As the outdoor game moves indoor for the winter months, let’s take a closer look at the different equipment and accessories needed to take part in the two slight variations of the game throughout the year.
From May to September the game of bowls is usually played on grass surfaces (there are some outdoor greens that have a synthetic surface). Great care and specialist skill are needed to maintain these greens in order to provide a first-class playing surface that is as level as possible. The greens are square, with sides measuring from 40-44 yards (36.6m). This playing surface is then divided into six rectangles or rinks as they are called.
Each rink is usually 18-19ft (5.5-5.8m) wide although there may be regional variations. The right and left-hand boundaries of the rink will be marked by strings drawn tightly between two white pegs set on the banks beyond the ditches and the pegs set at the four corners of the rink. The centre of the rink is shown by a numbered marker (each rink has to be numbered consecutively). This marker is equidistant from the right and left-hand pegs set in the bank. Each end of the rink will be bounded by a section of the ditch.
The whole green is surrounded by a ditch, which can be from 2-8inch (5-20cm) deep, and from 8-15inch (20-38cm) wide. Rising from the back end of the ditch, there should be a bank in as upright a position as possible and not less than 9in (22.9cm) above the surface of the green. Such banks should not have steps cut into them, nor contain material likely to damage a bowl or jack.
From October to April, bowlers can play on an indoor green. Some of these are large enough to contain eight rinks while others can offer only two rinks, or even only a single rink. The playing surface can be of a variety of man-made fibres or of jute or felt. Rinks can vary in width since indoor regulations allow them to be 12-13ft (30.5-33cm) wide. Indoor greens will not have the right and left-hand boundaries marked with a string but will retain the markers at each corner of the rink and the numbered marker, which indicates the centre line and is the centre point between the right and left-hand boundary markers.
The requirements for the ditch and banks are very similar to those for the outdoor game. Information on this subject can be found in a ‘Laws of the Game’ booklet, which can be purchased by applying to the respective Secretaries for the indoor or outdoor game.
The popularity of bowling has increased so rapidly that some indoor clubs have had to limit membership, so a newcomer could find his or her name on a waiting list. In spite of the fact that the indoor game can be played in greater comfort and without bad weather conditions to hinder the bowler, there are still many who prefer the outdoor game with ‘the sun on their backs’. Wherever you play, the important thing is that you enjoy the game.
Most bowls are now made of processed powdered plastic, and there is a bewildering array of different makes and sizes of bowls from which any beginner can select. Do not rush into an early or unwise purchase, as the financial outlay can be considerable. It is commonly believed that you should try to bowl with as large a size as is comfortable for a smooth and easy delivery action, with no strain, but do not err on the side of choosing a set that is too large, as you may find them difficult to control.
The size and weight of bowls must conform to the laws of the game and will range from size 0 (4 5/8inch/11.7cm) to size 7 (5 1/8inch/13cm), the weight increasing in proportion to the size. However, nowadays manufacturers are offering a heavyweight bowl, so the prospective purchaser can be faced with making a choice between, for example, size 4 normal weight or size 4 heavyweight.
There are arguments for and against using a heavier bowl. The heavier bowl is less likely to be moved out of the head following contact by another bowl but it does require a tighter control by the bowler when he delivers it. Some bowls have dimples or grips in a circular pattern around both sides of the bowl. Some players claim to be better able to grip the bowl because of these dimples. If you feel the same way, then by all means purchase such a set.
Although all bowls that are manufactured have to conform to the Master Bowl, it is well known that some bowls will take a straighter line along the green, whereas others will need a wider arc of travel.
Most beginners will receive a barrage of well-intentioned advice. It could be that your coach might be able to help you with your selection. Also you will have had some experience of bowling with a borrowed set during the early coaching sessions and may wish to stick with a similar set. Do not choose a set simply on the basis that they look good or feel good in the shop. The only place to try them correctly is on the green and you should do this before parting with your money.
Remember that just as with a racket, a golf club or a bat, a set of bowls becomes an extension of you and, therefore, it is very important that you have confidence in them. Some bowlers will change their set after one session. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the bowls but simply that the bowler feels he may obtain better results with a different set. However, if you make your decision carefully, the bowls you select could be your ‘good companions’ for many years. Of course, there are some bowlers who may need to change their set of bowls for other reasons. Possibly they develop arthritis in the wrist or fingers, which dictates that a smaller set is necessary.
Having ascertained the differences between sets, then personal preference comes into operation. Whatever size, weight, make or colour you choose, remember that you must master them. Regardless of indoor or outdoor, rain or shine, the bowl in your hand will only perform as well as your skill will allow; therefore, be honest with yourself when you make your initial choice.
This must conform to the laws of the game. Remember that a game of bowls can take from three to four hours to complete. Therefore, it is essential that your choice of footwear be for comfort rather than anything else.
As a general rule it should be white above the waist, with grey trousers. Club matches or representative games may sometimes require you to wear white trousers rather than grey.
It would be sensible, in view of the British summers, to acquire a good-quality set of waterproofs. Being penny-pinching in this area could result in some discomfort following or during rain, which in turn would affect your game. During wet weather some bowlers have a small towel, others a chamois leather, to dry their bowls prior to playing a shot. There are some bowlers who use neither of these and prefer to play the bowl wet. This is plainly a question of personal choice.