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Etiquette for Lawn Bowls
The sport of lawn bowls has a long and noble tradition. Sir Francis Drake was playing it on Plymouth Ho when the Spanish Armada was spotted approaching the English coast. Edward III banned it as it distracted his archers from practising their deadly skills. The oldest continuously-used bowling green in the world, Southampton Old Bowling Green, has been in use since 1299.
A sport with such history has many rules. These are largely unwritten, are seen as a matter of etiquette, and every new or potential bowler should be aware of them.
Many younger bowlers are upset by the rigidness of the dress code, especially in competitive bowls. However, in recent years even this has been relaxed slightly in recognition of the younger players taking up the sport.
Footwear – Whether in competitive or casual play this is the one item of dress that has to be adhered to. Bowling shoes have to be flat-soled with no heel or ridges. The reason for this is so that the green (outdoor) or carpet (indoor) does not get ripped up or torn. These shoes can be brown, black, grey or white. Brown is the most traditional colour, but white is rapidly becoming the favourite of the younger generation.
Trousers/skirts – Most bowlers will possess two of these for competitive play, the reason being that different competitions do have different regulations and sometimes these change at the latter stages of competition. These two pairs will be in grey and white. Most outdoor leagues insist on the wearing of whites at all times, but a lot of other competitions allow you to wear greys, although some, when you get to latter stages, insist on you wearing white. In recent years, the rules for women were relaxed from a strict skirt style to a modest skirt or trousers; the same colour rules apply.
Shirts/jumpers etc – At all times in competitive play these used to be white and in most competitions still are. However, there has been an introduction of team colours in certain events, but the norm is still a white shirt. The white shirt used to have to be worn with a club tie as well in most matches. Today, if you start a match wearing a formal shirt it is still good etiquette to wear a tie until after the completion of the trial ends, at least before a possible loosening or removing the tie. However, a lot of teams nowadays issue white team polo shirts often with the team members’ name and club badge embroidered on it; obviously you do not need to wear a team tie with these. Jumpers should also be white, and warm, especially if you play in the Northern Hemisphere.
Wet gear and head gear – These come in a variety of styles but at all times these should be white. In the rain nobody really cares about style and colour.
If you are marking for a singles match it depends on how formal it is whether you should wear full whites, greys or casuals. However, the footwear is still an essential.
On the Green
Singles; Pairs (lead and skip); Trips (lead, second, and skip); Fours ((lead, second, third and skip).
Before play begins, all players shake hands with their opponents. If trial ends are to be played, they will shake hands again as the players change ends on the last of these.
All players on the green fall under the control of their skip (The person in charge of the team). He is in charge of the rink and depending on his leadership skills can be either a despot or a close friend. However, in the rules he is responsible for all the actions that need to carried out on the green, but these are often delegated to other members of the rink.
Placing the mat and delivering the jack – This is usually a responsibility delegated to the lead (The player who delivers the first bowls for the team) . Careful placement of both may prove crucial to a skip’s game plan and this is a key role.
Maintaining the scorecard – Often entrusted to the second who will await confirmation of the number of shots at the declaration of each end.
Measuring of close shots – If, while declaring the head, two bowls are in dispute – ie, you can’t tell which is nearest to the jack just by looking at them – a tape can be used to measure the disputed shots. This is a task often delegated to the third, although some skips maintain this role for themselves, or it can be passed to a more youthful second on occasion.
Declaring the shots – This is normally a role maintained by the thirds, sometimes in consultation with other members of the rink. However, it is the thirds alone who should remove shots from the head once they are agreed that they are in the count. If the thirds cannot agree, a measure is required to decide the shots. If the measure is inconclusive, an official or independent person may be called upon to re-measure the disputed shots.
Etiquette while others play – When a player is preparing to deliver a bowl, players at the delivery end should stand still and remain silent so as not to distract the player. They should also not step forward in front of the bowler until the bowl has been delivered.
The front end (the leads and seconds) should remain at the delivery end until all their bowls have been delivered and they should walk up together before the first of the thirds comes down to deliver his bowls.
If you are playing a singles tie and wish to examine the head when you are about to bowl, you must seek permission from the marker to come up the green. It is also good etiquette to leave your bowl on the delivery mat; this also prevents the possibility of you dropping it and disturbing the head.
The back end (the thirds and skips) will stand at the target end until it is their turn to bowl their own bowls. These two are generally the chief tacticians on a rink and will be working out the strategy at the other end. However, they should not distract opposing bowlers in any way and give up the prime positions at the head when it is the opposition’s turn to bowl.
The green is divided into rinks and each match takes place on one of these. Players should stay within the confines of their rink. If a call of nature necessitates a player’s urgent presence in the smallest room of the clubhouse it is good etiquette to inform your opposite number or the opposing skip of your reason for leaving the confines of the rink.
Officials are rarely present but are essential in singles ties and will be present in certain competitions or at the final stages of others.
A marker – The marker in a singles tie is vitally important as he prevents the players’ endless visits to the head to carry out tasks. He must straighten the jack into the centre line once it has been delivered. The marker will also mark any bowl that touches the jack with a suitable mark so that it will remain live should it end up in the ditch.
The marker is also the eyes of the players at the other end; a good marker will have the trust of both players in the accuracy of his statements. However, a marker should only give information when it is requested, and then only the information requested. If it is not clear what is needed, he should clarify it with the players. If he is not sure he is quite allowed to say so. But a good marker will very rarely be unable to at least favour one bowl over another and the players will know that from seeing the calls when they do visit the head.
He will generally also carry the score card and the measure for the players. However, the players have the option to measure shots for themselves and the marker should only do so if the players request that this is a role they are happy to delegate.
Referees – Generally referees are only present for final stages or important tournaments. They usually carry equipment such as a long measure to ensure that the jack is up the legal length (in league matches this is often decided by mutual agreement between the two skips). They will be called onto the green in the case of disputed shots if they are present.
Around the Green
Spectators should obviously not interfere with play or run onto the green. Occasionally footballs and the like end up on bowling greens but the bowlers will eventually return these to their rightful owners at a convenient break in play. Like the players on the green they should remain silent once a player has stepped onto the mat to deliver their bowl and they should also stand or sit still. Distractions, even from the side of the green, may affect the players’ line of vision as they prepare their shot.