And the well-manicured grounds at Jefferson Park are gorgeous.
WHEN I ARRIVED at Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club on Beacon Hill, I was concerned to see there were gutters at the end of the square, low-cropped lawn that serves as the alleys for lawn bowling.
I am terrible at indoor alley bowling; throwing straight eludes me, and gutters and I know each other well. I was heartened when my lawn bowling teacher, Richard Broad, told me that he was horrible at regular bowling. I was even happier when he set us up in the middle of the green, with the gutters at the far ends of the alley.
I had hope lawn bowling and I could be friends.
Jefferson Park Lawn Bowling Club
4103 Beacon Ave S., Seattle.
Richard met me on the gorgeous grounds of Jefferson Park to teach me the basics of lawn bowling. The sport uses long, 120-plus feet stretches of grass that are groomed and cared for precisely. While I thought the sport would be like bocce, lawn bowling is more akin to giant shuffleboard. Richard said it most closely resembles curling.
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For the game itself, when playing one on one, each person uses four bowls. You roll your bowls in the direction of a jack, or a little white ball. Whoever has the most bowls closest to the jack gets the most points.
Sounded simple enough. The lawn bowls themselves are designed to curve on the grass when you throw them, with one side slightly flatter than the other. Instead of aiming at the jack, you aim off to the side and the bowl curves in different directions depending on how you hold it.
Throwing the bowl is the main skill. You step into a deep lunge and let go smoothly. One of the biggest adjustments is conditions — how the green is responding, the wind, if it rained that day. The other, less predictable one is the bowler — how much force you use when releasing the bowl, if you are aiming to accommodate the curve of the bowl and whether you release the bowl straight. Sometimes throwing one direction works better than the other.
Richard, who has been playing for 20 years, had an uncanny ability to get his bowls to curve precisely between others at the opposite end of the green. No matter how much I squinted, aimed and worked on my form, I only once managed to throw a bowl that slipped past one of Richard’s to land by the jack.
My bowls also wobbled when I threw them, which meant I was not throwing straight. That felt familiar.
But after a few rounds, I could occasionally throw it without too much wobble. I could even throw gently enough for the bowl to land somewhat closer to the jack.
A typical game for singles is 18 points, which can last up to 2½ hours, though scoring depends on team size.
We played four ends, walking up and down the green four times. After two ends, I was down 5-0.
“You’re in deep trouble,” Richard said.
I tried to mount a comeback with one beautiful throw, but ultimately didn’t score any points. I told myself at least I didn’t find the gutter.
While not super vigorous, you lunge deeply many times over, plus it’s totally fun. And my hand felt tired after rolling 3-plus-pound lawn bowls.
In the summer, Jefferson Park holds open Friday night events at which you can learn to bowl and meet other members. I can’t imagine a more idyllic way to pass a Friday evening, watching the sun set over the park and scrapping for the next win on the bowling green.