Rules & Etiquette


Welcome to the wonderful sport of Bowls !

The origins of Bowls are comparable to some of our other great sports like golf and cricket being set against Victorian/Edwardian attitudes when the focus was on civil, respectful, fair and honest competition.

To reflect the slightly more serious tone of this page we have taken the headmasters stance on selling the game to you. It’s a long read and may get a bit boring in places, the good news is we won’t be setting an exam paper at the end. Enjoy !

To help you understand the history, structure and etiquette of Bowls our very own Marcia Dunstone (who was the Bowls England National President in 2015) has helped update this page for your interest and education. Thanks Marcia


Bowls (Lawn Bowls) is an ancient sport still enjoyed around the world by hundreds of thousands of people. Bowls is a comparatively simple sport to play, yet vibrant, dynamic and exciting, suitable for young and old alike, the physically fit or physically challenged.

Whilst bowls has its roots on grass played outdoors, use of synthetic surfaces is rapidly increasing, both outdoors and indoors. Facilities may be specially constructed or transportable mats used both outdoors and indoors.

World Bowls is the Governing Body for the sport of bowls. Its headquarters are in Scotland. Currently there are 47 World Bowls member countries whose Clubs belong to their National Authority which is the member of World Bowls. Many National Authorities hold international events at which their fellow National Authorities are invited to participate in.

World Bowls is able to provide advisory assistance on the construction of the playing surface, administration training, coaching, and Technical Official training. The World Bowls web site ( contains a great deal of useful information as well as links to member National Authorities and other relevant organisations

Current members of World Bowls are


The playing of Bowls can be traced back to the 13th Century.  The world’s oldest surviving bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green, which was first used in 1299.  The game eventually came under the ban of king and parliament, both fearing it might jeopardise the practice of archery, then so important in battle. Statutes forbidding it and other sports were enacted in the reigns of Edward III, Richard II and other monarchs. The discredit attaching to bowling alleys, first established in London in 1455, probably encouraged subsequent repressive legislation, for many of the alleys were connected with taverns frequented by the dissolute and gamesters.

In 1864 William Wallace Mitchell (1803–1884), a Glasgow Cotton Merchant and secretary of a group of Scottish bowling clubs formed in 1849, published his “Manual of Bowls Playing” which became the basis of the rules of the modern game. Young Mitchell was only 11 when he played on Kilmarnock Bowling green, the oldest club in Scotland, instituted in 1740.  National Bowling Associations were established in the late 1800s. In the then Victorian Colony (now State of Victoria in Australia), the (Royal) Victorian Bowling Association was formed in 1880 and The Scottish Bowling Association was established in 1892, although there had been a failed attempt in 1848 by 200 Scottish clubs.

The English Bowling Association (E.B.A.), was founded in 1903 and followed in 1931 by the English Women’s Bowling Association.  In 2008 both Associations combined to form Bowls England.   Bowls England is based in Royal Leamington Spa and from 2014 the National Championships for both men and women will be held during August at Victoria Park

The whole conduct of our affairs, within our sport, is according to our highest principles of sportsmanship, loyalty and general good fellowship and is governed by World Bowls.  The rules are laid out in the Laws of the Sport of Bowls (2014, Crystal Mark Third Edition).


Bowls England (BE) has 35 counties as well as a number of District Associations affiliated to it.  BE requested each County to unify its male and female associations.   Hertfordshire Bowls (HB) is the governing body for our county and was formed in 2010 from the men’s Hertfordshire Bowls Association and the women’s Hertfordshire County Women’s BA.  Each unified County sends a male and female delegate elected by its County association to attend BE’s annual EGM and AGMs.  Similarly HB invites each club to send a delegate of each gender to its AGM and Council meetings.

West Division

HB is subdivided into four Divisions formed from the earlier gender related Areas (male) & Zones (female) in the county.  Berkhamsted is part of the West Division.  The West Division’s officers; Chair (Marcia Pearce, Berkhamsted BC), and gender Secretaries (John Hay, Garston & Mavis Hendry, Bushey Bowls Club) are members of the County Executive.  Any matters or concerns regarding any aspect of bowls can be raised and discussed by members clubs at the twice yearly meetings of the Division.  In turn the Division officers bring proposals to the attention of the Exec for full discussion.  Any of these matters if thought relevant to the national game can be escalated to the BE meetings by our county delegates.  So your opinion and ideas can be relevant and important to the national game; remember Bowls England is owned by the Counties and Member clubs, it is not just an organisation that sits in the sky far removed from what is happening in the bowls arena in this country.

