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Spotlight on Bowls

Lawn bowls or bowls is another member of the boules family of sport. The history goes back to ancient Rome where various objects, including balls, were tossed with the aim to get as near as possible to the target area. Ancient Greeks also used a variety of objects that included coins and round stones. One can trace bowls in England back to the 13th century. Even in the 12th century there are accounts of round stones and iron balls being used, but the game was more officially played a century later. The world’s oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green, and this was first used in 1299. Chesterfield Bowling Club in Derbyshire is believed to date back to 1294. A manuscript housed in the royal library in Windsor contains a drawing of two players aiming at a small cone, instead of a jack. The jack is the smaller ball that is used as the target in a game. Another manuscript of the same century contains representations of three players bowling towards a jack. The game was eventually banned by the king and parliament as the concern was the sport would affect the practice of archery. The later was of course very important in battle at the time. The prohibition continued despite the invention of gun powder and firearms that eventually lead to the fall of archery as the weapon of choice.  

 The Dutch philosopher and Christian scholar, Erasmus, referred to the game as globurum, but it was the name bowls that was explicitly mentioned in a list of unlawful games in a 1495 act by Henry VII. It was again mentioned by Henry VIII in 1511. The basis of the rules of what has become the modern game, was first published by William Wallace Mitchell in 1864, a Glasgow cotton merchant. In 1830 the patenting of the first lawn mower changed everything for many sports. This meant that playing fields, greens, ovals, grass courts etc., could now be much better prepared. Several national bowling associations were established in the late 1800s, including the Scottish Bowling Association in 1892. Today World Bowls is the highest recognised international authority for the sport with their headquarters based in Edinburgh.  

The game is played with rules very similar to other boules sports. There is a smaller ball, the jack or kitty, that is first rolled by the opponent in a singles match. Teams can consist of pair, triples or fours. The bowling green is divided into parallel playing strips called rinks. When the jack comes to rest, it is then aligned to the centre of the rink and players proceed to roll their bowls from a mat towards the jack. Points are scored based on the proximity of the balls to the jack. Greens can be various shapes and sizes with differently prepared surfaces. Bowls can also be played indoors. Lawn bowls is the only sport on the Commonwealth Games program, which is not also an Olympic event. Today over 40 nations are members of World Bowls. 

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