by Deborah Rogers –
Perhaps, like me, you thought it was necessary to dress all in white to play lawn bowls? Maybe (also like me) you’ve never really thought about lawn bowling at all? Well, you might be missing out.
Established in 1998, Sidney has a Lawn Bowling Club all its own. Central Saanich has one too, just off Wallace Drive by Centennial Park. But it was a warm invitation from John Little, President of the Sidney Lawn Bowling Club, that brought me out to try my hand at the game.
First things first: you don’t have to wear white. That’s just for competition. I visited on a Wednesday morning, which happens to be ladies’ morning, and I was quite surprised by the large gathering of women enjoying a coffee and chat as they got organized for their play.
I had a quick tour of the building and recap of the history. The lovely clubhouse was built by the members themselves, of whom there are currently 170, ranging in age from eight to 94; there is a Juniors Program that has seen winners at provincial and national competitions; and they strive to be the friendliest lawn bowling club on Vancouver Island. John and his wife joined seven years ago, never having played before, though they previously curled. John says with a smile that they wish they’d started sooner. It’s clear that it’s another little community hub, but what strikes me is that you don’t have to be a team or a couple; players indicate their availability to play as they enter the clubhouse and then a draw happens to put everyone on evenly balanced teams. It seems that all you need is a measuring tape and a piece of chalk. And well, some bowls of course.
Out on the lawn – or rink as it is formally known – John sets me up with a set of his bowls and a quick run down of the way the game works. A jack is thrown (surprisingly far) and then players aim to get their bowls closest to it. They are not entirely spherical, but flattened on one side, and weighted so the line they follow is curved. Ah ha, so not quite like the bocce I’ve played before! It takes me a few tries, but as I adjust to the weight, the distance and the curve, I start to make some reasonable shots. I’m slightly terrified of damaging the grass though. This lawn is a thing of absolute beauty, and the last thing I want my visit to be remembered for is a big divot in it! Apparently the lawn is amongst the best on the Island and takes considerable maintenance, but it is a solid playing surface and I leave it unscarred. It’s a rolling action rather than a throw, and definitely success is determined by technique rather than strength.
I didn’t stay long enough to be invited to join a game, though John said I had a good arm and he’d welcome me back! I watched some of the ladies play though and they were having a great time. There are opportunities to chat between “ends,” but focus is required as you signal to your teammates which way they should aim and how close their bowl got. It’s a polite, friendly and supportive atmosphere where a clap and a “good ball’ after your shot goes a long way to encourage participation. I came away feeling that I’d discovered a bit of a hidden gem; it surprised me, which made it all the more enjoyable.