District Associations

Berkhamsted men are members of both Watford & District Association and St Albans & District Association.  The ladies are members of Watford & District Ladies Bowling Association

All of the above organise competitions and matches for the benefit of clubs and individual players to extend their competitive participation and enjoyment of the game.  Many of the county competitions continue to a national level with men’s, women’s and mixed finals played at Leamington.  BE select players who have excelled at national level to represent England in international matches and competitions.

So if you have an aptitude for the game there is no limit to where you can get!

That was Marcia’s bit, now we have some other bowls lover who wants to impart his bowls wisdom on you


You have been admitted into the membership of a bowling club, and no doubt you are keenly awaiting your participation in the game of bowls.

This page is compiled for you , pointing out what is expected of you as a member of your county organisation and your club, your general attitude to your fellow players and the playing of the game.

If you have played other sports in the past you will find that your ball game aptitude will be invaluable during your bowling career.

Tolerance, good fellowship to your opponents and indeed your club mates is unsurpassed in any other sport.  To foster this comradeship in our great game prompts this advise. Let us now tell you something of its ramifications.


You have been accepted into your club and are now a working part of it.  At the outset, don’t believe that you have joined only to play bowls.  Every member assumes responsibility immediately he is admitted.  You will find that the officers of the club generously give their time and energy so that you can enjoy and play game.  Be appreciative of them, do everything you can to make their work as easy as possible; be punctual; willing to abide by their decisions, realising that they are made not just for you, but for the betterment of all.  Support all social function and such like, organised for the good of the club and your enjoyment.

Never let your club down, be proud of it and at all times put it before yourself.  Do nothing in your actions, words or appearance which will reflect against your club. Do your part to enhance its reputation so that it be known as a fine club.

… or we’ll stand you in the corner of the green until you learn your lesson (only joking!)


Your playing enjoyment is derived on the bowling green.  This green is prepared by a green keeper or a club member who in the absence of a green keeper acts as such, and please remember that whoever it is he has a very difficult job.  Often he is endeavouring to maintain a playing surface under adverse conditions.  He is striving to grow grass for us to play on under all weather conditions.  On our part we walk continually over the green, placing the mat without any consideration for wear; expecting to play afternoon and evening up to seven days a week.  The result is that wear shows in patches, or some disease develops on the green and the green keeper is criticised for his incompetence.  Your liaison with your green keeper is your green ranger, or a senior officer of the club.  The ranger in privately managed clubs is elected by your club, to in effect,  be the manager of the green, in consultation with the green keeper.  Never approach the green keeper regarding any criticism of the green, go to the ranger – better still do not complain at all.  Help them by your thoughtfulness and tolerance; knowing that they are endeavouring to give you the best conditions possible and simply must protect the green against too much play.  Do nothing to damage the green, either in your delivery or in any other way.  It is essential that you develop clean grassing of your bowl without any bump.


It is my belief, and I think that you will find that you will get out of the game of bowls just what you put into it.  Your approach should be one of enthusiasm, friendliness, good fellowship and tolerance.  Do not be upset by the first minor happening you feel to be unfair.  By your desire to learn the game and accept responsibilities as a good member you will quickly be accepted by the more experienced members.  Remember it is the calibre of individual members which combine to make a club.  So play your part and make yours a good club.


According to the dictionary, etiquette means ‘the art of behaviour’.  This does not mean that etiquette is the explanation of the duties of the various players in the team; but it is those little extras that give this wonderful game of bowls its great charm.  Friendly sporting acts towards your team mates and opponents are appreciated and are reciprocated.  Such acts could be; to keep still whilst others are delivering their bowls; to stand behind the jack and away from the head, perfectly still, or one metre behind the mat; commendation of a good shot by a team member or opponent; being frank in admitting a fluke when you receive one, and remember it when at some later time your opponent gets such a fluke against you!


Everything is changing in the bowls world as far as dress goes. To see what our club colours are and what you should wear for casual or competitive play please have a look at our ‘kit’ page.  Suffice to sat the only thing you must always wear is a flat soled pair of shoes to protect the green.

