Pennant bowls is without doubt the driving force of bowls clubs through out Western Australia being the major participation based competition held annually from October to April each season.
The origins of pennant competition began in 1898 when the three constituted clubs Swan, Fremantle and Perth agreed to play in competition. It was agreed they would play each other three times – once on their own ground, once on the opponent’s ground and once on a neutral green. The winner of the first pennant competition, which was for fours on three rinks, was the Fremantle Club. Fremantle won five of six matches, Swan three and Perth one.
In 1901/02 a B Grade Pennant was established with A Grade having grown to a six team competition over 10 home and away rounds of competition. The B Grade had four teams playing in two rink competition with home and away matches and a third neutral green match.
After calls for change a new format was introduced in 1911 with the first introduction of divisions as teams were separated geographically playing in either Western or Eastern division and the division winners playing off for the Pennant. That system was changed somewhat in 1913 when the half the season was played under the same geographical format however then the top 4 teams from both divisions played each other for the major Pennant whilst the remainder played for the Minor Pennant.
In 1921 further expansion saw a Central Division added to the already existing Western and Eastern Divisions and another change occurred when the highest grade played as a six rink competition which allowed more bowlers to take part in pennants. However further change wasn’t far away as the return to four rinks pushed the competition out to four separate grades of competition which then became five in 1930/31.
Two new competitions where introduced in the 1930’s with a Men’s Midweek two rink Competition and the formation of the Women’s Association in 1935 saw Women’s Pennants played on a Tuesday.
Throughout the next forty years the competition expanded significantly and at one stage grew to 10 divisions which included up to 4 regions within them until in 1979-80 with WA starting to emerge on the National scene as a genuine force it was decided the top players needed more regular competitive matches. The 1st Division competition became graded and 1st Division Red, White, Blue and Gold emerged. Many top players changed clubs to be part of the 1st Division Red competition.
In November 1987 the Australian Bowling Council gave the approval for the use of coloured clothing which was quickly adopted within Western Australia and introduced into club uniform however the sport itself was seeing a decline in numbers having reached its peak in the mid 80’s. This trend has continued ever since. In 1994/95 after much debate and player surveys it was agreed to reduce the long held tradition of 25 ends matches to 21 ends for Men’s Saturday Pennant Competition.
The mid nineties also saw Ladies clubs establish separate Friday Night and Saturday Competitions primarily for working women who couldn’t compete in the tradition Tuesday matches. These proved popular and where eventually adopted and ran under the auspicious of the WA Ladies Bowling Association as official pennant competitions in 2000/01 season.
2004 saw the unification of the Men’s and Women’s Associations and the formation of Bowls WA as it’s known today. The women adopted a similar pennant structure to the Men with 1st Red, 1st White and 1 Blue/Green (North and South) being the top grades of competition followed by 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th division. 2006 saw 1st Red changed in name to Premier League, Bowls WA continued to explore ways to invigorate pennant competition through out its clubs with player surveys and club input.
After much discussion Pennants in WA was set for another major change in 2016/17 with divisions changing to 8 teams only in a 14 week season with Premier League the top grade competition and four colours within 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th division however the clubs vetoed this arrangements at the AGM and the existing system was retained.