The Rules of Lawn Bowling

February 10, 2009 by lawn bowls 

Because the rules of lawn bowling can vary slightly from club to club, beginners can often become overwhelmed at the seemingly large amount of rules in lawn bowling. Truthfully, there are only a few basic rules but the best way to learn them is simply by playing the game and practicing with people who are familiar with the rules of lawn bowling. Even though each club has slightly different rules, there are some basics of bowls that cannot be diverted from. Here are the generally accepted rules of lawn bowling.

Lawn bowling is played on a green, which is divided up into 6 rinks and each rink is 20 feet wide x 120 feet long. The mat is laid at one end of the rink and the target or jack is laid at least 23 meters away from the mat. The object of the game is to get your bowls as close as possible to the jack and/or knocking your opponent’s bowl away from the jack.

When releasing the bowl, each player must have one foot near the mat. Scoring works by giving each team one point for every bowl they have closer to the jack than the other team. This is called the count. The length of the game will depend on the club. 14, 15, 18, or 21 ends can be played, but usually 21 ends are played. Sometimes the game will simply be played on a points system but this is more common in individual play. Usually the teams are made up of 4 players but singles, pairs, and triples can also be played.

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48 Responses to “The Rules of Lawn Bowling”

  1. Tony Woods on December 22nd, 2009 6:43 pm

    I am confused. I was under the impression that, when releasing a bowl towards the direction of the jack, the player MUST have one foot ON the mat not near the mat as your Rules say above. Could you, please clarify for me?


  2. m jones on February 7th, 2010 1:36 pm

    question at local club Could you please clarify if a bowl has to travel a certain distance from the mat ? Q2 Playing indoors recently a bowl on the next green touched our bowl; the bowls were returned too the head the player involved changed his shot to the other hand is this allowed

  3. maureen morris on June 8th, 2010 1:02 pm

    is it legal for a bowler to walk to the head with a bowl on their last bowl

  4. Roy Edwards on August 14th, 2010 11:36 am

    1. In outdoor bowls one foot must be fully on the mat before delivery, at the moment of delivery they should have all or part of one foot on or above the mat. (law 20)
    In Indoor Bowls, at the moment of delivery a player shall haveall or part of one foot within the confines of the mat, in contact or above the mat ( law 19)
    2. Law 32D 1a. states that if a bowl on its original course is disturbed by a neutral object( includes a bowl from another rink) it shall be replayed. there is no ruling that the bowl should be replayed on the same hand, or weight.
    3. Yes. law 27.2 outdoor, law 30 ii indoor

  5. nobby on September 8th, 2010 8:59 am

    if i bowl and my bowl wicks off another bowl then hits the jack is it classed as a touch er

  6. Edinburghump on October 13th, 2010 1:02 pm

    In answer to the questions above, in order:
    Tony: A part of one foot must be on or above the mat at the point of delivery otherwise it would be footfaulting.
    M Jones: A bowl must travel a minimum of 14 metres to be classed as legal. If two bowls touch, the players are allowed to replay them (there is nothing to prevent them changing their preferred shot – the displaced bowl is taken as having never been played)
    Maureen: A bowler can carry their bowl to the head if they wish.

  7. donald coleman on November 12th, 2010 7:27 pm

    will you clarify ruling of a wood fired into the ditch hits the Jack already in the ditch and moves from it’s marked position out of the rink marker, is this dead end, or do you replace the Jack as the wood was not a toucher,
    thanks Slim

  8. David on January 24th, 2011 5:44 pm

    Question ?
    I have just played in a match with a member of the other side playing with two bowls from one set and the other from a different set ( ie not matching woods)
    one had a very narrow bias to the other two.
    Is it allowed to bowel in a match using unmatched woods ?
    Or using Crown green woods ?

    I welcome your comments.

  9. Vincent O'Keeffe on February 11th, 2011 1:33 am

    is it permitted / legal to play pennant bowls in the position of east/west as well as north/south? is there a rule that states you cannot play pennant in either direction?

  10. Beverly Smith on March 11th, 2011 6:52 pm

    In a league, or series of matches, –if a team withdraws from the competition before completing all their matches, how does that affect the remaining teams results?

  11. Dale on March 18th, 2011 5:22 pm

    In tournament play and three teams tie for second place, how is the tie broken. Is it by counting the points each team gets over the other team? Additional is the a max number of points that one team can have over the other, say the score is 13 to 3, can the wining team get 10 points for that end

  12. carl on May 12th, 2011 6:00 pm

    Hi all
    Ihave a query can you help
    If the bowler on starting an end bowls the jack short
    The second bowler then bowls the jack
    ok so far
    then the second bowler wronglly bowls the first bowl
    then the opponent bowls his first bowl
    it is then noticed that they boweled in the wrong order….what is the next action

  13. jimmy d on June 15th, 2011 8:46 am

    i was playing a singles match when my opponnent delivered an illegal jack i then delivered a legal jack then we played 3 bowls each out of sequence when my opponent noticed this and then declared the end dead is this correct or should he have delivered his last bowl first and then mine or should the head be left as it stood

  14. John Archer on July 9th, 2011 9:24 pm

    I am constantly being reminded / reprimanded by older members of my club plus an over officious umpire of non compliance with the lawn bowls rules of etiquette.
    I thoroughly enjoy my bowls (3 years now) and I tend to show my enjoyment by clapping a good shot from either side. I also have been reprimanded by an umpire playing in a club match when I raised a clenched fist to celebrate a wick by the “other side” that gave us a point. We were on the losing side and the umpire stopped me in the middle of the rink to advise me i was not abiding with the rules of etiquette. Please advise.

