Lawn bowling is a sport with many traditions. Like curling or 5-pin bowling, there are a few rules, a number of conventions, and a reliance on fair play that depends on the honour system.


The number of players on a team can be from 1 to 4. A Skip is designated as the captain, who plays last.

Playing from the mat (dark grey in the picture), the team Lead rolls the white target, called a Jack, by delivering it toward the Skip at the other end of the rink, or lane. At that point, the Jack is moved by the Skip, directed by the Lead, to centre it in the lane. After that, the Jack may end up being moved if hit by a bowl, thereby changing the location of the target within the lane.

Once the Jack is first placed, that Lead rolls (not throws) the first bowl, trying to deliver it as closely as possible to the Jack. The next bowl is rolled by the Lead from the other team. Next, the first Lead plays their second bowl. This continues, with alternating team players rolling each of their bowls until the Skips have delivered all their bowls. That completes the End, and a score is determined.

The closest bowl to the Jack is 1 point.  If the same team has more of their bowls next closest to the Jack, each one counts 1 point. For instance, in the picture above, if we assume the 3 brown bowls are from the same team, the score would be 3 points for Brown.  Scoring proceeds until the other team’s bowl is determined to be next. So, for an End, a team may have 1, 2, or more points. That score is placed on the scoreboard.

The bowls are then raked up and a mat is placed in the centre of the lane at the, now, opposite side. The team winning the last point goes first, rolling the Jack down the lane to be centred by the Skip.

Play generally proceeds for 8, 10 or 12 ends in friendly club play. This takes about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The number of ends can be agreed to be a different number for special occasions. Competitive play can be 14 ends, depending the time available for the event.

Technical Stuff

Each set of 4 bowls is selected by the manufacturer so all are exactly the same in their size – classed as “00”, “0”, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. Within each size, a set may all be Light, Medium or Heavy weight. Each of the set of 4 must roll along the same trajectory when tested on a certified inclined table. Sets are stamped by the manufacturer as being certified for tournament play up to a specified year. This example shows a Drakes Pride, Professional, #5 Heavy bowl that is certified until 2001.

The symbol that is stamped in the smallest circle is the same for your set of 4 bowls. That way, when there are many bowls in use on your lane, you will be able to find your own bowls.

In the picture below, we see that a bowl will take a certain trajectory, rather than being able to go straight. This is because bowls are made with one side actually smaller than the other side. A bowl will, therefore, always turn toward the “small” side – see the lower drawing. This side is identified on each bowl by a smaller circle imprinted on that side.

Which bowls should you use?

This is a matter of personal preference. New bowlers are advised to use the club bowls for a year until they get a feel for what “fits”.

A few points to remember:

  • The bowl should sit comfortably in the palm without having to grip it tightly
  • A bigger or heavier bowl may not be the right choice – consider how heavy it will feel after 12 to 14 ends, for 3 games in a day (as in tournament play)
  • Choice of colour makes no difference – except in cost and, perhaps, in your mindset
  • Generally, Leads will find a straighter trajectory type of bowl will allow them to approach the Jack more often
  • Some Skips like to use a wide turning bowl so they can “backdoor” a tight head
  • Don’t worry about having a large, heavy bowl with which to run at a congested head – leave that for experienced Skips – the target for a “runner” is 3-4 fingers wide; the target to draw into the head is a full arms-length wide.

The Rules

The official rules of the game are found on the World Bowls site. The current document is referred to as Crystal Mark 4:

These were the changes made

And, note that there further revisions here:

For reference, here are the contents:

