The ultimate guide to choosing a lawn bowl.
Selecting a lawn bowl is a very personal thing and there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a bowl. There are now over 30 different models available in the UK, each with a different bias, in eight sizes (00-6), four weights (medium, medium heavy, heavy and extra heavy), with at least six different types of grip, not to mention the vast array of colours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of bowlers who are playing with the wrong size or get lost before they even start is considerable.
Hopefully below I’ve answered some, if not all of your questions, which will enable you to make an informed choice about which set of bowls will suit you best.
In all honesty the brand is the least important factor when buying a set of bowls. Often club players will argue the merits of one make over another. The truth is that all of the bowls manufacturers produce a wide range of good quality products which conform to standard laid down by World Bowls and almost every bowler will be able to find the right bowl for them.
Most established bowlers will have a personal preference which often comes about by trying out different bowls either by having a go with a clubmate’s or at their local bowls retailer. Choosing any particular model will depend on what suits you best – whether you intend to play indoors and outdoors or you want a bowl specifically for faster indoor greens.
There are several manufacturers of lawn bowls in the UK. The models are shown in brackets.
• Taylor Bowls (Lazer, Vector VS, Blaze, Ace, International, Legacy SL, Lignoid)
• Henselite (Dreamline, Tiger II, Classic II, Tiger, Classic)
• Drakes Pride (Advantage, Fineline, Professional, Jazz)
• Almark (Sterling Gold, Sterling Slim-Line, Arrow)
Sizing your bowl is perhaps the most important aspect of selecting a lawn bowl. Get it wrong and you’ll either be hitting the opposite banking with a thud or dropping it at your feet. As a guide, most men will play with a bowl between the sizes of 3 and 5, with 3 being the smaller bowl of the two. Ladies will usually play with bowls between 00 and 2 in size, again with 00 being the smaller of the two.
The most popular method of determining which size is best for you is to use both hands to span your middle fingers and thumb around the running surface (the smooth area around the centre of the bowl so that your thumbs touch at the bottom of the bowl and your middle fingers meet at the top to form a circle. If you can achieve this without too much of a gap at the top of the bowl this will probably be the correct size of bowl for you.
But I would recommend trying one or two other methods in addition to ensure that you have the right size. Take the bowl most suited to you using the previous method and two further bowls – one a size below and the other a size above. Taking each bowl in turn, hold it as if about to deliver – with it sitting comfortable in the palm of your hand (depending on your preference) and your fingers placed in the grips – swing your arm forward and backward. If you feel like the bowl might come crashing down then it is obviously too big but if you can maintain a firm and comfortably grip then this is another tick in the box.
Lastly, I would ask the bowler to stretch their arm out in front of them, holding the bowl upside down. If after 30 seconds your arm begins to ache or shake, it is probably too big for you. If however, you maintain a firm and comfortable grip, this will confirm that this is more than likely the correct size of bowl for you. You might even like to try the same routines with the next size up to ensure that you’re not playing with a bowl that is too small – you should always play with the largest and heaviest bowl that you’re able to comfortably deliver and control.
In general there are two weights – medium and heavy – although some manufacturers do offer medium heavy and extra heavy as options. The weight of a bowl is indicated by the number and letter on the side of the bowl, i.e. 3H is a size three bowl with a heavy weight, 2M is a size two with a medium weight. In the UK quite a few bowlers own two sets – a heavyweight set for the faster indoor surfaces and a medium weight set for the slower outdoor greens.
The difference in weight should be considered alongside the size of the bowl in terms of what happens during a match. A heavier bowl certainly has its advantages as it will have more momentum and is more likely to stand its ground in the head. If it’s comfortable for the bowler to hold and deliver I would always recommend buying a heavier bowl no matter what size they have chosen.
Indoor or outdoor?
If you mainly play indoors, then I would recommend a bowl with a narrower bias such as a Taylor Lazer, Vector VS or Blaze, a Henselite Classic II or Tiger Pro or a Drakes Pride Fineline or Advantage. Otherwise you could find yourself aiming at the far end of the next rink in order for the bowl to swing back to the head.
Unless of course you’re a confident bowler, prefer a wider bias or play at the back end, in which case you might also consider a Taylor Ace or International, a Henselite Tiger or Tiger II or a Drakes Pride Professional or Jazz.
