Lawn bowls rules - for beginners

Our guide for the rules of lawn bowls is aimed at beginners who just want the basics, without any extra complication. Read our guide, get out on the greens and get playing.

Lawn bowls rules - for beginners

The best way to learn lawn bowls is by playing it. Here is our rundown of the basic rules of the game, once you understand these you can get out into the greens and learn the rest as you go!

The Object

The aim of bowls is to roll your bowl as close to a smaller white ball (known as the jack) as possible You want to get one or more of your bowls closer to the jack than your opponent

The Equipment

Here are the basic items needed for a game of bowls:

  • The Jack - small ball. Usually white, sometimes yellow. Used as the target in the game. 1 is required
  • Bowls (balls) - these are larger balls (referred to as “bowls” or “woods”) that players use to roll towards the jack. They weigh no more than 3.5 pounds and are weighted on one side which allows them to curve. The weighted side has a stamp on it so you know which side is which. The number of bowls each player requires differs depending on the number of players. This is covered later
  • Mats - two mats are required. Usually made of rubber, and are roughly the size 2 of a door mat.

Playing the Game

  • A coin is tossed to decide which team bowl first.
  • The first bowler places the mat. It must be placed centrally - so it lines up with the rink number markers - and at least 2 meters from the rink edge.
  • When playing any shot the player bowling must always have one foot on the mat
  • The first bowler rolls the jack to whatever distance they like. The only restrictions is it must be at least 25 meters from the mat, and must stay out of the ditch. There is usually a marker on the rink to show where the minimum distance is
  • Once the jack has come to rest it is placed centrally by the marker with the help of the bowler. The jack now becomes the target
  • Teams alternate taking shots. Each member of the team will take all of their shots before the next one takes over
  • Any bowls that are in play can be moved by another shot, and they stay active to where they finish. This includes the jack!
  • Any bowl that finishes in the ditch is considered out of play
  • Once all players have finished their shots the game is scored (see below for details on how to score)
  • The winning team will get to go first on the next “end” (or leg). This will be played in the opposite direction to the previous end
  • The game continues until a predetermined number of ends are played - usually 18 or 21

Scoring the Game

  • The winning person/team is determined by who got a bowl closest to the jack
  • One point (also known as “shots”) is awarded for each bowl that is closer to the jack than the nearest bowl from the losing team
  • The winning player/team gets to roll the jack for the next end

Winning the game

  • The team who has received the most points (or “shots”) after all the ends are played is the winner.

Number of players, bowls and ends

The number of bowls, and how many ends are played is usually determined by the format of the game, namely how many players are on a team. Here is a general overview of the number of ends and number of bowls required for each format

Number of players Number of bowls (per player) Number of ends played
1 (singles) 4 21
2 (doubles) 4 21
3 (triples) 3 18
4 (fours) 2 21

There you have it. All you need to know to get out and start playing bowls. As with any sport there is far more depth to the rules than can be covered in a short summary. Be open to new rules as they arise during a game.

There are a number of different types of shot you can play, and loads of tactics to employ, however the best way to learn is by DOING.

We recommend playing alongside an experienced bowler to help you the rest of the way.

Common variations

  • There are some common variations to the stars game setup described above. We’ll go over a few of these now.
  • “First to X” number of shots. This is a common one for singles play. Instead of playing for a certain number of ends, you play until someone gets to a specific score. This is usually “first to 21” and in tight games it can make for a tense (and sometimes very long!) game
  • 2 wood games. Again, another variation on the singles format. In this game each player only gets two bowls. This is a true test of a players’ lead abilities

Further Reading

If you want to find out more about the rules of bowls, and how to play we suggest you look through the following articles:

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