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'How it Works' an Introduction to Bowls

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

The Object

The aim of lawn bowling is to roll your bowl as close to a smaller white or yellow 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


The jack is a small ball – usually white, but sometimes yellow. Used as the target in the game. One is required for a game of bowls.




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 made that on one side there is a 'bias'  which allows them to curve. The bias side has a smaller circle on it so you know which way the bowl will turn on it's way to the jack. The number of bowls each player requires differs depending on game and number of players.




Two mats are required for a game, one is placed at either end of the green. Mats are made of rubber, and are roughly the size of a door mat.

Playing the Game

A coin is tossed to decide which team bowls first, but in some games, it is the 'visiting teams' mat. The first bowler places the mat, which must be placed centrally.

The first bowler rolls the jack to whatever distance is required; the only restriction is it must be at least 23 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 Skip 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. When playing any shot the player bowling must always have one foot on or over the mat.


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 without first contacting the jack is considered out of play.


Once all players have finished their shots the game is scored.

The winning team will get to go first on the next 'end'. This will be played in the opposite direction to the previous 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.

How long is a game of lawn bowls?

How long is a game of lawn bowls? A game of bowls will last between 1 and a half hours and 3 hours. The duration of a game of bowls will vary depending on the format. Singles will be on the shorter time frame and Fours taking much longer.

Minimum jack length in bowls

The minimum jack length is 23 meters. This is measured once the jack has come to rest, and is placed in the centre of the rink. The measurement is taken in a straight line from the front of the mat, to the nearest point of the jack.


If the jack is under 23 meters from the mat the jack is given to the opposition. They will then have to opportunity to re-place the mat and to deliver the jack.

Maximum jack length in bowls

The maximum jack length in bowls is 36 meters.

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.


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 getting out there and playing bowls.

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