to enter the ditch so that it does not move the jack.

Centering the Jack

An important part of a lead's job is not only to roll the jack, but to center it too. With proper signals this can assist the skip in centering it quickly and help keep the game flowing. Please try and follow the directions below so we get uniformity into our signaling that everyone understands.

  1. Stand in the middle of the mat.
    Always signal with your hands (not just a finger) help up at a vertical position at about shoulder height.
  2. Hold your hands either to the left or right side of your body - it is not always easy to see them if held in front of your body.
  3. Hold your hands to the side of your body that the skip needs to move the jack, and with your hands apart by the appropriate amount the jack needs to be moved. Once the skip has seen your signal, lower your hands until the jack has been moved.
  4. Signal again in the same way, indicating the distance the jack needs to be moved. Again, lower your hands once the skip has seen the signal so he/she is only acting on one signal.
  5. Normally by then the jack is almost centered and so you only need to signal a turn or half turn of the jack by rotating one hand and wrist in the appropriate direction.
  6. Once the jack is aligned properly, drop one hand down vertically in front of you to let the skip know it is now centered.


Listen to the Experts

  1. Here are some comments from champion bowlers:
  2. Every person from lead to skip is of equal importance. No matter how good the skip might be, he/she is dependent on the abilities of his other teammates.
  3. Consistency is impossible without a smooth delivery.
  4. The fingers should be even spaced with the middle finger on the center of the bowl.
  5. As the lead goes, so the the game goes, is very often true. So remember, the lead's job is to consistently "draw", that is attempt to deliver a bowl as close to the jack as possible. Always attempt to be "up" or beyond the jack. One on the jack and a couple to the back (about 18 inches) is ideal.
  6. One in the back is worth ten in the way.
  7. Too many players look at the jack, rather than a definite point of aim. Look and aim at the line along which you want the bowl to travel.



I have been asked a number of times which team should do the measuring. There is no rule stating who should have that responsibility. However, it is suggested that the team conceding shots should measure and remove shot(s) when the count is clearly more than one shot. I endorse this suggestion.

Remember, that whichever team measures, the other team can ask to measure again if they think it is very close. Before signaling to the skips, the measurer and opponent must agree on the number of shots scored.

Tips for Leads and Vices

  1. Always carry a small towel. It is not only good for drying/cleaning bowls, but should also be used when measuring for more than one point. Lay the towel on the ground and place each scoring bowl onto the towel. This avoids confusion and ensures that a bowl set aside is not accidentally measured again. Get into the habit of doing this all the time, not only in tournaments.
  2. Whoever is responsible for raking should not start moving the bowls until after the measurer and their opponent have agreed on the score. This avoids the risk of bowl (that might have to be measured) being moved prematurely, and also allows the measurer to work without distraction.


Don't Crowd the Head

In triples, only the two vices should be standing behind the head. The leads should be at the back of the green. When skip A is on the mat, then the vice for team A should be in the head to communicate with the skip. Once the skip's bowl comes to rest, skip B takes over the mat and vice B takes over the head.

Only one vice should actually be in the head at any given time until the end is completed. Then both will agree the score - after measuring if necessary. Normally the team conceding the end would do the measuring. In a pairs game the same rules apply only it is the leads alternating in the head.

A bit of etiquette: Please remember that to play well you need to concentrate. By all means be sociable on the green, but don't talk continuously and distract other bowlers. Cell phones are also a distraction. Please keep them off the green and preferably turned off while you are playing.

Better Bowls

How many times do your bowls seem to end up narrow? Too often for many, especially new bowlers. This usually happens because you are over anxious to see where your bowl is going, so you look up towards the jack before your bowl is fully rolling along your aim line. This causes your arm to pull across your body in the direction of the target, and the bowl will almost always finish narrow!

The remedy is to consciously keep your head down and your eyes on the chosen delivery line for a few extra seconds before you look up. I am sure you will be pleased with the results if you follow this single tip.

Position of Players

Here are a few tips for new bowlers and maybe some experienced ones too:

Position of Players - within their own rink:

  1. Players at the mat end of the rink who are not delivering a bowl should stand at least 1 meter or 3 to 4 feet behind the mat.
  2. Players at the head end of the rink who are not controlling play should stand:
    • Behind the jack and away from the head - about 2 meters or 6 feet.
    • On the surround of the green if the jack is in the ditch.

Position of Players - in relation to a neighboring rink:

  1. A player should not go into a neighboring rink at any time when play is in progress.
  2. As long as any player still has a bowl to deliver all the other players should remain behind the mat. Any player who chooses to change ends before that, must walk around the green or down an unused rink, as long as it is at least tow rinks away on either side. You cannot walk down an adjacent rink as this can be a distraction to the bowlers on the mat.

