Bowls is often thought of as a game for older people,  but it is a game that spans generations. Played in singles or teams, Bowls is a fun, social sport.

What is Lawn Bowls?

Lawn bowls is played outside and can be played in singles, pairs, triples or fours, so bowlers have the option of playing individually or as a team.

The object of the game is to get your bowls closer to the jack (little white ball) than your opponent.

This is achieved by players from each team taking turns rolling or throwing their bowls down the green toward the jack. After all the bowls have been delivered, it needs to be determined how many bowls you have closer to the jack than your opponent’s nearest bowl. This is how points are scored. Conversely, the opposition scores points by counting the number of bowls they have closer to the jack than your nearest bowl.

The game has an added complexity – the jack can be moved at any time during the game by hitting it with a bowl. This forces players to adapt both offensive and defensive strategies. In addition, the distance between the jack and the mat can be anywhere from 70 to 120 feet. The mat itself can also be moved to provide a different starting point on the rink.

Hence, there are a number of variables – these also include weather conditions, playing surface, or time of day – that can make the game very complex.

The jack is rolled first – it is a round ball and travels in a straight line. Players then alternate delivering their bowls. The unusual shape of the bowl (the bias) gives the characteristic elliptical path which means the bowls are aimed out at an angle and curve back in towards the jack. Just like a putt in golf, the successful delivery of a bowl to the jack is simply a matter of line (initial direction) and length (weight or force).

Where do you play Lawn Bowls?

Lawn bowls is played outside at the 726 clubs throughout New Zealand. Generally bowls is a summer sport, but because artificial greens are coming into play more often in our country, the sport is beginning to be played all year round.

What age can your child start Lawn Bowls?

As soon as you can pick up a bowl! Bowls is a sport that is easy to get the hang of. After a few ends, an eight-year-old can be just as competitive as his or her 32-year-old father!

There are junior grades for children at some clubs. Secondary Schools also have a competition with the National finals being held in December each year – it’s a great way for younger ones to get involved playing people their own age and enjoying all aspects of the sport!

There is an erroneous belief that bowls is a sport for the ‘elderly.’ This is changing dramatically as the younger generation begins to realise the competitive and social aspects of the sport.

Bowls is not overly physically demanding, so literally, anyone can play!

How do you progress over time?

Kids can progress through doing well at their club competitions. They then have the option of competing in centre competitions (there are 27 centres in New Zealand), and the next step is the nationals. There are a number of national tournaments in New Zealand.

Bowls also has an open national tournament held over the New Year period, which anyone can compete in. And who knows, if you do well and the selectors notice you, you could be on your way to international representation!

What gear do you need for Lawn Bowls?

To play bowls you need a set of bowls, and suitable footwear.

Most clubs have loan bowls for people to use when trying out the sport. Once committed, players may want to have their own set of bowls. New ones will cost about $400, but they will last a lifetime. Second-hand sets are also available – sometimes at half the cost.

Special clothing is not required. Bowlers do, however, need to wear shoes without a stepped heel as these could damage the playing surface – trainers are fine. If you want to buy bowling shoes, they come in a range of styles and cost anything from $30 to $120.

Many club events are staged in casual clothes. However, at major club competition level white trousers or a skirt are usually required – at a cost of between $40-$70. Coloured tops and trousers/track pants are increasingly common.

How much does Lawn Bowls cost?

In the first instance it will cost you nothing!

In many cases there is no need to even pay an initial membership. Many clubs have a first year offer on reduced or even free membership. A full subscription is commonly $100-$150, and this covers practice and casual play as well. Most competitions will carry a small entry fee ($2-$5) just to cover a few prizes, but that will often include some refreshments as well.

But don’t forget, trying out the sport will cost you nothing!!!

How much time does Lawn Bowls take to learn?

Bowls takes as long as you’ve got!

Have A Go days or evenings and Business House leagues often involve short, sharp competitions such as three games of 45 minutes each in a session. It’s a great way to meet lots of new people, play a good amount of bowls and see how you go. Another advantage of this ‘Speed Bowls’ format is that the scoreboard gets reset to 0-0 if you are getting a beating!

Clubs increasingly hold half day or evening events of 2-3 hours, meeting the needs of those with families or weekend work, for example.

If you advance up the competitive ladder, the time commitment increases. Some major club championships and interclub competitions may be all-day or even two-day events. But even here there is an increasing trend to spread events over several weekends, or even play knockout events by arrangement between opponents.

At the extreme end of the scale, the NZ National Championships are held over a fortnight. Extended tournaments may take three or four, or in some cases six or seven days. Some clubs still play events over a whole weekend, with everybody playing on the Saturday and the top players qualifying for the second stage on Sunday.

However, progressive clubs have now switched on to half-day or twilight evening play, and many now have lights to extend the hours available, and artificial surfaces to reduce the chances of being rained off.

How can I give bowls a try?

Make contact with your local club, or just drop in. You will be welcomed with open arms and invited to try out bowls without any obligation to join.

Many clubs now have new member schemes with designated people there to ensure newcomers are well looked after. Many also have a buddy scheme where newcomers are under the wing of an established member until they find their feet.

Uncertain where to go? Start with the Bowls New Zealand website below to find a local club.

Great Bowls Websites


This is the official website for Bowls New Zealand featuring everything you need to know about the sport and what is happening domestically and internationally. Check it out to find out more about the happenings in New Zealand.

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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