Rules Of Short Mat Bowls | A Complete Guide

  • By: Reece Williams
  • Time to read: 5 min.

The rules of short mat bowls are simple. Read our guide to get you up and running now.

Rules Of Short Mat Bowls | A Helpful Guide

What is short mat bowls?

Short mat bowls is a target sport. The aim is to roll your bowl so that it gets closest to a small white ball, known as the jack.

Players take it in turns to roll their bowls, each either aiming to land theirs closer, or even try to knock their opponent’s bowls away!

Each bowl is slightly weighted on one side, this makes the bowls curve in an arch. This allows the players to bowl around other bowls that have been played.

The difference between short mat bowls and indoor bowls

Short mat bowls is very similar to indoor bowls. The rules of play are very similar, as is the scoring.

  • The main differences between the games are:
  • The size of the mat. Short mat bowls – as the name suggests – is played on a much smaller scale. Bowls have less distance to travel after delivery, so weight is less of an issue
  • The blocker. Short mat bowls has a wooden block in the middle of the mat, known as “the blocker”. This removes the option of driving at the head. This makes short mat an much more skill-based game.

Basics of play

  • 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

Common formats

Short mat bowls are much like any other type of bowls (such as outdoor, crown and indoor). These are the common formats the game is played.

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


This is a classic 1v1. Each bowler will have 4 bowls to play. Singles are usually played to “first to 21” rather than by ends, but this is usually depending on the competition being played.


As the names suggest, teams are formed of 2 players, a lead and a skip. Each player will have 4 bowls each.

First, the leads will take their four shots each, and then the skips will have their four shots each. The score is counted as normal once all players have completed their shots.


In triples, we move up to 3 players per team. This consists of the lead, the second and the skip.

In this format, each player will have 3 bowls.


Finally, we have fours. As the name suggests we have four players per team. The positions are called a lead, second, third and skip.

Each player will only have 2 bowls to play. This is the ultimate team format

Dress code

The dress code for short mat bowls is more relaxed than lawn bowls. Relaxed, loose clothing is best to not restrict movement. However, it is accepted that “hoodies” and caps should not be worn.

Restrictions are in place at a regional level so do check with your local association for further details on what can and can’t be worn.


The bowls for short mat are the same as indoor bowls. In fact, if you already have a set of bowls you use for indoor bowls, you will be able to use them for the short mat game. Here is a snippet of the official rules for short mat bowls:

… (a) Bowls shall not exceed 134 mm (5¼”) or be less than 114 mm (4½”) diameter and shall not exceed 1.59 kg (3½ lb) in weight…. (e) The ESMBArecognises bowls which are produced specifically for the use of bowlers in the following codes: Short Mat, Flat Green, Indoor Rink, Crown Green, Federation….


Mats and carpets

The delivery mat shall be 610mm (24”) long and 356mm (14”) wide or 600mm long and 360mm Wide.


Rink Dimensions

The rink itself is 13.7 meters by 12.2 meters wide. The full ruling can be found below:

…(b) The maximum length shall be 13750 mm (45’) and the minimum length 12200 mm (40’) including ditches. The width shall be 1830 mm (6’) with a tolerance of 50 mm (2”). (c) The floor surface should be level.

(a) The centre block shall be 380 mm (15”) long, not less than 70 mm (2¾”) or more than 75 mm (3”) above the surface of the rink mat, with a maximum thickness of 75 mm (3”) and a minimum thickness of 40 mm (1½”). (b) It may be square or rounded at the ends and must be made of timber. (c) It shall be coloured white and must not be covered by material. (d) It must not be affixed to the surface of the rink mat…

All line markings on the rink mat must be in 12mm (1/2″) wide white adhesive tape. All markings must be clearly and correctly defined at all times…


How to bowl

A short mat bowl delivery is essentially the same as any other bowling delivery. It consists of a step forward, a short backswing and a flowing push of the bowl as it comes out of your hand.

As the distance is much shorter you will see many bowlers either setting their stance with their step completed, or they complete the step, but then pause. This is to stop extra weight being added to the bowl as they deliver. This will also give them better control over how far the bowl will travel.

Here is a great example of Short Mat bowls in action. This snippet features the great Alex Marshall.

This is particularly good as it shows the bowlers actions from the side.

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The Jack High Bowls Drill Pack is available now for instant download.

Perfect for beginners and improving players looking to be more consistent and win more games!