Selecting a lawn bowl is a very personal thing and there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a bowl. There are now over 30 different models of bowl available in the UK, each with a different bias, in eight sizes (00-6), four weights (medium, medium heavy, heavy and extra heavy), with at least six different types of grip, not to mention the vast array of colours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of bowlers who are playing with the wrong size bowl or get lost before they even start is considerable.
Hopefully below I’ve answered some, if not all of your questions, which will enable you to make an informed choice about which set of bowls will suit you best.
In all honesty the brand of a bowl is the least important factor when buying a set of bowls, as all bowls manufacturers produce good quality products which conform to standards laid down by World Bowls. Each manufacturer offers a wide range of bowls and the majority of bowlers will be able to find the right bowl from one of them. Most established bowlers will have a personal preference which often comes about by trying out different bowls either by having a go with a clubmate’s bowls or at their local bowls retailer. In the end, most bowls are chosen on price and availability
There are several manufacturers of lawn bowls in the UK. The models are shown in brackets.
- Taylor Bowls (Lazer, Vector VS, Blaze, Ace, International, Legacy SL, Lignoid)
- Henselite (Dreamline, Tiger II, Classic II, Tiger, Classic)
- Drakes Pride (Advantage, Fineline, Professional, Jazz)
- Almark (Sterling Gold, Sterling Slim-Line, Arrow)
Sizing your bowl is perhaps the most important aspect of selecting a lawn bowl. Get it wrong and you’ll either be hitting the opposite banking with a thud or dropping it at your feet. As a guide, most men will play with a bowl between the sizes of 3 and 5, with 3 being the smaller bowl of the two. Ladies will usually play with bowls between 00 and 2 in size, again with 00 being the smaller of the two.
To find out which size of bowl is best suited to you, wrap both of your hands around the widest running surface of the bowl so that your thumbs touch at the bottom and your middle fingers touch at the top to form a circle around the bowl. If you can achieve this without too much of a gap at the top of the bowl this will probably be the correct size of bowl for you.
Secondly, holding the bowl as if about to deliver, swing your arm forward and backward. If you can maintain a firm and comfortably grip on the bowl then this is another tick in the box.
And finally, with your arm stretched out in front of you hold the bowl upside down. If after 30 seconds your arm begins to ache or shake, the bowl is probably too big for you. If however, you maintain a firm and comfortable grip on the bowl, this will confirm that this is more than likely the correct size of bowl for you.
You might even like to try the same routine with the next size of bowl to ensure that you’re not playing with a bowl that is too small – you should always play with the largest and heaviest bowl that you’re able to comfortably deliver and control.
If you belong to a club ask a fellow member if you can borrow their bowls so that you can test them for size. They may even allow you to have a roll-up with them to see how well you manage. Or you can always visit your local bowls retailer who will have a variety of bowls for you to try out.
In general there are two weights – medium and heavy – although some manufacturers do offer medium heavy and extra heavy as options. The weight of a bowl is indicated on the bowl by the number and letter on the side of the bowl, i.e. 3H is a size three bowl with a heavy weight, 2M is a size two bowl with a medium weight.
The difference in weight should be considered alongside the size of the bowl in terms of what happens during a bowls match. A small, medium weight bowl will get knocked around by a larger, heavier one, while a larger, heavier bowl will have more momentum and is more likely to stand its ground. If it’s comfortable for the bowler we would always recommend buying a heaver bowl no matter what size of bowl they have chosen.
Indoor or outdoor?
If you mainly play indoor bowls, then I would recommend a bowl with a narrower bias such as a Taylor Lazer, Vector VS or Blaze, a Henselite Classic II or Tiger Pro or a Drakes Pride Fineline or Advantage. Otherwise you could find yourself aiming at the far end of the next rink in order for the bowl to swing back to the head.
Unless of course you’re a confident bowler, prefer a wider bias or play at the back end, in which case you might also consider a Taylor Ace or International, a Henselite Tiger or Tiger II or a Drakes Pride Professional or Jazz.