… well thats a surprise isn’t it, thought it was going to be boring all whites didn’t you ?!


Bowls is a relatively simple game.  The action required to deliver a bowl is based on a fairly natural physical movement.  It is not too difficult to learn and there are a number of Qualified instructors willing to teach absolute beginners.

The beginner is often able, within a relatively short period of time, to bowl with some measure of success.  It can be the case, that anyone visiting their local bowls club would find some member  who might introduce them to the game of bowls.  In the present day there are over 5,000 instructors in England alone who will introduce the beginner to the game according to the syllabus and guidelines of the English Bowls Coaching Scheme.

The instruction they offer is practical, on the green and geared towards getting the beginner bowling as soon as possible.  The beginner will need to have a pair of flat soled shoes or overshoes, and for this first session would be able to borrow a set of four bowls to use.


The E.B.C.S believes that every bowlers delivery is unique as is their fingerprints.  There are of course different categories of delivery actions that can be described as Crouch, Semi-Crouch, Athletic  etc., but in general terms three criteria need to be satisfied:

(1) That the delivery action is comfortable; can be repeated precisely throughout long periods of play and does not produce unnecessary strain.

(2) That it is effective.

(3) That the delivery action conforms to the Laws of the Game.

Now the beginner is invited to stand on the bowls mat and is given the spherical white target object known as the “jack”.  He / She are invited to roll the jack towards the instructor who is standing with feet apart some ten metres away, but with sufficient force so as to reach the top end of the rink.  This natural movement in rolling a ball about the size of a tennis ball, is what the instructor uses in helping the learner to groove in aa delivery action and enables the instructor to build on that which is good and encourage any necessary correction in stance, timing and rhythm.

The instructor then varies the places where he stands in relation to the mat, so that the beginner has to vary his stance on the mat, and change the position of his / her feet to accommodate the new angles of delivery.  Once a smooth and easy delivery action is evident, then the beginner is ready to repeat the action using a bowl.

Wakey, wakey at the back, lets continue ..

Instructing a Beginner

The instructor will ask the beginner to pick up a bowl.  At this point the grip will be checked, to see that the bowl is held comfortably and confidently in the hand.  If the bowl is delivered smoothly the instructor will make no further comment.  However, a small adjustment may be found necessary if this is not the case, but before the bowl has been delivered the instructor will have already explained BIAS, LINE and LENGTH.


Some people believe, wrongly, that one side of the bowl is more heavily weighted that the other, but it is the SHAPE of the bowl which makes it “turn”.  The curved path taken by the bowl is always toward the side of the smaller disc, and this only happens when the bowl begins to slow down.  The point at which the bowl begins to turn is known as the shoulder and this will vary according to the distance, or length, that the jack is from the mat.

A simple guide is that the shoulder is roughly two-thirds of the distance the bowl needs to run to arrive at its objective.

Choice of Bowl

Once the beginner has decided to take up the game, it could be that his first decision would be choosing the correct size bowl for him / her.  When having selected the make , weight and size that best suits them they could have chosen a set of bowls which will last them  a bowling lifetime.

There are 9 different sizes of bowl, varying in diameter from 116mm to 131mm, and varying in weight to a maximum of 1.69kgs each.  Each bowl of the set of four is identical, and all turn the same amount on the same green.  That is to say the bias of the four bowls has been precisely matched in their manufacture.

The Bias of different sizes can vary.  The law is that every bowl must bend more than a standard Bowl kept in each country.

Forget most of that, the important thing is bowling woods come in all colours now which is far more exciting – especially for spectators and attracting youngsters



When two players bowl four bowls alternately, the winner being the first player to score 21 shots.


Two players constitute a team. the leads play four bowls alternately followed by the skips. the skip is also in charge of the tactical development of the game.

21 ends constitutes a game of pairs – the winner being the pair who have scored the most shots at the end of the 21 ends.


Constituted by three players. Lead, second and Skip and played over 18 ends.  The triple scoring most shots after the 18 ends is declared the winner.  Once again each player bowls three bowls alternatively.


