Winchmore Hill Bowls Club

Winchmore Hill Bowls Club - How bowls is played

How bowls is played

A basic guide for beginners

Like many games the objective in bowls is simple. Players aim to deliver their bowls as close to the jack as possible. The nearest wins a point. Games can be played as singles or in a team.

The green

Bowls is played on a 34 to 40 metre square of grass called the green which is divided into six playing lanes called rinks.

The green is surrounded by a narrow ditch to catch bowls which overshoot the green. There is a bank on which markers are placed to indicate the corners and centre lines of each rink.


Players deliver their bowls towards the jack, a small white or yellow ball which is positioned at the opposite end of the rink.

The bowl can be delivered either forehand or backhand. The objective is to get one or more bowls closer to the jack than those of the opposition. One point is scored for each counting bowl. For instance if Team A have one bowl nearest the jack and Team B have the next closest then Team A would get one point. If Team A has the two closest bowls to the jack, they would score two points and Team B would score none. The closest bowl to the jack is called the ‘shot’.

The head

The ’head’ is a term used to describe the jack end of the rink.

After playing all the bowls in one direction, the score is agreed and the direction of play reversed. This is referred to as an ‘end’. The next end is played back down the rink in the opposite direction.

The team game

Bowls can be played as singles, in teams of pairs, triples (‘trips’) or fours (‘full rink’).

In singles and pairs games each player bowls four times per end, in trips three times and in a full-rink two bowls are used.

In team games, at the beginning of each end, the skips stand at the head end of the rink.

The first, or lead, places the mat and delivers the jack. With the aid of the skip the jack is centred in the rink. The lead then delivers their first bowl.

The opposite lead then delivers a bowl. Each lead alternates until they have delivered all their bowls. Tactically the leads should try to ensure that their bowls are close to the jack, at least level and slightly behind the jack, but not in front.

The seconds then play their bowls and so on.

The second, or two, keeps the score card and scoreboard up to date. In a trips match the role of the number two is to give feedback to the skip and suggest possible shots to improve or consolidate the head.

In a full-rink game the third, or three, adopts the same role as a number two in trips.

The skip is in overall charge of the rink and directs the other players on choice of shots.

Game formats

In singles there is no limit to the number of ends. The first to reach 21 shots (points) is the winner.

In pairs 21 ends are played. Each player uses four bowls. The winner is the team or player with the most points at the end.

In the triples game there are 18 ends. Each player has three bowls.

In full-rinks, there are 21 ends. Each player has two bowls.