  15. J Dodd on July 26th, 2011 10:14 am

    A jack is knocked out of the rink creating a dead end, is the bowling side penalised one point for this?

  16. Brian Hoskins on August 13th, 2011 9:49 am

    Can anyone tell me the origin of the word “wick” relative to lawn bowls.

  17. JOHN NISBET on September 1st, 2011 10:31 am

    What is your view of straigh bowls Think there was talk years ago of a ban being placed on same cup game last night one man played straigh bowls and the another bais’d So what is the opinion of this

  18. Rob Cantin on September 8th, 2011 7:23 pm

    How does one get get an “Handicap” in Lawn Bowls? and How does it works?


  19. Bob Welford on September 13th, 2011 11:03 pm

    Most Indoor Clubs have a 2 metre “T” stuck to the carpet. Should the jack be placed in front or behind the “T” ? I know the rule is different for Association and Federation codes.

  20. graham brear on September 26th, 2011 10:14 am

    in a game of triples i saw the number 22standing with his skip..i was al ways told that in triples this is not allowed as he should stay at the other end with the number 1 just leaving the skips at the other end please can some one confirm thank you …..

  21. ryan on November 8th, 2011 10:57 am

    what should you do if the bowl hits the jack?

  22. Don Zahner on November 16th, 2011 1:12 am

    If I am part of a winning Open Club 4s Team, and have not won any “Open” , “A” or “B” Singles event, can I still play in any of the “B” grade competitions?

  23. roy pickering on January 28th, 2012 10:36 pm

    I play in a trip;es league. my question is:-
    does the mat have to be at the T at the outset of the game?

  24. Arthur R on February 4th, 2012 2:09 pm

    I am amazed that so many people are playing Bowls and they have obviously not even read the Laws of the Game.
    Some Laws differ between Indoor and Outdoor Bowls, such as the law on Footfaulting, and Keeping the score card.
    And some laws may need claritying/explaining, but there is NO EXCUSE for playing the game and not reading the RULES.

  25. Bob Welford on February 4th, 2012 2:41 pm

    In answer to Roy above, Association Rules allow the front of the mat to be placed anywhere between the ‘T’ (2m from the rear ditch) and 25m from the front ditch at the start of the match. Federation rules require the mat to be placed with the front of the mat exactly on the ‘T’ for the first end only. Thereafter it may be placed anywhere between 2m and 4m from the rear ditch.

  26. Dennis Williams on February 28th, 2012 7:11 am

    Good Morning,

    I am asking this question in laymen terms as I am not a seasonal bowler!
    Once the game starts, and the bowlers bowl their balls, can a player then walk upto the jack halfway through the game to study the position of balls bowled already, then return to the mat to bowl his or her ball?
    I look forward to the answer?

    Dennis Williams

  27. Derek on May 20th, 2012 2:18 am

    Hi, we have the only indoor lawn bowls in Thailand and organisers of their own leagues seem to have different rules for their leagues. Question ” If the jack goes out of play side wise – dead end – where would the normal replacement be in that league if it agrees on a replacement rather than a replay of the end”? Many thanks

  28. Bob Welford on May 20th, 2012 11:35 pm

    In Answer to Derek above;

    Most leagues have domestic regulations to speed up play, but do not wish to list all the laws of the game according to their affiliation to the National Association in their Country. ” Killing an End” by deliberately driving the Jack off the side of the rink is a legitimate tactic if a player cannot see any way of winning the end or reducing the shot count. I cannot think why a domestic rule would wish to remove the chance to play this shot, unless it is to protect the players and games on adjoining rinks. If this is the case, then a domestic rule requiring a warning to be given to other players of the intention to drive at the head should satisfy every body. For a comprehensive guide to the ‘Laws of the Game’ may I suggest to all who contribute to this website to search for Crystal Mark 2nd Edition which lists all the laws for World Bowls.

  29. george easton on June 12th, 2012 6:05 pm

    after delivering a bowl and if player wants to follow it up must he be in the head before bowl arrives

  30. Mick Frost on June 26th, 2012 1:50 pm

    can a number one and a two to discuss how many shots to ask for before the number two ask for that number of shots

  31. Arthur R on June 26th, 2012 9:30 pm

    It is the number Three’s decision to ascertain the number of shots and agree them with the opposing Number Three. Number Two and the Lead should keep out of it. IT IS NOT THEIR JOB.