A team of four players who bowl two bowls alternatively for 21 ends.  Leads, seconds, third and skip.  The winner being the team with the most shots after 21 ends.  Each player in the team has certain duties to perform during the game, these are:


a) Lay the mat

b) Deliver the Jack

c) Delivers mainly draw shots to lay good foundation for the development of the head.


a) Records the progress of the game on the rink scoreboard

b) should be a capable and versatile player as he may be called upon to play all types of shots.


a) Acts as the measurer to determine the number of shots scored each end.

b) Directs the skip in choice of shot to play

c) Must have a good knowledge of the laws of the game

d) should be a versatile and experienced player


a) Tosses the coin with his opponent for the right of possession of the mat at the start of the game.

b) Introduces the team to the opposition

c) Directs the development of the head

d) Needs to have a good knowledge of the laws and a sound knowledge of the game

e) Should be a good tactician, a natural leader, realising that the basis of good teamwork is acceptable leadership

f) Should be a capable, experienced and versatile exponent of the game since he is in charge of the four.

e) Keeps record of the score on the scorecard


The object of play is to direct your bowl as near as possible to the jack, or such objects as may be indicated by the skip.  Play is always from the mat.

End explanation

After the completion of playing all the bowls from the mat end of the green, an end has been completed.

have a rest and watch this 4 part graphic.  No sneaking off for a cup of Coffee


After the completion of an end the number of your teams bowls which have finished closest to the jack count.  Thus, if you have three bowls closer than your opponent your score is three for that end.  One shot is allowed for each bowl nearer the jack  and the nearest bowl of your opponent.  Do not disturb / remove any bowl from the head until the score has been agreed by both sides.


It is desirable that the feet be positioned on the centre of the mat to avoid the possibility of foot fault.  Do not stand square to the jack, but face out to either side of the mat in order that the bowl can be delivered to allow the bias to take effect.


The diagram above indicates a fairly common stance i.e. feet parallel and slightly apart, pointing along the line on which the bowl is going to travel.  The stance should be well balanced and comfortable.  The bowl should be held so that the bowler has both comfort and control, and on a line just outside the right hip (for the right handed player) so allowing an unimpeded backswing.  Eyes should be looking along the delivery line.

Nearly there, only another 2 mins to go


Some players prefer to combine the movement of forward stride simultaneously with the backswing – others place the front foot a walking pace in front of and parallel to the back foot before the backswing – It is a matter of personal preference.  On the completion of the backswing the player must now consider the forward swing, at the same time bending the knees so that the moment of release the hand holding the bowl is as close to the bowling surface as is possible.  This ensures that the bowl is delivered smoothly.

The player steps forward with the left foot and at the same time swings back the right arm holding the bowl.  The body is lowered down and the left hand placed on the left knee for support, as the right arm comes forward to deliver the bowl on the green when the body has dipped to the lowest point. For the left handed player , of course the procedure is reversed.

Position of the feet

One foot should be placed on the green in front of the mat, taking aa normal walking step, and at the moment of delivery of the bowl.  One foot should be wholly on or within the confines of the mat.

Follow through

A smooth follow through is desirable, as in other sports the follow through is most important.  The right hand should be brought forward parallel with the body throughout its movement, and continue, even after the bowl has been delivered.


Concentration is of course an essential requirement for any bowler aspiring to an improved standard.  So many players allow outside factors to interfere with their concentration that it is probably the greatest single reason  why they fail to improve.  It is often noticeable that even top grade players will play a good shot when attempting to convert or save, but it is surprising how many times the same player will fail to add to the score when they have plenty of room to draw another shot.  This is due to a lack of concentration when playing your game – nothing less will do.


The game of bowls is a splendid medium for limited exercise, sociability and competitive recreation.  The sportsmanship of the player is always to the fore, and this attribute is a vital necessity to all who play it.

The newcomer to the game whilst possibly diffident about entering competitions, is strongly advised to play in as much competitive play as possible as this is the means of improving his play, developing his knowledge of the game, and enjoying still further the opportunity of making new friends.

It has been said of bowls that it is a contest calling for courage, skill and self control.  It is a test of temper and certainly a revealer of character.  It includes companionship with friends, sociability and opportunities for courtesy, kindliness  and generosity to an opponent.  It provides not only physical health but moral stamina.

May you have many years of bowling enjoyment in this great fraternity of sportsmen, with a number of lifelong friendships you may make along the way.

Well done, if you read all that you probably know more about the game than most of us do!

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