Bowls Glossary


In bowls, terms are used to describe various aspects of the game. It is very important to know the meaning of these terms in order to understand what other players are referring to.

Bias A bowl is not spherical and is machined in such a way that it will "bend" in a particular direction when it starts slowing down. The direction in which it bends is known as the bias. The amount of bend depends on the type of bowl (all manufacturers have charts showing the amount of bend in their various bowl types). The bias can be determined from the emblems on the side of the bowl. These emblems are different sizes, and the bowl will bend in the direction of the smaller one
Note the difference in size between the emblems on either side of the bowls

Burnt End When the jack is knocked out of play (the jack is no longer live), the end is burnt. In formal competitions, the end must be replayed. In informal and semi-formal competitions, the jack is placed on the centre line of the rink, 2m from the ditch - play then continues as normal. An end is usually deliberately burnt when the opposing team has an overwhelming advantage in the count. The current player will then use driving weight to try to disrupt the head.

Cockanolly A derogatory term used by experienced bowlers to refer to a novice bowler.

Count All the bowls of a team, which are closest to the jack, are counted to determine the score in an end.

Ditch The green is surrounded by a 200mm (minimum) to 380mm (maximum) wide ditch filled with sand. Any bowl that comes to rest in it is out of play (dead bowl), providing that it is not a toucher. A dead bowl is removed from the ditch and placed on the bank. A jack in the ditch is always live, providing it is within the confines of the rink. Any bowl that is not a toucher, may not move the jack, nor any toucher, that may be in the ditch.

Draw When an attempt is made to have the bowl stop exactly where the player wants it. This is usually as close to the jack as possible, but may also be in a tactical position. In a team game this is usually determined by the skip.

Dual Member A player who belongs to two clubs. Teams playing in BSA sanctioned competitions must all be from the same club. On occasions, a player from one club may be needed to fill a team position in another club (or want to play with members of another club). This player then becomes a dual member of the second club. However, his home club (also known as first-call club) has preference on his services. (BSA's definition (PDF)).

End An end in a game of bowls starts with the delivery of the jack and finishes when all players on a particular rink have delivered all their bowls. The game itself has many ends, the number of which is determined beforehand, and usually depends on the type of competition being played. The direction in which the end is played alternates as each end is completed.

Grass The deviation from a straight line to the jack, that must be used in delivering a bowl, in order to get it to bend back to the jack. If the bowl crosses over the straight line to the jack, it is referred to as "too little grass" (also called "too skinny"). If it does not reach the straight line to the jack, it is called "too much grass
A diagram showing one bowl crossing over the straight line to the jack and the other not reaching it

Head The area around the jack where most bowls stop during an end.

Jack The small ball (usually white) which is delivered by the lead player at the start of an end. It is often also referred to as the kitty.

Lead In a team game, the lead is the player who delivers the jack.

Marker In a singles game in a formal competition, a marker is used to keep score and measure disputed ends. He or she can also supply limited information to the players when asked. The marker crosses over with the players after each end. (See also: Guidelines for Markers.)

Novice A bowler who has been a member of SA Bowls for less than three years, and who has not won any Club nor BSA sanctioned novice competition. (BSA's defintion (PDF)).

Rink The area of the green on which a game of bowls is played. A green is usually divided into six rinks, each centred on a numbered marker. The width of the rink is between 4.3m and 5.8m. The rinks are delimited by white marker poles on either side of the numbered marker. As the green is a square, there are six rinks in a N-S direction and six in an E-W direction. Those in an E-W direction are used for morning games and those in a N-S direction for afternoon games.

Skip The captain of a team. The skip makes the tactical decisions, and tells the other team members where they should bowl. He or she usually also gives the lead an indication as to the distance which the jack should be bowled at the start of an end.

Tabs-in Informal team games played on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, with participants putting their "tabs" into a kitty (A tab is a small disk with the club member's name on it. Visitors tabs are also available). At both Quins and Sunnyside, dress for tabs-in is informal - the only proviso being that green-friendly footware* must be worn. Other clubs require that club whites be worn during tabs-in games.