If you’re a hardier breed and spend your summer enjoying the delights of the British summer then the bias of the bowl is less important unless you play at number three or skip when you may have to negotiate your way around the other bowls.
Choosing the bias of your bowl largely depends on whether you are an indoor or outdoor bowler and what position you play in pairs, triples or fours (rinks). If you largely bowl indoors then I would recommend a bowl with a narrower bias. But if you bowl outdoors a bowl with a wider bias is likely to suit your needs.
If you’re just starting out in the game I would advise you to start with a bowl with a narrow to medium bias as you will probably be asked to play at number one or two where your primary task is to place your bowl as close to the jack as possible. Playing in these positions will also give you an opportunity to find your line and weight.
Bowls with a narrow to medium bias (best for indoor) include:
- Taylor Bowls (Lazer, Vector VS, Blaze, Ace)
- Henselite (Dreamline, Tiger II, Classic II)
- Drakes Pride (Advantage, Fineline, Professional)
- Almark (Arrow, Sterling Slimline)
Bowls with a medium to wide bias (best for outdoor) include:
- Taylor Bowls (Ace, International, Legacy SL, Lignoid)
- Henselite (Classic II, Classic, Tiger)
- Drakes Pride (Professional, Jazz)
- Almark (Sterling Slimline, Sterling Gold)
Generally, an indoor bowl is designed to have a much narrower bias than an outdoor bowl, while an outdoor bowl usually has much too wide a swing for use indoors and can be difficult to control. When I say indoor bowls I am not referring to short mat bowls – you could get away with using your indoor or outdoor bowls in a game of short mat bowls but there are bowls designed specifically for this format of the game – Stevens and Drakes Price being the better known.
If you search Google Images using the terms taylor bias chart, henselite bias chart, drakes pride bias chart and almark bias chart you will find a chart which illustrates the bias (the lines which the bowls take) of each bowl in the manufacturer’s range of bowls.
Grips are the indented rings or indentations around the sides of the bowl that offer somewhere to place your thumb and fingers when delivering the bowl. These provide a more secure grip and better control, particularly in cold and wet or hot, sweaty conditions. If you mainly bowl indoors then the grips are less important.
There are various types of grip (deep dimple, shallow dimple, progrips, crescent grooves, vertical grooves) available depending on the manufacturer and model, so I would suggest trying out bowls with different grips before reaching a decision. Again, if you belong to a bowls club ask your fellow members if you can have a roll-up with their bowls to get a better idea of what is more comfortable and suited to your style of bowling.
Originally all bowls were made from hard lignum wood and were therefore brown in colour. When composition bowls were introduced they were invariably black. Today, bowls are available in almost 50 colours, shades and patterns and although they are slightly more expensive the gap in price is narrowing. The colour of your bowls is a purely personal choice.
A new set of bowls will cost between £160 and £230, so at The Bowls Locker, unless the customer is certain that they know what they want, we would always recommend that beginners purchase a second-hand set of bowls for between £30 and £120. These can often be purchased via your club noticeboard, some bowls retailers or alternatively have a look on Ebay where there is always a healthy stock of second-hand bowls for sale. As long as the bowls are not more than 15 years old (you can determine the age of a bowl by examining the oval or rectangular stamp on the side of the bowl – the manufacturer’s 10-year guarantee stamp) and no serious scrapes or gouges (minor surface scratches will not affect the performance of the bowl) they will suit your purpose. And should you subsequently decide to change your bowls, a second-hand set of bowls will only lose a fraction of its original cost when you come to sell them on.
I hope that you’ve found this guide useful. If you require any further guidance I would be happy to help. You can contact me at The Bowls Locker.
Whatever format of the game you choose to play and whichever bowls you choose to buy, I hope that you not only enjoy the game but also the friendships you make and the vibrant social scene which go with it.
Tom Rigby is a partner at The Bowls Locker, a shop and online store supplying bowlers and bowls clubs across the UK, Europe and beyond with a wide range of bowls, clothing, shoes, bags, accessories and club equipment from brands including Taylor Bowls, Henselite, Drakes Pride, Emsmorn, VerdeMat, Stevens and Welkin.