Bowls Explained

Teen Bowlser, Boy playing bowls, BowlsWales

Are You New to Bowls?

Bowls is a unique sport.

It is fully inclusive and anyone can play it at any age, ability or fitness level - so why not start today?

Bowls Trophy

Rules of the Game

The Set Up

Bowls can be played both indoors and outdoors, on grass or artificial surfaces.

Bowls is played on a square, level manicured grass or synthetic surface known as a “green”, which is divided into playing areas called rinks. The green is surrounded by a small ditch to catch bowls which leave the green.

The rules of the game are pretty easy – players take it in turn to deliver their bowls from a mat at one end of the rink towards 'the jack' (a small white ball) at the other end. The aim of the game is to get one or more of your bowls closer to the jack than those of your opponents on each end.

Despite the rules being easy, the fact that bowls are slightly asymmetrical in shape makes them hard to control with accuracy. They do not travel in a straight line, so it can take years of practice to expertly master bowls.

Bowls can be played in singles, pairs, triples and four-player teams (known as a 'rink').


The Game

Games are divided into what are called 'ends'.

To begin a game a coin is flipped to decide which team/individual goes first. The first player (the lead) places the mat and rolls the jack to the other end of the green as a target.

The jack must travel at least 23m and when it stops, it is placed in the centre of the rink, and all players take turns to deliver their bowls.

When all the bowls have been played, a competitor (in singles matches) or team gets one point for each of their bowls that is closer to the jack than their opponent's closest bowl. For example, where a competitor has three bowls closer to the jack than their opponent’s, they are awarded three points.

Sometimes bowls roll and fall into the ditch. These are considered to be 'dead' and are removed from play. However there is one exception - when a bowl has made a connection with the jack (known as a 'toucher'). 'Touchers' are marked with chalk and remain alive in play even if they fall into the ditch.

After all the bowls have been played, the direction of play on the green is reversed. This is the end of that 'end' (section of that game). The exercise is then repeated for the next end, across a designated number of ends.

When playing as a team, the 'skip', always plays last, and is key in delivering the team's strategy during the game.

Whilst Crown Green and Short Mat are considered similar to Lawn Bowls, they have some very different rules…


BowlsWales is committed to making Bowls a safe sport for all its members.

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