Learn to Play

Lawn Bowls is the game that takes a second to learn – but a lifetime to master. 

Lawn Bowls is a precision sport in which the aim is to roll bowls (slightly radially asymmetrical balls) closest to a smaller yellow/white ball (the “jack” or “kitty”). It is played indoors and outdoors on grass or artificial surfaces.

Lawn bowls is usually played on a rectangular, level manicured grass or synthetic surface known as a “green” which is divided into parallel playing strips known as rinks.

In a singles competition, one opponent flips a coin to see who commences a segment of the competition (known as an “end”), by laying the mat and rolling the jack to the other end of the green to serve as a target. Once it has come to rest, the jack is aligned to the centre of the rink and players take turns to roll their bowls from the mat towards the jack and thereby build up the “head” (the cluster of bowls around the jack).

Bowls may curve outside the boundary of the rink, but must come to rest within the boundary to remain in play. Bowls falling into the ditch (at the end of the green) are dead and removed from play – with the exception of when one 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.

Similarly, if the jack falls into the ditch it remains alive. The exception to this when the jack finishes beyond the side boundary, resulting in a “dead” end which is either replayed or replaced on a designated spot – depending on the rules of the competition.  Once each competitor has delivered all bowls (two, three or four depending on the competition), the distance from the jack to the closest bowl(s) is determined, and one point (called “shots”) is awarded for each competitor’s bowl which is closer than the opponent’s closest bowl to the jack. For example, where a competitor has three bowls closer to the jack than their opponent’s, they are awarded three shots. The exercise is then repeated for the next end, across a designated number of ends.

Game formats

There are several different formats in which lawn bowls can be played – each designed to cater for the needs of differing audiences.  Finding the right version of the game to suit your needs is all you need to do to enjoy the sport of bowls. 

Traditional Bowls (pennant) is available in all states and is played on a seasonal basis.  For those who are time-poor, there are several versions of social bowls which are a much shorter and sharper version of the game. Jack Attack is a newly developed participation format of the game now available at over 100 clubs around Australia – for more information, click here.

There are also many social formats which can be played at almost every club in Australia, which are ideal for corporate days, business bowls, bucks/hens nights and many other social games.


Social Bowls are played in a friendly, fun-filled and relaxed atmosphere. Social Bowls can be run differently from club to club, however, these events are essentially about getting a group of people together and putting down some bowls for fun. Social Bowls may still include scoring and prizes for winners, but the focus is enjoying the game. Clubs will provide bowls for use for players who do not have their own and there are no clothing requirements, although clubs may have request flat-soled shoes or for players to go barefoot. Bowls Australia have developed a great Social Bowls programme called Jack Attack, which has been adopted by many clubs in Western Australia. To book a Social Bowls event or to find out more, contact your local club.


Barefoot Bowls is a close variation on Social Bowls, with players participating, as the term suggests, barefoot. This feeling of freedom tends to relax most players, encouraging a more informal and fun mood throughout play. Whilst some clubs have organised specific Barefoot Bowls days, the game can be connected with any type of activity, whether it’s a birthday party, Christmas party, special event or just a catch up with friends. Contact your local club to book your game of Barefoot Bowls or find out more.


Community bowls (sometimes called Corporate Bowls) are organised bowls events. Generally this will be in the form of a competition held over several weeks with local businesses, community groups or club sponsors entering teams to compete. Although an organised event the competition is generally more relaxed, fun and social in nature. Apart from flat soled shoes or playing barefoot as requirements to protect the green surface no bowls specific clothing is needed. Clubs may also welcome Community Bowls events can also be held as one-off competitions within an individual organisation or business. These are often in the form of a team building, corporate social day or Xmas party. Contact your local club to find out if they have a Community Bowls event or to book a Community bowls day.


Pennant Bowls is the largest graded inter-club competition held in Western Australia, with over 12,000 participants across the state. Generally held in the warmer months, from October to April, the first Pennant Bowls competition in WA was held in 1899. Club members play in a team uniform similar to One Day or 20/20 cricket. The highest grade in the metropolitan area is Premier Division, with further grades from 1st to 6th division, depending on the competition. Most clubs will have multiple teams with selectors who choose players based on skill, ability and team comradery. In the metropolitan area, two competitions are available for men on Saturday and Thursday, whilst women can play on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. In the country, pennant competitions differ, however the vast majority of clubs play within leagues from surrounding towns and districts. To find out more about playing Pennant Bowls, contact your local club.