Tim Lane of the Wheat City Bowling Club. (COLIN CORNEAU)
So what is it about lawn bowling that you like?
It’s a fascinating game. No matter how long you play at it, there’s still more to learn. And I like talking to the people — chewing the fat. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing a competitive game or a recreational game, it’s very civil — everybody has a chat and shakes hands. It’s nice!
You say it’s fascinating. What’s fascinating about it?
Well, everything’s constantly changing. You’re outside, you’re playing the game, everything’s going along nicely, the sun comes out and the wind starts to blow, and suddenly the green’s a little faster than it was — the draw widens up. A shower comes along on a different day, and suddenly the green’s REALLY fast for half-an-hour, and then it starts to slow down. You play long ends, you play short ends. The opposition’s always got a different trick up their sleeve, you’ve got tricks up your sleeves something’s always changing in bowls.
We refer to our projectiles as bowls as opposed to balls, because ours aren’t round. They’re round on one axis, and lopsided on the other axis. So when you deliver them, depending on whether you put — we call it the bias — to the left or the right, the bowl will draw to the left or the right like a curling stone.
So lawn bowling is kind of like curling and bowling rolled into one?
Yes. Actually, it’s the ancestor of curling. Curling’s what the Scotsmen did when they couldn’t do this in the wintertime.
Is this always a summer sport?
It’s quite popular indoors where there’s indoor facilities. We don’t have an indoor facility here, and that’s OK with me, because I can find other things to do in the wintertime.
Are you keen to get out here, though, the second the weather turns?
Oh yeah. When spring comes, you’re ready to go and play some bowls.
Who maintains the property? Is it all volunteers?
Yes — the club members maintain it. All the resources come from club dues.
How many members do you have?
We’ll probably have about 20 this year. We could use 30 or 40 more — it’d be a lot nicer. We could easily handle 70. Everybody’d get lots of play. And that’s without having an extra draw in the afternoon, and it would be really nice if we had an extra draw in the afternoon.
We play Monday through Thursday at 7. So if anybody’s interested in coming down and trying it, everybody gets one free try, anyway — one free night of trying. And if they’re here at quarter to or 10 to seven, we’ll give them basic instructions and get them in a game that evening. Everybody’ll help coach them along and get them going. After that, if people want to come out, they can either join the club, or this year we’ve just instituted you can pay $5 a night just to come out and freelance. And you’ll be just lopped in with everybody else and have some fun.
Do you play in teams or as individuals?
It’s a bit odd that way, this sport. You can play on teams of one, two, three, or four. Four is much like curling — each player has two bowls. Triples you play three bowls each. Pairs and singles you play four bowls.
We play mostly pairs and triples here. We see how many people show up and figure out how to divide that into even teams.
So is the object of the game to get rid of the other person’s bowls?
No — much like in curling, the object of the game is to get the bowls closer to, rather than a button, a little white ball that’s called the jack.
And it’s fixed?
No — it can move. So once you know what you’re doing, playing well, you can hit the jack and move it over to some more of your bowls to score extra points. Or you can just haul off and fire at it and see if you can knock it out and save yourself from giving up a lot of points.
This is a much more — well, complicated is not really the word we want here — but there’s a lot more to this game than people would think.
It sounds like chess, almost.
There’s a certain element of that, yes. There’s a lot of strategy goes into it. At the recreational level, it’s just roll the bowls up and down the green and have some fun. I don’t throw a lot of drives here knocking jacks around playing recreationally because people don’t like that! (laughs) But when you’re playing in a competition, that’s a whole different story, and it’s a skill you need.
So you compete? Provincially? Nationally?
Yes, I’ve been in the Nationals three times, and we’ve got a couple of other players who’ve been there a couple of times. And we try and host a provincial championship each year — it doesn’t always happen, but we apply for them every year so that our players get a chance to play at a higher level without having to travel to Winnipeg. We’ve hosted quite a few provincial tournaments — this year, we’re hosting the seniors’ triples, both the men’s and the women’s.
This sport’s been around for a long time, right?
Yes, variants of lawn bowls have been played at least back to the Egyptians — they rolled stone balls at a little cone-shaped thing that sat on the ground. And then there’s more than a dozen variations of bocce and pétanque around the world, whether they roll them on the ground or fling them through the air. Some of those bocce games are more like horseshoes than lawn bowls. This just happens to be basically the British Isles variant of all those roll-something-at-something-else games. And it’s played at the Commonwealth Games — it’s not at the Olympics, but it is at the Commonwealth Games. I know a couple of women from Winnipeg who have played at the Commonwealth Games, and several other places around the world at international tournaments. If somebody wanted to take this game up and they were a serious competitive player, the sky’s pretty much the limit. And the people I know who have made it that far are just ordinary human beings — they’re not Greek gods. So it’s an achievable sport. You don’t have to be a professional athlete to do well at it.
Most organizations these days, whether they’re social or service clubs or whatever, are kind of crying out for younger members. Would you like to see some youngsters come out?
Oh yes. We haven’t got any kids here right now. I used to be the young one. I’m still one of the younger ones, but that’s not really helpful anymore. But we’re more than open to anybody who wants to come. As far as younger kids — 12 or so — we’d like somebody to be along who’s responsible for them — we’re not running a babysitting service.
But 12 is about the guideline?
Yeah — you’ve got to have a certain amount of maturity to behave yourself and a certain amount of size just to roll the bowls up the length of the green, and the hand/eye co-ordination that develops about the time you’re getting close to being a teenager.
But if you’re looking for something that a parent can do with a child, whether the parent’s 30 and the child’s 14 or the parent’s 80 and the child’s 55, they can come down and play this and have some fun together.
You mentioned that the evening draw is at 7. During the day, though, can somebody come down and play? Is there somebody around?
There’s usually nobody here, but if we knew somebody wanted to come, the place would be open. We’re always looking to make it so people can come down and play. Even on the weekends, if people are interested in coming, we’ll make sure the place is open and give them some equipment and give them instruction and get them going.
Our goal is to popularize the sport. And you can’t do that unless people have the opportunity to come down here and do it.
You seem really smitten by this. I mean, if people are willing to give that kind of time to encouraging other folks to do it, that’s pretty impressive.
Well, if people aren’t playing it, there won’t be a game. You’ve got to keep banging away and trying to encourage people to get out and play. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s this sport or any other sport, if people aren’t playing it, it’s gone.
And you’d like to think it would continue. This club’s been here almost a hundred years — they’ve been playing lawn bowls in Brandon at one club or another for well over a hundred years now. At one time there were four clubs in Brandon, and now there are technically two there’s us and the Stanley Park Club.
What’s kept you interested in bowls all these years? Its many incarnations and all the possibilities?
It gets in the blood. Lawn bowlers, once they’ve been at it a few years, they’re pretty faithful. People keep coming out. You know, they say it’s a seniors’ game, but it’s just that people start when they’re not that old, but they just keep doing it! People start playing this game, they get devoted to it. And it’s great because it’s affordable. And it’s close at hand. An evening recreational game is just an hour-and-a-half out of your life. But it’s a nice location (Rideau Park), usually the kids are playing in the swimming pool so you’ve got nice background noises, you’re active, you get a little fresh air, some exercise, talk to some people, get a little sociability out of it. What more could you ask?
For more information, contact Wheat City Lawn Bowling Club president Chris Moore at 726-0493 or by email at email@example.com
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 16, 2012