CITY LIFE

Published on July 29th, 2013 | by Katy Evans

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Roll a bowl with the Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club

Lawn bowling in Tacoma has an illustrious history but it’s safe to say most Tacomans aren’t sure what actually happens on that beautiful playing green twinkling on the south side of Wright Park.

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a historic photo of Tacoma’s past lawn bowlers tacked on the bulletin board in the Tacoma Bowling Club’s clubhouse.

The Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club (or Tacoma Bowling Association) was formed in July of 1929 and the Metropolitan Park District worked with the club to establish a regulation-sized green in 1933. The green opened May 1936.

For nearly 80 years, Tacomans have bowled the green in Wright Park but most of us have never seen them in action.

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Lawn bowling in Wright Park, 1946

Photographer and Creative Director Kali Raisl and I decided to investigate one sunny Saturday and find out what’s going on these days with the elusive Tacoma Lawn Bowlers.

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A recent game of bowls in Wright Park

Turns out, Tacoma’s lawn bowlers are less elusive and more dwindling. Current club president Dale Francis shared that if you “count the maimed and hobbled” their membership is down to less than ten bowlers.

Over the 13 years Dale has been a member, he’s seen enrollment “literally die off” – back when he joined there were more than 40 members.

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Current Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club president Dale Francis

Traditionally lawn bowling has attracted ladies and gentlemen post retirement looking for a low impact social activity but as the years have gone by, retiring Tacomans have taken their passions elsewhere.

This diminishing attendance is distressing, especially since membership to the club is a mere $40 a year, giving you access to the lovely Wright Park green and the overtly adorable clubhouse, as well as the loan of all the spare balls (called bowls) you can handle.

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Spare bowls & hats available for anyone wanting to learn.

Kali and I were immediately charmed by Dale, Terry, and Bonnie, the bowlers who shared a game and conversation with us.

It was clear that not only do these bowlers love the game, but over the years they have built firm friendships as they’ve played bowls on the idyllic green.

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A current Tacoma lawn bowler with one of her bowls.

Though regularly pretty tame, lawn bowling in Wright Park is not without occasional excitement – last summer bowlers were treated to the spectacle of an eagle stalking and killing a seagull on the green. The bowlers simply couldn’t look away as the eagle then retired to an overhanging tree to gut and eat the seagull.

In the planning for our second Post Defiance anniversary, all of us on staff had been curious about the green and interested in incorporating it somehow into our festivities.

Our investigation was a success: not only were the Tacoma Lawn Bowlers happy to meet us and let us explore the green and clubhouse, they will also be on hand August 17th to demonstrate lawn bowling and get us started on our own games.

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The Lawn Bowling club house is a treasure trove of bowling accoutrements.

Who says lawn bowling needs to be only for the retirees of Tacoma?

Post Defiance welcomes readers of all ages to consider engaging with this most pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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Lawn bowls: each player has their own insignia and the bowls are weighted for player preference.

A little background and game rules:

A very old game, bowlers trace origins to the 13th century and conjecture play goes back to the ancient Egyptians based on 5,000 BCE artifacts. The world’s oldest bowling green is the Southampton Old Bowling Green in England, which was first used in 1299. Traditionally associated with England and Scotland, the 1830 patenting of the first lawn mower is considered to be the catalyst for play worldwide. Today the sport is played in over 40 countries.

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Tacoma lawn bowlers in 1938.

Lawn bowls is similar to both indoor bowling and bocce: played on a levelled and manicured green (like the one in Wright Park) many individual players or teams can play at a time. The green can be separated into parallel playing lanes or “rinks” and players take turns rolling their bowls toward a jack. Since the bowls are oblate (shaped more like wheels than balls), they may curve outside the lane (or rink) as they roll but they must stop within the rink boundary to stay in play.

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A handy diagram of play in the clubhouse.

Once all players have pitched all of their bowls (four each in singles and pairs, three each in triples, and two bowls each for teams of four), the bowls closest to the jack is determined and points, called “shots”, are awarded for each bowl. Points (or shots) vary based on the number of players.

The game is fairly straightforward though technique when pitching a bowl is crucial, and you have to “learn the language, every sport has its lingo,” as Dale says.

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Currently the Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club meets every Saturday from 1 to 3 pm in Wright Park. Check them out then and join us for the Post Defiance Picnic to learn with your friends.

The Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club Facebook page

For more information, give Dale a call at 253-752-0372.

All contemporary photographs courtesy of Kali Raisl, all historic photographs courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library archives.

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About the Author

Founder and Co-Managing Editor at Post Defiance, Katy writes and fundraises for Tacoma. Follow her @katynicoud.



6 Responses to Roll a bowl with the Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club

  1. Sarah says:

    Lovely article. Thanks for showing people what goes on there. I really hope that a the tradition continues and membership grows. Kudos to PD for incorporating them into your festivities.

  2. jen says:

    This is great! We’ve been wanting access to this, it’s such a beautiful space at Wright Park, but we weren’t sure how to go about it.

  3. Don ALLAN says:

    I phoned Dale this evening and had a good chat. I wanted to go lawn bowling on my way through Tacoma tomorrow afternoon but sadly there are not enough people left in this club to make up a game with the personal activities that are happening in the lives of the few individuals left. Maybe next time I am through it can happen.

    • Katy Evans says:

      That’s so great! I’m glad people are discovering the sport. It’s really a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

      • Bob Young says:

        Dear Katy, I’m with a new group that is forming a Lawn Bowling club and play at Wrights Park. We would love to meet with you and pick your brain with respect to your knowledge of the previous group that disbanded about five years ago and anything else you would be willing to provide to us that could be helpful. Thanks. Bob Young. Cell 253-691-2098

  4. Bob Young says:

    I remember when there were many members bowling at Wrights Park.

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