Published on July 29th, 2013 | by Katy Evans7
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.