The game of Crown Green Bowls is a competitive sport played on bowling greens mainly in the north of England and the Midlands. The participants use two bowls, or ‘woods’ as they are called and a ‘jack’ to compete. The jack is a smaller bowl, sometimes white in colour, which is used as a target. The aim of the game is to score points by rolling your bowls closer to the jack than your opponent. A player scores one point for each bowl in a winning position up to a score of 21.The game usually involves only two players, though it can be played between four players competing as ‘doubles’ partners. When both players have delivered all their woods, it is called an ‘end’. The player who wins the end bowls the jack to start the next one. The player who bowls the jack for the first end at the start of the game is usually decided by tossing a coin. The bowlers carry a circular rubber mat on which to stand when bowling. This has to be placed within one metre of where the jack came to rest at the finish of the previous end.
There is a great deal of skill involved in the game due to the fact that the bowl, or 'wood' is not a true sphere but is weighted or 'biased on one side. This has the effect of causing the wood to turn in the direction of the bias when bowled on a flat part of the green. The biased side of the wood is demarcated by an indentation into which the bowler can position either his thumb or small finger, depending on whether he wants the bowl to turn right or left.
Unlike the game of lawn bowls played in the southern counties, crown green bowls is played on a green that has at least one or more raised areas or crowns. This can have a great influence on the natural run of the bowl and the anticipated directional change caused by the bias. Depending on the gradient of the slope on the crown and whether the bias side of the bowl is in the ‘finger’, or ‘thumb’ position the bowl may sometimes travel in a straight line as gravity and bias cancel each other out or in some cases where the crown is particularly severe, the wood may fall against the natural inclination of the bias and roll down the slope instead of up. In other circumstances, the slope of the crown can be made to work with the bias on the wood. This has the effect of making the bowl turn sharply and may even cause it to return back in the direction of the bowler.
Each bowler must try to follow the ‘land’ and ‘length’ of the jack in order to position their wood the closest to it. The ‘land’ is the track the jack has made across the green and the ‘length is the distance it has travelled before coming to rest. Some bowlers buy woods that have a stronger or weaker bias to the jack so that they can reach it by bowling over different land. This can be helpful in avoiding a collision with an opponents wood that is sitting directly on the land the jack took causing an obstruction. Bowlers also use woods of varying weights. In crown green bowls it is common for players to bowl long lengths across the diagonals of the green. These distances are more easily reached using a heavier bowl that will travel further, particularly on a wet, heavy green. In very hot, dry weather, the green tends to run much faster than normal and players have difficulty in controlling the length they are bowling. A lighter wood is more suited to these conditions Often a player will carry a number of pairs of woods and will decide which to use for a match when the playing conditions and opposition have been fully assessed.
No special clothing is required to play though most clubs insist on flat shoes to protect the green. Chasing the wood across the green or ‘running in’ is no longer allowed at most matches as this damages the green and may even cause a short bowl to run on further due to the vibrations that the bowlers footsteps make. (In the past, bowlers have been known to stamp alongside their woods in an attempt to make them roll further). However it is quite common for bowlers to talk to their woods as well as using hand gestures to try to influence the pace and direction of a miscued delivery.
Despite the traditional image of the game of bowls, crown green bowls is often played by young people who are fiercely competitive and passionate about the sport. Major competitions command large audiences and prize money can run into thousands of pounds with sponsorship deals and television coverage becoming increasingly commonplace. In recent years the game has come under threat due to the closure of bowling greens in public parks through vandalism and the financial implications involved in maintaining them.