By Vince Basehart
“Your wrist is turning,”
says Ray Spiro, the South African.
I have just rolled a size 4 Henselite
brand lawn bowl, an object resembling
a cannon ball, across the pristine
grass of the Santa Monica Lawn Bowling
Club’s green, or “pitch.”
I am attempting to place it as close
as possible to the “jack,”
which looks like a cue ball, about
one hundred feet away. I miss by a
I explain that I was trying to put
a twist on it, like throwing a slider.
“No. Keep your wrist straight.”
Spiro, the club’s president,
demonstrates a perfect lawn bowler’s
movement: crouched low as if to genuflect,
empty hand braced on the knee, arrow
straight wrist supporting the bowl,
followed by a graceful underhand arc.
The bowl is delivered to the pitch
as if it was a fragile egg.
The Club has generously taken me
under its wing this afternoon.
There are exactly two dozen players,
male and female, to make up eight
teams. Most are retirees, some considerably
younger, many from the British Commonwealth,
all looking like they would be comfortable
on a Scottsdale golf course. In a
collection of sunhats and white purpose-built
shoes, a sporty woman in silver sneakers
These are the people at Douglas Park
you regularly pass on Wilshire, and
think, “How easy could that
Trust me, it’s not. Not only
are you trying to get as close to
the jack without hitting or overshooting
it, but your bowl arcs either left
or right due to it’s slightly
flattened sides, and one weighted
side. Opponents can block passage
to the jack with their bowls, or “split
the head” by “throwing
the hammer” to scatter your
bowls far from the target.
The club includes plenty of Americans
of course, and other people from around
the world, but the British connection
The contemporary version of the game
was developed in the British Isles
and moved across the Empire, where
many people still take it up as children.
Comparatively, perhaps having to do
with that tiff in 1776, it is barely
on the radar screen of the average
American, except for a handful of
With all the British, Australian,
South African and New Zealand accents
around me, and the general Hail Britannia
vibe of the game, I suddenly become
thirsty for a good gin and tonic.
Noreen Wilkie is one of the younger
players, an athletic looking Aussie,
who fills me in a bit on strategy.
She talks about playing “long”
or “short” and how a team’s
Skip, Vice and Lead -- a team’s
most expert to novice players, respectively
-- work together to knock out or surround
the other team’s bowls.
The place has at once the quiet,
intense air of a Masters putting green
and the gabby camaraderie of a pool
hall. Bowls traverse the 120-foot
green in about ten seconds, and opponents
will hoot or congratulate each other
as appropriate. I can already sense
why people love this game and why
they like being here.
Many carry their own bowls, in sets
of four, in specially designed bags.
Or you can grab a set from the shack
in the corner which has a kettle strapped
to its side which dispenses not, alas,
gin and tonic, but, I am warned, “horrible
Zev, a philosophical Russian built
like a circus strong man, takes over
my tutorship. At about 70 years old,
Zev could still snap me like a twig.
I roll a few bowls at the jack and,
magically, they seem to congregate
near it. Zev smiles. “Good.
That’s consistency.” But
he mocks my approach a bit, not stating,
but suggesting, that it looks girlish.
Moving a hand from his head to his
chest, Zev explains that he’s
big into “the mind-body connection,”
stress reduction, and body control
the game requires.
Becoming overconfident, I overshoot
the jack for the first time. “Remember,”
says Zev, searching for the right
words, “this is a game of precision,
and of grace.”