If you’re a hardier breed and spend your summer enjoying the delights of the British summer then the bias of the bowl is less important unless you play at number three or skip when you may have to negotiate your way around the other bowls.
Choosing the bias of your bowl largely depends on whether you are an indoor or outdoor bowler and what position you play in pairs, triples or fours (rinks). If you largely play indoors then I would recommend a narrower bias. But if you bowl outdoors a wider bias is likely to suit your needs.
If you’re just starting out in the game I would advise you to start with a bowl with a narrow to medium bias as you will probably be asked to play at number one or two where your primary task is to get as close to the jack as possible. Playing in these positions will also give you an opportunity to find your line and weight.
Bowls with a narrow to medium bias (best for indoor) include:
• Taylor Bowls (Lazer, Vector VS, Blaze, Ace)
• Henselite (Dreamline, Tiger II, Classic II)
• Drakes Pride (Advantage, Fineline, Professional)
• Almark (Arrow, Sterling Slimline)
Bowls with a medium to wide bias (best for outdoor) include:
• Taylor Bowls (Ace, International, Legacy SL, Lignoid)
• Henselite (Classic II, Classic, Tiger)
• Drakes Pride (Professional, Jazz)
• Almark (Sterling Slimline, Sterling Gold)
Generally, an indoor bowl is designed to have a much narrower bias, while an outdoor bowl usually has much too wide a swing for use indoors and can be difficult to control. When I say indoor bowls I am not referring to short mat bowls – you could get away with using your indoor or outdoor bowls in a game of short mat but there are bowls designed specifically for this format of the game – Stevens and Drakes Pride being the better known.
If you search Google Images using the terms taylor bias chart, henselite bias chart, drakes pride bias chart and almark bias chart you will find a chart which illustrates the bias (the lines which the bowls take) of each bowl in the manufacturer’s range of bowls.
Grips are the indented rings or indentations around the sides of the bowl that offer somewhere to place your thumb and fingers when delivering. These provide a more secure grip and better control, particularly in cold and wet or hot, sweaty conditions. If you mainly bowl indoors then the grips are less important.
There are various types of grip (deep dimple, shallow dimple, progrips, crescent grooves, vertical grooves) available depending on the manufacturer and model, so I would suggest trying out bowls with different grips before reaching a decision. Again, if you belong to a club ask your fellow members if you can have a roll-up with their bowls to get a better idea of what is more comfortable and suited to your style of bowling.
Originally all bowls were made from hard lignum wood and were therefore brown in colour. When composition bowls were introduced they were invariably black. Today, bowls are available in almost 50 colours, shades and patterns and although they are slightly more expensive the gap in price is narrowing. The colour of your bowls is a purely personal choice.
A new set of bowls will cost between £160 and £230, so unless the customer is certain that they know what they want, we would always recommend that beginners purchase a second-hand set for between £30 and £120. These can often be purchased via your club noticeboard, some retailers or alternatively have a look on Ebay where there is always a healthy stock of second-hand bowls for sale. As long as they are not more than 15 years old (you can determine the age by examining the oval or rectangular stamp on the side of the bowl – the manufacturer’s 10-year guarantee stamp) and no serious scrapes or gouges (minor surface scratches will not affect performance) they will suit your purpose. And should you subsequently decide to change your bowls, a second-hand set will only lose a fraction of its original cost when you come to sell them on.
With so many bowls on the market, I would always suggest seeking advice from a specialist bowls retailer and if possible inquire whether you might be able to try the model you wish to purchase. Sometimes bowls shops based inside indoor arenas hold samples that can be tried.
In the end, whatever bowls you choose they’ll only ever be as good as the player. Bowls can be the most rewarding or frustrating game. One day you’ll bowl the opposition off the green and the next you won’t get within six feet of the jack. It can be as infuriating as it is rewarding.
A large part of the game, in whatever format, is about consistency. I can’t recommend highly enough that practice makes perfect, whether on your own or with another player – drawing to the jack time and again using both your forehand and backhand. But that’s for another time.
I hope that you’ve found this guide useful. If you have, please recommend it to any other new bowlers you know. Whatever format of the game you choose to play and whichever bowls you choose to buy, I hope that you not only enjoy the game but also the friendships you make and the vibrant social scene which goes with it.