Version 4
1 August 2022

A Control
B Players
C Play
D Bowls

Section 1 – Game basics
Section 1.1 – Arranging a game
1 Play arrangements
1.1 A Singles game
1.2 A team game
1.3 A side game
1.4 A series of games
1.5 A tournament of games
2 General form and length
3 Choosing the rinks for play
4 Practice
Section 1.2 – Getting a game underway
5 Starting the game
5.1 Trial ends
5.2 Tossing for opening play
5.3 The start of play
5.4 Play in other ends
6 Placing the mat
6.1 At the start of each end
6.2 During each end
7 Position on the mat
8 Foot-faulting
9 Delivering the jack
10 Improper delivery of the jack
11 Team play
11.1 Number of players
11.2 Order of play
Section 1.3 – Possession of the rink
12 Position of players
12.1 In relation to the rink of play
12.2 In relation to a neighbouring rink
13 Possession of the rink
Section 1.4 – Touchers and dead bowls
14 Touchers
15 Marking a toucher
16 Movement of touchers
17 Dead bowl
Section 1.5 – Live and dead jack
18 Live jack in the ditch
19 Dead jack
20 Dead end
21 Rebounding jack
Section 1.6 – Result of an end
22 The shot
23 Deciding the number of shots scored
24 No shot scored – tied end
25 Delivering the final bowl of an end
Section 1.7 – Game decisions
26 Games played on one occasion
27 Tournament games and games in a series
28 A drawn game in a knockout (eliminating) competition

Section 2 – Game anomalies
Section 2.1 – Irregularities affecting play
29 Irregularities during play
29.1 Playing out of turn
29.2 Playing another player’s bowl
29.3 Changing bowls
29.4 Failing to play
30 Damaged jack
31 Damaged bowls
Section 2.2 – Factors affecting play
32 Leaving the green during the course of play and substitutes
33 Game stoppages
34 Objects on the green
35 Unforeseen incidents
36 Deliberate non-sporting action
Section 2.3 – Bowl and jack displacement
37 Bowl displacement
37.1 Bowl displacement by another player
37.2 Bowl displacement by a disabled player’s equipment or assistant
37.3 Bowl displacement by a neutral person or neutral object
37.4 Bowl displacement when being marked as a toucher or during measuring
37.5 Bowl displacement by a rebounding non-toucher
37.6 Bowl displacement by a bowl from a neighbouring rink
37.7 Bowl displacement by a dead bowl
38 Jack displacement
38.1 Jack displacement by another player
38.2 Jack displacement by a disabled player’s equipment or assistant
38.3 Jack displacement by a neutral person or neutral object
38.4 Jack displacement during measuring
38.5 Jack displacement by a non-toucher
38.6 Jack displacement by a bowl from a neighbouring rink
Section 2.4 – Defaults by players
39 Absentee players in a team or side
39.1 In a team game
39.2 In a side game

Section 3 – Duties of players and officials
Section 3.1 – Players and their duties
40 Players’ duties

40.1 The skip
40.2 The third
40.3 The lead
40.4 Other duties
41 Players with disabilities
Section 3.2 – Officials and their duties and spectators
42 The marker’s duties
43 The umpire’s duties
44 The coach
45 Spectators
Section 4 – Field of play and equipment
Section 4.1 – The green, ditch, banks and rinks
46 The green
47 The ditch
48 The bank
49 Division of the green
Section 4.2 – Equipment: mat, jack, bowls and measures
50 Mat
51 Jack
52 Bowls
52.1 Specifications
52.2 Bias of bowls
52.3 Alteration to bias
52.4 Lodging a challenge to bowls
52.5 Following up a challenge to bowls
52.6 Bowls failing a test
53 Bowls: World Bowls Stamp
54 Measuring equipment

Section 5 – Administration
Section 5.1 – Playing formats
55 Formats of play
55.1 World events and Commonwealth Games
55.2 International events
55.3 Domestic events
56 Sets play
56.1 Format of play
56.2 Tie-breaker
56.3 Winners of sectional play
56.4 First to play
56.5 Re-spotting the jack
Section 5.2 – Game regulations
57 Regulations for play
57.1 Domestic regulations
57.2 Conditions of Play
Section 5.3 – Administrative matters
58 International tours and competitions
59 Regulating Singles, Pairs, Triples and Fours games
60 Contracting out of the Laws of the Sport of Bowls

Appendix A
A.1 Conditions of Play
A.2 Footwear
A.3 Clothing
A.4 Restricting the movement of players during play
A.5 Delaying (slow) play
Appendix B
B.1 Position of the bank
B.2 Marks on the surface of the rink
B.3 Centring the jack
B.4 Distance charts
Appendix C
C.1 Bowl and jack displacement chart
Domestic regulations