The aim of the game is simple..

Get your bowls as close as possible to a small white ball called the 'Jack'

It might sound easy, but the fact that the bowls do not travel in a straight line seriously adds to the tactical challenge.

The standard bowling green is a flat square 34-40m long. This is divided into six playing areas called rinks.

After a coin toss, the first bowler (the Lead) places the mat and rolls the jack to the other end of the green as a target.

The players must stand on a rubber mat when delivering their bowl.  The mat is placed on the centreline of the rink with its front end no less than 2m from the rear ditch or less than 25m from the front ditch.  The player who throws the jack to start the end, chooses the mats’ position.

Delivering the Jack

- The jack must travel at least 23m and then when it comes to rest it is moved across to the centre of the rink. Moving the jack to the centre is done by standing directly in front of the closest rink number, then lining he jack up against the rink number at the other end of the green.

Delivering the Bowl the right-handed 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. The player should have all or part of one foot on the mat. A smooth follow through is very important, as is concentration.

The Game is split into individual ends. During an end the bowl nearest to the Jack is referred to as “the shot”. You may hear players on the mat asking, “who has the shot?” When all the bowls have been played, a competitor, or team gets one point for each of their bowls that is closer to the jack than the opponent’s closest bowl.  After all the bowls have been delivered, the direction of play is reversed. This is the end of an end!

Bowls can be played in singles, pairs, triples and four-player teams. Each player has four bowls per end in Singles and Pairs competitions, three in Triples, and two in Fours. The team captain, or ‘skipper’, always plays last and is instrumental in directing the team’s shots and tactics.

How the scoring works

It is usually the first player to reach 21 points, or the highest scorer after 18 or 21 ends. Another system used is “set play”, where the first to reach seven points is awarded a set, with the match played best-of-five sets

Types of delivery

The bowls are not quite round. They are slightly flattened and a weight on one side gives them the bias. As the bowl slows, it begins to roll in the direction of the bias. Bowlers will therefore change the side of the bias, depending on the direction in which they want the bowl to curve. The challenge of all shots is to be able to adjust line and length accordingly.

Tot tip: the faster the delivery, the smaller the curve

Draw Shot: this allows the bowler to roll the bowl to a specific location without disturbing the other bowls too much.

For a right-handed bowler, ‘forehand draw’ is initially aimed to the right of the jack, and curves in to the left.

The same bowler can deliver a ‘backhand draw’ by turning the bowl over in the hand and curving it in the opposite way, from left to right. In both cases, the bowl is usually rolled as close to the jack as possible.

The Drive: Involves bowling with considerable force with the aim of knocking either the jack or a specific bowl out of play. There is very little curve on this shot.

Upshot or yard on: Involves delivering the bowl with enough power to move the jack or disturb other bowls, but without killing the end.

Ditch Rules

Bowls reaching the ditch are removed from play. However, if they touch the jack before heading into the ditch they remain ‘alive’ and in play. If the jack is knocked into the ditch it remains ‘alive’ unless it is out of bounds to the side of the rink.  This is called a ‘dead’ end and is replayed.


There can be a large number of bowls on the green towards the conclusion of an end – particularly in team games – and this gives rise to some complex tactics. For example, the team with the closest bowl will probably decide not to aim for being close to the jack. It is more in their interest to opt for a more blocking shot by setting their bowls up to make it difficult for opponents to get their bowls in towards the jack.  This area is called ‘the head’. Or, players will try to get their bowls in places where the jack might be deflected to if the opponents attempt to disturb ‘the head‘.   There is a page dedicated to Tactics for the more competitive...