It’s a classic debate. Who is the best bowler of all-time? There have been many greats over the last 80 years, and each generation will have their own favourites.
Different eras produce different styles of bowler, and as technology has moved on, it can be tricky to compare those playing with wooden bowls to the modern greats who can play with modern sets that are precision engineered to be almost perfectly identical.
In this guide, I will try to pick through the arguments, and to decide who “the best lawn bowler of all time” is.
Before we begin, let’s outline how we’re are going to do this. Firstly I have my shortlist of candidates. This is a mix of the usual suspects, and a few curveballs suggested by other bowlers in the community. Next, I’ll outline how I judge The Greatness of a bowler, and finally, I’ll go through each one before revealing who I believe the best of all time.
This is my shortlist of bowlers:
- David Bryant
- Tony Allcock
- Andy Thomson
- Alex Marshall
- Paul Foster
- David Gourlay
I believe this is a good mix of indoor, and outdoor bowlers, each one has dominated their field for prolonged periods, and have been identified as “great” by other bowlers.
How do you decide on “The Greatest”?
To try and make this at least slightly scientific, here are the categories I will be judging each bowler.
Titles and Honours
Of course, one of the main factors is “how much did they win?”. This is the most basic test, however, I will be looking to see where the titles were won. Were they just indoors or outdoors? Or were they able to apply their game on both surfaces?
How long were they able to maintain their success? Bowlers can dominate the sport for decades, especially the great ones.
Impact on bowls
Some players play the game, others change it. Bowls is a traditional sport, but it has modernised over the years. I will consider who was at the forefront of the biggest changes in the game.
Impact outside bowls
Did our players affect the world outside of the game? Did they make the breakthrough to the mainstream and receive awards outside of their bowls titles?
These are the areas I will be looking at, so lets look at each bowler individually
Years playing: 1957-1978
Honours: 3 World Outdoor Singles Champion, 3 times World Indoor Singles Champion, 4 times Commonwealth singles champion
- England’s greatest Commonwealth bowler
- Awarded an MBE in 1969.
- Wrote many books to help others learn and improve
Years playing: 1980-2003
Honours: 6 World Outdoor gold medals, 11 Indoor Championships (3 singles 9 pairs), 1 silver Comonwealth Games
- Went on to be Chief Executive.
- Awarded OBE in 1989.
- Wrote books to instruct others
Years playing: 1996-2021
Honours: Won gold mens fours World Outdoor Championships (1996), 6 World Indoor bowls Championships (3 singles, 3 pairs), 1 Commonwealth Bronze (Mens Pairs)
- 3 indoor singles titles
- Now part of the management team at with Bowls Australia as a tactical coach
- Awarded MBE in 1981
Years playing: 1992-CURRENT
Honours: 7 outdoor championships, 14 World Indoor championships (6 singles. 8 pairs and mixed pairs), 5 Commonwealth Gold medals
- Record-breaking six-time World Indoor Singles Champion
- Awarded MBE in 2007
- Has boosted efforts to modernise bowls by playing in the APL.
- In 2014, he won the Australian Premier League with the Murray Steamers and was named Most Valuable Player at the end of the season
- One of the most prolific winners in lawn bowls. Has a historic pairs winning partnership with Paul Foster
Years playing: 1998-CURRENT
Honours: 1 World Outdoor Championship, 4 Commonwealth Golds, 12 World Indoor Championships (5 singles, 7 pairs)
- 5 times World Indoor singles champion. Second only to Alex Marshall
- Awarded MBE in 2014
David Gourlay Jr
Years playing: 1996-2012
Honours: 7 World Indoor Bowls Championships (1 singles, 6 pairs)
- Winning World Bowls singles title in 1996
- Successful coach leaving Scotland to 4 medals during the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The best lawn bowler of all-time
David Bryant is the best lawn bowler of all-time due to his impressive record both indoor and outdoor.
For me it was a close call between David Bryant and Alex Marshall. Both have dominated the game in their eras, and both holding records for the number of titles they won (David Bryant winning the most Commonwealth medals, and Alex marshall winning the most Indoor World Championship titles).
I aslo believe that they have pushed the game forward in their respective times, with Alex Marshall helping develop a more relaxed, TV friendly format of the game.
These two points make them the two stand-out candidates, however, David Bryant is the only one who was able to dominate both sides of the game, and his personality and skill brought bowls to the attention of the country.