  32. Arthur R on June 26th, 2012 9:37 pm

    In reply to George Easton above.
    If a bowler follows his bowl up the rink, by the time the bowl comes to rest, he should be behind the head, because when his bowl comes to rest THE RINK IS IN THE POSSESSION OF THE NEXT TO BOWL. and he will be guilty of contavening the Laws of Rink Possession.

  33. gean on July 12th, 2012 8:06 pm

    Has the mat got to be on the 2 mtr mark on the first end of a game.
    OR can the mat go up the green to say with in 1 mtr of short jack marker put the jack up to with in 1mtr of ditch, skip then puts it with stick 2 mtr from ditch and centers it.
    Is that legal to do that.

  34. Billy McFarlane on August 14th, 2012 7:01 pm

    During a knockout pairs competition, do the lead and skip always have to play in the same order?

  35. domino on January 7th, 2013 3:53 pm

    In outdoor lawn bowls ,do all your woods have to be a uniform set or like in short mat bowls they could be all different?

  36. Eileen on April 1st, 2013 5:07 am

    Could you please answer this query.

    At the 16th and final end of play while the end was being played the bell went to determine that the time had expired during the play the end was made dead, should this end be replayed to determine a result?

  37. rob ellis on April 26th, 2013 6:59 pm

    do i have to have a club sticker on the non bias and a bullseye on the bias side or am i allowed to have a club sticker on the non bias side as well as the bias side including the bullseye sticker on the bias ring.

  38. joe binnerts on May 18th, 2013 10:43 pm

    As our club fours finished weeks before the start of champions of champions and two of the original players where not available,was i alloud two put one[1] replacement and one [1] subsitute in.?

  39. Janice on May 19th, 2013 6:51 pm

    Who measures for points – the obviously losing vice or the obviously winning vice. I have been told both. If there are points not in question but two bowls have to be measured, which vice does it.

  40. len firth on July 2nd, 2013 3:56 am

    what is the ruling on bowlers who use an aid do they have to roll the jack with the asid and bowl with the aid

  41. sheila cullen on August 30th, 2013 5:23 pm

    I recently played a 4 woods final first player to 21, the score was 20 to 17 and the marker called to my opponent that he had shot wood, but she still had 1 wood left that he could bowl, I on the markers comments congratulated her and shook hands then she bowled her last wood, this then knocked out her shot wood, which inturn gave me the point the score was then 20 -18 thinking it was legal to continue play I drew 3 bowls to the jack giving me 21 pts to 20 what is the ruling was the bowl live that my opponent bowled after we shook hands and continued play I am lead to believe that the player should have placed the last bowl on the mat and game over but this was not the case is the win legally mine

  42. Bob Welford on September 3rd, 2013 2:28 pm

    Sheila Cullen, If I have understood your comment correctly, it would appear that after the marker told your opponent they were holding shot, both she and you still had a bowl to play. If you had last wood and you could still win, you should not have conceded. Did your opponent actually attempt to play a shot with her last wood, or was she simply delivering her wood to the other end and by accident made contact with the head? Also having conceded the match why would you play your last wood?
    In my opinion you had conceded the match and shook hands, game over. In future remember if you have last wood, and it is still mathematically possible to win, go for it, do not concede.

  43. Robert Gordon on September 10th, 2013 11:49 am

    If my opponent throws his bowl and hits the jack it counts. I then throw my bowl and hits his bowl then proceeds to the jack then both end up in the ditch. Does this count and is it still in play or is it a dead bowl

  44. Bob Welford on September 12th, 2013 11:35 am

    Robert, if you mean your opponents wood ended up in the ditch with the wood then yes it still counts. If it was your wood which ended up in the ditch with the Jack then your wood would count, but please try “bowling” your woods not “throwing” them!!!

  45. Alan on September 28th, 2013 4:49 am

    If, in its course of travel, a bowl looks as though it is likely to hit a stationary bowl on an adjoining rink, can the stationary bowl be lifted then replaced in the same spot?

  46. Roy Edwards on October 4th, 2013 9:04 am

    Short answer… YES.
    But, if the stationary bowl is on a rink where a Singles match is being played, the Marker should stop the bowl from the neighbouring rink.
    Law 28.6

  47. John Little on March 21st, 2014 6:19 pm

    Is there a right or wrong way to set the mat in position. I was taught to walk towards the number at the far end, turn and place the mat square to near ditch line then step to one side for the skip to indicate if it needs moving.
    Recently I have been told you must face the near ditch and walk backwards to desired distance, bend and place mat.
    Strangely this question has become an issue.

  48. Bob Welford on April 4th, 2014 11:23 am

    The object of the exercise is to position the mat in line with with the rink markers. How it is done is does not matter, it is up to the Skips, or a marker, to ensure it is in line. Not all greens are a perfect 90 Degree square, and so local knowledge will often lead bowlers to use either method for placing the mat.

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