Bowled over

Bowled over

Young Post editor Susan Ramsay gets to grips with the fun and frustrations of lawn bowls

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It takes time and patience to learn how hard to deliver the bowl, and at what angle.
It takes time and patience to learn how hard to deliver the bowl, and at what angle.
Photos: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

Lawn bowls may seem a bit boring compared to all the other exciting things that Team YP has tried this summer. You won't find me "doing the roo" at a bowls club. But that's not a bad thing. It's a game of patience, skill and socialisation, coach Claudius Lam told me at the all-weather bowling green in Tseung Kwan O recently.

It's also a game of frustration, as I was soon to find out.

Anyone aged eight and over can play bowls in Hong Kong. The sport, which can be traced back to 13th- century Britain, is also one that you can play for life.

Bowls are played on a "green", which is usually grass, but in Hong Kong there are all-weather greens and indoor greens. The large green square is divided into lanes called "rinks", and a game is played on one rink. Several games might be played at the same time on one green.

A game is divided into ends, usually 18 ends. Each bowler has four bowls.

Having grown up in a "bowls" household, I thought I might stand a good chance of doing well. I have watched many a game in my lifetime. It seems, though, that I wasn't paying much attention.

I knew that the game involves a little white ball, called a jack, and up to four players on two competing teams trying to place larger, usually black, balls as close to the jack as possible. The bowl has a "bias". This means it's designed to roll in a curve instead of a straight line.

So right off, it's a very different game from 10-pin bowling! Also the aim is to get your bowl as close to the jack as possible. The closest bowls score points.

You can borrow a set of bowls, along with a mat and jack, from the greens run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD). You need to have a bowl that fits your hand, Lam tells me.

Serious bowlers have all sorts of stuff they put on the bowls, like polish and something to help them grip the bowl better, but if you're just there to have fun, you don't really need all that. They also have their own bowls, some of them in cool colours, as you can see from the picture.

The jack is sent down first, setting the target, and if the jack isn't centred on the marker, it's moved sideways so that it is. Then one bowler delivers a bowl, followed by the opposing team bowler.

The bowls are delivered in a sort of lunge. Unfortunately, lunges are probably my least favourite exercise! But bowlers lunge four times at each end. The next day, I almost hired a wheelchair to get to work!

Delivering a bowl takes some getting used to. You have to figure out how hard you need to bowl, and at what angle. It's quite disheartening to see your bowl run into the ditch, where they are, of course, disqualified. It's pure humiliation to see them run into the next rink and interfere with strangers' games. Luckily, the latter didn't happen to me.

Sports reporter Kevin Kung had come along to make sure everything ran smoothly, so he joined me for a game.

At first, we played only on the forehand, and that seemed difficult enough. But I did get to try a "backhand" when Kevin had a chokehold on the jack, and if I went on the forehand, I risked just pushing his bowls closer.

Still, he beat me.

I went back to check out how many people actually play, and the green was full. I also checked out the LCSD website, and it seems easy to book a rink. The cost is only HK$40 an hour, and up to eight can play.

So it seems it's best to book earlier in the week if you're just starting out, but over weekends, group fun rules.

Specials thanks to Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association


See what else we're doing this summer

- Canoe polo
- Capoeira
- Fly yoga
- Golf
- Ice hockey
- Lacrosse
- Pilates
- Wakesurfing

... and revisit last year's YP does the Olympic Games

- Archery
- BMX
- Boxing
- Equestrian
- Handball
- Rhythmic gymnastics
- Rowing
- Sailing
- Taekwondo
- Trampolining

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