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Bowls is a British ball sport. The word bowls is the English expression for “balls” (see Italian Boccia, French Boule). As usual in all ball games, the aim of the bowl is to place your own balls or bowls as close as possible to a smaller, round target ball (called Jack or Kitty in the Bowls). Bowls are also called precision sports.


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According to an anecdote, Sir Francis Drake, after the news of the appearance of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and before he set out on the attack, is said to have calmly finished the running ball game, which probably was Bowls. The first written rules on bowls date back to 1849 in a set of rules from Scotland, some of which still apply today. The first Bowls Association was founded in 1890 by Scottish immigrants in Australia, which was followed two years later by its own association in Scotland itself and in 1893 also in England.

Playing field (Green, Rink, Mat)

The green should be rectangular or square, it should be between 31 m and 40 m long. It should be surrounded by a ditch, which should be between 200 mm and 380 mm wide and between 50 mm and 200 mm deep. Outside the pitch there should be a 230 mm high bench (band).

The ground for outdoor play is grass or synthetic material, for indoor play mostly smooth carpet is used.

The green is divided into holes (rinks), which should be between 4.8 m and 6.4 m wide (indoor: 4.57 m to 5.79 m). The field is marked by lines and poles at the edge. In the indoor game there is often only one lane, which is bordered on the long sides by bands.

A centre line is marked on each lane.

When handing in the ball or jack, the player must stand on a mat, which should be 600 mm long and 360 mm wide. The first player places them on the centre line at each end, with their leading edge at least 2 m from the rear ditch and 25 m from the front ditch.

Teams, Formations

Mainly the Bowls singles game is played. In addition, however, it is also played in formations of two (pairs game), three (triples game) and four (fours game). There are also side games, series of singles games, team games or side games as well as tournament of games.


In Singles game each player has four balls. In the other formations, each player has four, three or two balls.

The biggest difference to other ball sports is that the “balls” are mostly made of plastic and are slightly flattened and in addition their center of gravity is shifted to one side. This allows them to run on a curved track.

At the beginning of the game, the jack is “thrown” by a player who was first drawn by a coin toss, i.e. it is rolled from the player standing on the mat to the other end of the lane (similar to bowling). The jack should lie at least 23 m from the front edge of the player’s mat and at most 2 m from the end of the lane. From the position where the jack remains, the referee places it on the centre line at the same height (i.e. parallel to the short side of the lane). If the jack runs too far, it is placed 2 m from the end of the lane (where the ditch starts) on the centre line. If the jack leaves the side limits, the opponent may throw the jack. If the jack is too short or the player leaves the mat too early, the opponent may replace the mat and throw the jack.

Then the bowls are “thrown” alternately, i.e. the balls are rolled in the direction of the jack so that they remain as close as possible to the jack or even touch it. The moment the ball leaves the player’s hand, the player must still touch the mat with at least one leg or be above the mat. He may then leave the mat. Sometimes players also follow the complete path of their ball.

Balls that run too far and fall into the ditch are removed from the game and are not counted. If a ball touches the jack, it is marked with chalk and remains in play even if it rolls into the ditch or is pushed. If the jack is pushed into the ditch, it remains there and all other balls must be played as close as possible to the jack without falling into the ditch.
After each player has thrown his balls, a score is made. There are differences in the scoring system, but the basic principle is the same. All balls of the same colour that are closer to the Jack than the closest ball of the other colour are scored. Only one player can score per “end”. Balls that are more than 2 m away from the Jack are not counted.

Then the jack is thrown again in the opposite direction to the just finished end and a new end begins. The number of ends per set varies from tournament to tournament and a tie-break is played.


The distribution of sport is currently limited to Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Cyprus, as well as parts of the USA. Since 2000, several Bowls clubs have also been founded in Denmark. In Germany this kind of sport finds so far only few followers. There are currently two grass bowling clubs. One is located in Löbichau, Eastern Thuringia, the second in Meppen (Emsland). There is also no official association. The German Boccia-, Boule- und Pétanque-Verband as the umbrella organization of ball sports in Germany has no section Bowls. There are only a few German-language television broadcasts on Eurosport. The games Boccia (Italy) and Pétanque (France), which are similar to Bowls, are more widespread in the rest of Europe.