Position of Players - walking down the green:

Whenever you walk down your own rink always go down the middle. This avoids walking along the bowling lines.

Tips for Skips

Here are a few tips from a top professional New Zealand bowler for all skips to note (yours truly included). Peter Bellis says, however good skips are, they should regard themselves as being on a permanent learning curve along with every other player. A good skip should be a statesman as well as an expert shot maker. Confident, respectful of team members, supportive, and a good communicator! The skip doesn't put up with negative talk or unconstructive criticism and is guilty of neither.

A skip generally gets the kudus when the team wins, so be sure to spread the credit around to other players. If the team loses, however, the skip should take full responsibility, regardless of the other team members' performance. To be a skip is a privilege - show confidence in your team through your bearing and body language.

Oh, to have all those good qualities! We all have our faults, and this is a reminder to work on correcting them. Other team members will appreciate it.

Leading the Way

Many believe a good Lead is the most important player on the rink, so remember that whenever you are on the green. A Lead needs to be a skilled draw bowler with the ability to put his/her bowls near and preferably behind the Jack (18 inches to 2 feet is ideal. [Ed: Check with your Skip, some prefer the bowls in front].

Don't forget too that Leads should never change hands unless asked to by their Skip. You can, of course, change hands on the next end, and it is often beneficial to bowl on the forehand in one direction and on the backhand in the opposite direction - as then you are using the same side of the rink all the time.

The Skip looks to the Lead to build a good foundation, so don't be intimidated if the opposing Lead is out bowling you. Stay concentrated on getting your bowls as close to the jack as possible and this will give your team a chance regardless. A Lead must also learn to be an expert at delivering the Jack to the length the Skip thinks is most suitable. A final reminder: "One bowl behind the Jack is worth ten in the way".

The Heart of the Team

In the last few months, we have discussed the roles of the Skip and the Lead. Now it's the turn of the Second or Vice. (the official term is Second).

The Second will aim to put his/her bowls close to the jack of the lead has not done so. Otherwise, he/she will follow the Skip's advice and provide positional bowls and/or draw to an imaginary jack. The Second should leave the head in good shape with bowls around the jack, back bowls and position bowls. Occasionally a Second may even be asked to break up a head with a drive. The objective is to give the Skip every chance to complete the end successfully.

When the Skip is on the mat, the Second should only offer advice to the Skip when asked or when the head has altered. Too often a Second fails to advise the Skip when there is a change in the head i.e. from being one up to one down. The Skip must be made aware of any changes as this will influence his/her choice of shot.

A Second must be good at reading the head and giving advice if necessary. Finally, a Second must be a good communicator and give clear signals at all times. Now you can see that a good Second is the heart of the team.

Possession of the Rink

Possession of the rink belongs to the player or team whose bowl is being played. As soon as that bowl comes to rest, possession of the rink will transfer to the opposing team (after allowing time to mark a toucher once it has come to rest). All your team players must come out of the head and your bowler must leave the mat.

Players who are not controlling play (from either team) should stand (a) behind the jack and away from the head or (b) on the surrounds of the green if the jack is in the ditch. Players at the mat end of the rink who are not delivering a bowl should stand at least 1yard behind the mat.

Finally, all players at the head end should remain still and quiet when a player is on the mat and should not block either the center marker or the boundary markers from the bowlers view. Equally, players behind the mat should remain still and quiet once a bowler is on the mat.

Remember, you can go back into the head when your team's player next has possession of the mat. But there should only be one player actually in the head at one time until the end is completed or there is a dispute that requires the two teams to confer.

Getting it right

For a change, how about looking at a couple of rules that we all need to know and follow when delivering the jack.

When checking to see whether a jack has been delivered the legal minimum distance, it must be centered first and then checked to see if the whole of the jack is at least 23 meters from the front of the mat.

If the jack, in its normal course comes to rest less that 2 meters from the ditch, it should be placed on the center line of the of the rink, with the furthest point of the jack being at the 2 meter mark from the ditch.

Finally, a good sportsmanship reminder for all skips. Remember that the player(s) on your team are doing their best, and that you, as a skip, are not always perfect yourself!


Finding the Delivery Line

Here is a tip for finding the right delivery line. It will also help you adjust your line as the speed of the green changes. When you chose an aiming point and make your first delivery, look for the widest point of the arc (the “crown”) and note where your bowl finishes. The distance between the point of the crown perpendicular to a point on a direct line from the mat to your bowl is your draw (diagram 1).

In this case, you can see that if you aim your next delivery at your first bowl, you will end up very near the center line (diagram 2). Now you only need to adjust the weight to bowl to the target. As the condition of the green changes, whether it gets slower or faster, your draw may change.

Continue to monitor your draw so that you will be able to make the proper adjustments to your delivery.