What is Lawn Bowling? (Hint: It’s Not the Same as Bocce)

You’ve no doubt about lawn bowling. But did you know it’s not the same as bocce? Or that there are professional events held around the world? Read on to learn more.


Lawn bowling is a game that’s very common across the UK and in other parts of the world.

If you’ve seen people playing a game of “Bowls,” then you might have noticed how similar it is to the Italian game of “Bocce.”

Both Lawn bowling and Bocce require a great deal of focus and presence of mind to play well.

Although the games seem relatively straightforward from an outsider’s perspective, they require several years of practice if you want to become a true champion.

Lawn bowling and Bocce are both an excellent way to spend a warm afternoon in a local garden or field, but they’re not the same thing.

Here, we’re going to introduce you to the wonderful world of lawn bowling and help you to discover the differences between this game, and Bocce.

An Introduction to Lawn Bowling

Lawn Bowling Guide

Lawn bowling or “bowls” is a casual sport where the objective is to roll a biased or weighted ball so that it stops as close as possible to a smaller, target ball named the kitty, or Jack.

The first set of lawn bowling rules was published in 1864, by a cotton merchant in Glasgow called William Wallace Mitchell.

These rules still form the basis of how we play Bowls today, although some people have also adopted their own versions of the game.

All you need to play a game of Bowls is a set of foot mats, a playing surface, the jack (or kitty) and a set of bowls.

The balls used for lawn bowling are available in a variety of sizes, but they all have a bias in weight which causes them to roll in a curved path. Your ability to judge where your ball will end up is where the challenge of the game comes in.

In a game of Bowls, the green is split into individual rinks, where games are played one vs one, two vs. two, triples or in fours.

A point is awarded to any player whose bowl ends up the closest to the jack at the end of a round. The number of points needed to win a game can vary, but usually the first player or team to reach 18 or 21 points is declared the winner.

Players can also use “sets” where the first person to score a certain amount of point wins a set.

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Lawn Bowling Rules

Lawn Bowling Rules

There are various rules involved in lawn bowling. Some people also add their own rules over time.

Some of the most common guidelines include:

  • The first player to play is decided by the toss of a coin. This bowler rolls the Jack over the green.
  • The Jack needs to travel 23 meters to be in play. It is then moved to the center of the rink.
  • The players take it in turns to bowl, acquiring points when their ball ends up closer to the Jack than the competition.
  • At the end of each game, play can recommence in the opposite direction.
  • Bowls that fall into the ditch (the sloped segment at the end of the pitch) are disregarded.
  • You can strike other people’s bowls with your own to gain an advantage.
  • If the Jack is knocked into a ditch, it’s still alive and in play.

A Brief History of Lawn Bowling

It’s believed that the history of Lawn Bowling goes back as far as the 12th century, offering people a fun way to get active, without requiring a lot of physical stress.

As the game of Bowls became increasingly popular over the years, it was banned in the UK for a short time, because the King and Parliament believed that the game might jeopardise how much time people spent practicing archery and other valuable war-related sports.

The first association designed for lawn bowling emerged in the late 1800s, and it was known as the National Bowling Association.

In Australia, the Victorian Bowling Association was the first to arrive in 1880. Now, there are more than 50 countries worldwide where Lawn Bowling is played regularly, and professionally.

Lawn Bowling vs. Bocce

Lawn Bowling Match

At first glance, Lawn Bowling and Bocce appear to be very similar.

In both games, you attempt to get your ball or “bowl” as close to the Jack (also known as a pallino in Bocce) as possible.

Additionally, Bocce is frequently listed under the French word for bowls, “Boule” which adds to the confusion.

However, there are some major differences between the two games to be aware of, including:

1.     The Balls Used

Perhaps the biggest difference in Lawn bowling vs Bocce is the shape of the balls.

Bocce Balls are wholly round and can travel easily towards Jack. The throwing technique of the player determines how the ball will travel.

On the other hand, a Lawn Bowl is not completely round, and it’s weighted in a way that requires it to travel in a curved path.

Because Lawn Bowling rules don’t allow for the addition of weights, players rely entirely on the shape of the bowl to provide the curve.

It’s also worth noting that a lawn bowl is often much bigger than a bocce ball. The average lawn bowl is between 116 mm and 127 mm in diameter. On the other hand, a standard Bocce ball is 107 mm.

Even the color of the balls in these two games are different. Bocce sets come with eight balls in blue and red. On the other hand, lawn bowls are usually in black, or brown.

2. Differences in Technique

If you’ve ever watched players in a game of Lawn Bowling, you’ll often find that the way they throw the bowl often differs greatly to the way that people use a ball for Bocce.

In Bocce, most professional players will use an underhand throw to deliver the ball, much like in softball.

Everyone has their own technique, but you’ll usually throw the ball into the air to help it reach the Jack.

On the other hand, in lawn bowling, you’ll roll your bowl as close to the floor as possible, just like with typical bowling.

This means that you can’t play lawn bowling on certain surfaces like sand, but you could easily have a game of Bocce on the beach.

3. Varieties of Court

As mentioned above, another major point to consider when looking at lawn bowling vs Bocce is that the court sizes and playing surfaces are often different.

The way the balls are shaped in both games and the way they need to travel will have an impact on the court. In lawn bowling, regulations are very specific, thanks to the unusual shape of the bowls and the way that you need to deliver the bowl. Uneven surfaces and sand would make it impossible for the ball to roll.

In lawn bowling, a grass playing surface is necessary to ensure that balls can roll towards the Jack smoothly.

Most rinks are at least 120 feet by 19 feet, which is larger than any Bocce court.

On the other hand, a Bocce ball court can be around 90 by 13 feet.

For casual games, the court can be as large or as small as you like.

Because of the air-time involved in Bocce, there’s a lot more flexibility available for the type of court too. Your playing surface might be grass, dirt, synthetic carpets or sand.

In Bocce ball, players often carefully adjust their technique to suit the surface that they’re playing on.

4. Difference in Origin

Finally, another major difference between lawn bowling and Bocce ball, is that they each have their own unique history.

Lawn bowling dates back to the 12th century in London. One biography from the Archbishop of Canterbury reveals details about a game like lawn bowling that was called Jactus Lapidum at the time.

Interestingly, the origins of Bocce ball date back to ancient Egypt. One tomb painting that goes back to 5200 BC depicts two men playing a game that seems very similar to Bocce.

Some experts even believe that the game could date back further than this. In Turkey, stone balls have been uncovered that are similar in style to Bocce balls.

During the Punic wars of 246 BC, soldiers in the Roman war were already playing games that had rules very similar to Bocce ball.

Lawn Bowling Vs. Bocce

Both lawn bowling and Bocce ball are fun games that require both focus and skill to perfect.

Once you understand the difference between the two games, you’ll find it’s much easier to play each one effectively.

Whether you choose to play Bocce ball or Lawn bowling, you’re sure to have plenty of fun.

We recommend trying both options to see which one you enjoy the most.


Top Image Credit: Flickr