Toucher A bowl that touches the jack during its delivery motion is know as a toucher. This bowl must be marked with chalk once it comes to rest, to distinguish it from other bowls. This bowl remains alive if it comes to rest in the ditch within the rink boundaries (i.e. it can be used in the count when evaluating the head). The chalk mark must be removed before the bowl is delivered in the next end.

Weight In physics, weight is a force. So is it in bowls - weight is the force applied to the bowl, during the delivery action, to get the bowl to the required position. During a game, a skip will often refer to the weight required in various ways:
  • draw weight (the weight required to draw to a particular position in the head);
  • x metres through (the weight you would use if you were going to draw to a position x metres further than the current jack position - usually used if you need to move another bowl in changing the head);
  • ditch weight (when you drive to disrupt the current head or try to burn the end).

Wick When a bowl rebounds or glances off another in the head. Also referred to as a rub.

Wood The historical term for a bowl, still widely used in South Africa, even though bowls are no longer made from wood.

*Green friendly footware
  • Shoes or sandals without heels.
  • The soles should preferably be smooth, and if there are treads on the soles, the depth of these treads should be less than 2mm (the thickness of a matchstick).
  • Any tread on the soles of this footware must have no sharp edges.
Bowls Australia is far stricter with regards to footware. They stipulate that any tread on shoes used for bowls should be ground off. The sole shown on the left is perfectly legal in SA.


Formal Games These are usually played to a specific number of ends (often 21), to a specific score (often 21) or to a time limit.
  • Singles: Two opponents with four bowls each, playing alternately. In competitons, a singles game always has a marker.
  • Pairs: Two teams of two players (lead and skip) with four bowls each. The leads will play their four bowls alternately, with the skips at the opposite end of the rink. Once the leads have completed bowling, they will crossover with the skips, who will then deliver their bowls alternately. The leads score the head.
  • Trips: Two teams of three players (lead, second and skip) with three bowls each. The leads and seconds start at the mat end, with the skips at the head. The leads deliver their three bowls alternately, followed by the seconds (also alternating their turns). When the seconds have delivered all their bowls, they (together with the leads) crossover with the skips. The skips then deliver their bowls alternately. The skip can ask the second for advice as to what would be the best delivery. When the end is over, the seconds will score the head. In formal competitions, a trips game lasts eighteen ends.
  • Fours: Two teams of four players (lead, second, third and skip) with two bowls each. The leads and seconds start at the mat end with the skips and thirds at the head. The leads and seconds play as per trips, then crossover with the thirds. The thirds will then deliver their bowls alternately. When they have delivered their bowls, they will crossover with the skips. The skips will then deliver their bowls alternately, and can ask the thirds for advice. When the end is completed, the thirds will evaluate and score the head, then join the skips at the opposite end of the rink.

101 A singles game in which the players try to be first to reach a score of 101. Scoring is four points for the bowl closest to the jack, three for the second closest, two for the third closest and one for the fourth closest. This is an excellent game for learning how to draw consistently.

2-4-2 A pairs game in which the "leads" deliver two bowls each, then crossover with the "skips" who deliver their four bowls. They then crossover with the "leads", who deliver their other two bowls. On the next end, the players who were skips, now become the leads and vice versa. This game gives players the opportunity to both lead and skip. It also gives them the opportunity to read the head at different stages of the game.

Pedestal This game is usually played when there are insufficient players to play formal team games. In this game, one must first "win the mat" before he or she can score points (only the player who delivers the jack can win points). The rest of the players then gang up on the player holding the mat to prevent him or her from scoring points (i.e. to knock that player off the pedestal). Of course, whoever wins the end becomes the target for the next end. This game is good for informally learning team tactics, and how to disrupt a head.

Oddbowl Often when trying to set up a game, one ends up with an odd number of players. With three players, we like playing Pedestal. However, with five it's a bit more tricky. What we do is to split the players into two teams, team A with three players and team B with two players. Each player from team A plays with two bowls and team B with three, giving each team a total of six bowls. The lead from the team that wins an end will place the jack for the next end as usual, but the lead from team A always delivers the first bowl. The order of play is thus: A1, B1, A1, B1, A2, B1, A2; crossover; B2, A3, B2, A3, B2.

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