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The terms and vocabulary associated with lawn bowling can be confusing to novices. The following set of terms is by no means exhaustive, but is provided as clarification to new bowlers who wish to understand and take part in the conversations of the more experienced. Terms, discussions, and photographs are offered as guides. Please submit additional vocabulary, definitions and pictures, which you believe would be helpful.

Terms & Vocabulary O & P

Open Hand:

When all or many of the bowls have come to rest on one side of the rink leaving the jack only available for a draw shot on the opposite side this opposite side of the rink is known as the open hand.  The open hand may actually be either a forehand or backhand.  In the illustration the bowls to the right of the jack could cause obstructions to a draw shot.  The left side does not have any such encumbrances and is said to be the open hand.

Open Hand
Open Jack:

When the choice of making a forehand or backhand shot can be made by the player making the delivery because the skip or vice skip does not have a preference, then the situation is known as an open jack. This usually occurs when the jack is open for a draw shot from either side with no blockers or possibilities of wicking.

Open Jack
Open Tournament:

Clubs sometimes hold tournaments which are not restricted to club members, but open to members from other clubs.  Such events are known as open tournaments.  These tournaments are listed in the OLBA Annual.

Open Tournament
Out of Bounds:

Bowls that come to rest beyond the imaginary side boundaries of the rink are declared out of bounds becoming dead bowls and are placed on the mat on the bank near the rink number.

Out of Bounds

The pace is a description of how fast a bowl will travel on a given green. Pace is measured by timing a bowl from its delivery until it comes to rest approximately twenty-seven metres from the mat line.  Effects will vary when bowling on fast or slow greens.  The average time it takes to travel this distance on fast greens is about 12 seconds and 16 seconds slower greens.


A game with teams of two against two is called pairs.  Each person uses four bowls, for a total of eight bowls per team, sixteen bowls per end. 

Paper Comparison:

On occasion bowls may be too close to the jack to allow a measurement to be made with either a measure or with calipers.  In the illustration two strips of paper have been placed under the gaps on either side of the jack.  The white surface of these strips more easily permits a visual comparison of the distances.  The black bowl with the colourful dots is closer to the jack than the brown bowl.

Paper Comparison
Pendulum Swing:

Experienced bowlers choose to deliver bowls with a pendulum like motion of the throwing arm. Increased height may result in greater speed to a delivered bowl.  A player’s follow through should be the natural completion of this pendulum swing.

Pendulum Swing
Placing Bowls:

Place bowls gently on the playing surface so that they do not bounce. Dropping bowls may cause dents to occur in the green. Over time dropped bowls can create depressions at the edges of the playing surface which result in bowls running on towards the ditch to a greater extent than a player intended with the speed of delivery. In the illustration the player has taken his bowls out of his storage bag and is carefully positioning them in the starting area.

Placing Bowl
Placing the Mat:

The mat must be placed centrally in the rink a minimum of 2 metres from the ditch, but cannot be placed beyond the nearest hog line. If a mat is moved off the centre line it should be returned to it.

Placing the Mat
Playing Area:

The green surface upon which bowls are delivered is called the playing area.  Playing areas consist of either natural or artificial grass.

Playing Area

A support structure is placed at the edge of the playing area, which forms the side of the ditch closest to the surface of the green.  The top of this board ideally sits at the same height as the playing surface, but as a green ages there may develop slight differences.  Slowly moving bowls at times come to rest against the plinth rather than enter the ditch.


The total of the differences in a player's score over a series of games is known as a plus/minus. In the illustration the player won by 7 in the first week of competition and therefore had a plus/minus of 7. In the second week he lost by 5, hence the plus/minus dropped to 2. In the third week he won by 9 and the plus/minus jumped up to 11. This process will continue with the plus/minus changing after each game in the series. Comparing the plus/minuses of various players is a way of breaking a tie when two or more players have the same number of points in an on-going competition such as a ladder.

Plus Minus

Special purpose bowl polish can be purchased in tubes and sprays.  Polish not only brightens and restores the surface of bowls but also adds a tackiness, which helps players to grip bowls especially in damp or slippery conditions.


Many clubs have a mechanical device, which can be used to clean and polish bowls.  Clean bowls may run more smoothly.  It is important not to put "polish" as described above on bowls prior to putting them in the polisher!


A port is an opening between two bowls that is large enough to allow another bowl to roll through it.  The space between the blue and black bowls in the illustration is a port that an additional bowl could roll through to reach the jack.

Position Delivery:

One strategy employed by skips is to request a player to make a delivery, which will position a bowl to the advantage of the team.  The desired position could be as a wick bowl, a blocker, a matched bowl, or perhaps a backest bowl.   In the illustration the skip of the black team might strategically want to have a bowl lying behind the brown bowls even though the black team is lying three shots.  The worry is that if the jack is knocked back then the brown team might end up counting four.

Position Delivery

A shot intended to move another bowl closer to the jack is trying to promote that bowl.  The indicated red bowl is attempting to promote the second red bowl towards a closer position to the jack.


A wheeled tool used to collect the bowls when an end is finished is called a pusher. A pusher is also known as a rake.  The lead of the team that failed to score is usually the person who collects the bowls using the pusher.  All team members can help to line up the bowls for the lead.

Pythagorean Estimate:

A quick way for skips and vice skips to estimate which of two bowls is closer to the jack is to take advantage of the Pythagorean relationship in triangles with right angles.  By standing a short distance away from an imaginary line joining two bowls and looking along a second imaginary line to the jack that meets the line joining the bowls at a right angle, it can quickly be approximated that the bowl lying closest to the right angle formed by the two lines is also closest to the jack.  In the example shown the red bowl is closer to the jack than the blue bowl based on this method of estimation.  To determine more exact distances a measure should be actually taken after all bowls have been delivered.

Pythagorean Estimate
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