Lawn Bowling: A game of skill for all ages

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Team members await the final rolls by the “Skips,” who are a kind of team captains and the final rollers. Skips must try to navigate a ball around the cluster, to get to the white ball, the “jack,” which is barely visible behind the “bowls.” Photo by Ted Apodaca

The Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club has been around so long that some of its current members (now retired, or close to retirement) recall walking by the greens on their way to school and wondering what all the old people wearing white were playing out there on the grass.

They would eventually learn that the game was lawn bowling and the game itself is so old, it could be debated as to exactly when it began. Some similar games were played as far back as ancient Egypt. But the game played today on the greens of Long Beach and other southern California clubs mostly resembles a game that began in England around the 13th Century.

Combining aspects of pool, golf, bocci ball and even horseshoes, Bowls, as it is referred to, requires players to roll oblong Bowls, across a 120-foot patch of hard grass with a small white ball, called a Jack, as the target. The team with the Bowl, closest to the jack, wins a point for every Bowl that is closer the opponents closest Bowl. The game is easy to learn, difficult to describe and even harder to master.

“There’s a lot of strategy involved in this game,” Long Beach Club member Bob Sweetland said.

If you are already interested in learning more, Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club is hosting an Open House on Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the club. Free lessons, pizza and soft drinks will be available, as well as information on joining the club and participating in club events and tournament play.

Dave Morrison, delivers a bowl, as the Skip for his team. The Bowls will hook approximately 5 to 7 feet across the green. Photo by Ted Apodaca

On a recent Friday, Long Beach was hosting a tournament, with clubs from Laguna Beach and other areas competing. There are 27 clubs, including Long Beach, that compete in tournament play in the Southwest Bowls league. The league is under the umbrella of Bowls USA, which is where many of the more experienced players end up competing in national and international competitions. But that’s down the road.

The basics of the game are rolling Bowls as close to the jack as possible. However, as Bowls are piling up around the jack, it requires more finesse to roll your Bowl through the resting Bowls. This is where the strategy builds up. On this Friday teams of three are rolling, with the Skip (third bowler) assisting their lead (first bowler) and vice trying to gain an advantage.

As mentioned, the Bowls, are not round, but an oblong shape, like a wide tire, with rounded sides. The core, has weights, a big and a small that cause the Bowl to hook as it rolls across the grass, which is short and hard, like a golf putting green. Again, hard to describe, but easy to learn and get good enough to compete in one of the various levels available. And addicting to regular members.

Carol Poto helps her teammate line up a shot angle that will hook back to the white ball, the “jack.” Photo by Ted Apodaca

Candy DeFazio was one of those local Long Beach students and later adult, who used to go by and wonder what game was being played. After retirement, she was at a bbq and someone brought a bocci ball game and she thought, ‘that’s what they are playing.” She and her husband decided to go and check it out, only to find that it was lawn bowling. They stayed anyway, got a couple lessons and never left.

“We were hooked immediately,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio now competes at high level tournaments, but enjoys the regular draw play that takes place with club members and that’s what keeps her coming back. She said it’s become like a big family. And when they travel to compete in bigger tournaments, it’s like a reunion because they’ve become friends with members of other clubs during Southwest Bowl play.

Roberta and Dave Morrison found the game after becoming empty nesters. Roberta had also grown up around the Long Beach Club and suggested she and Dave go find out what the game was about. She said Dave was reluctant but agreed and he now plays more that she does.

“I told him, ‘we need to do something in our lives besides go out to dinner,’” Roberta said.

Like DeFazio, Roberta said that much of the draw also revolves around the friendships. She said the regular draw games are sometimes referred to as sociables, because although competitive, they just played for enjoyment. She said the club also puts together parties and pot-luck events and there is always something going on.

“We play all year round,” Roberta said.

Like everything else, the club has been on kind of hiatus due to COVID, but the upcoming Open House signals a return to normalcy. The Open House is an annual event to invite the community to come check out the club and the game. Anyone age 18 or over can join and despite the preponderance of members around retirement age, the game can hook anyone.

“It’s a game for all ages,” DeFazio said.

The Open House will be May 7, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club, at 1109 Federation Dr. Long Beach CA. 90804. For more information, call 562-433-9063, email longbeachlawnbowlingclub@gmail.com, or visit longbeachlbc.com. Or stop by the Open House on May 7.

Lawn Bowling: A game of skill for all ages