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Guide to Bowling, Etiquette and The Game

This Guide was written for the benefit of OUR beginners, and, as such, some references may apply solely to the way we do things at Ventnor Bowling Club.

Etiquette is concerned with an acceptable level of behaviour on, and around, the bowling green. Most clubs, including Ventnor, have their own particular local rules and regulations which they operate alongside the generally accepted County and National Standards.


When you first join a bowling club you will be encouraged to attend coaching sessions whereby you will be taught how to hold a bowl, how to deliver a bowl and how to make an allowance for the bias on the bowl.

Various league teams are available for all full members to join and that team will reflect your ability and skill level. New members are encouraged to join a league team, although it is not compulsory.

Being a part of a team adds to your enjoyment and playing with (and against) more experienced players will improve your game and encourage you to progress.



You will need a pair of flat soled shoes which can be worn indoors and outdoors. There are some at the club for you to start if sizes are available. Shoes can be bought on the net at a reasonable cost

Bowls are available at the Club for you to use and your coach will help you choose the right size and weight. If you wish to buy your own bowls then don’t rush. Take advice from some experienced bowlers, and if possible try various different makes of bowls to see which one suits you. The size needs to be right according to the size of your hand, and the bias differs on all makes and type of bowls. Take your time!

Your selection can depend on what position you play in a team, and also if you wish to use the bowls outdoors and indoors. As an example, if you are playing at position 1 or 2 then fairly straight bowls are preferable whereas if you are playing at 3 or 4 then it would be desirable to have bowls which can swing around other bowls to get near the jack. Also, indoors at Ventnor the width of the green is limited, so wide swinging bowls would not be appropriate.

During league matches your bowls must have Ventnor Bowling Club stickers on them, which are obtainable from the Club free of charge.

The only other equipment you might need later on, is chalk, a special tape measure and wedges. (How and why these are used will be explained later.)

If there are any rules which you do not fully understand then please ask one of the trainers or the Club Captain.



For general play, roll ups and practice, there are no dress rules apart from footwear – only proper bowling shoes to be worn which are smooth soled and with no heel. White are traditional but any colour may be worn.

Club competitions require a club top or white top. Finals day a club top must be worn. Grey bottoms may be asked for in some instances.

League matches require a club shirt.

Players must wear white bottoms. Tailored skirts, tailored plain or cropped trousers.  Shorts should be tailored  or Bowls England. Tracksuits, shell suits and jeans are not acceptable. Jumpers and fleeces to be white. Hats to be white or club colours. Socks to be white. Waterproof jackets/ trousers to be white or navy or club colours.. Only proper bowling shoes should be worn which are smooth soled and with no heel. Bowling sandals are not allowed. Umbrellas are prohibited on the green. 



For general play, roll ups and practice, there are no dress rules apart from footwear – only proper bowling shoes to be worn which are smooth soled and with no heel. White are traditional but any colour may be worn

Club competitions may require a club top or white top. Finals day a club top must be worn.

League matches require a club shirt

League matches on a Saturday require white bottoms and at other times grey bottoms. The team sheets on the notice board usually state the colours required. Shorts, if worn, are to be tailored, bowls England or sport/golf type shorts, not Combat, cargo or beach shorts. Tracksuits, and jeans are not acceptable wear.  No coloured socks – just white. Jumpers, fleeces to be white. Waterproof jackets/trousers.to be white or club colours. Hats to be white or club colours.


There are two areas, general etiquette with regards to the match and club, and playing etiquette



Arrive in good time for the game. Dress correctly for all games. Incorrect clothing may result in deduction of points.

Everyone should help put out the necessary equipment.
After the game all members are responsible for putting away the equipment from their own rink.

After the game the home player is expected to offer to buy their opponent a drink. The away player should also offer to buy a reciprocal drink later.
Assisting with clearing of the tables and glasses, after a match to help the catering team and the bar staff, would be helpful


Greet and shake hands with team members and opponents at the start of the game and shake hands, congratulate or compliment them at the end of play.

Stand well behind the mat whilst your opponent bowls. Keep quiet and stand still when players are on the mat, keep track of play and be ready to bowl when it is your turn. Do not talk or make a noise behind the mat or move at the head when a player is preparing to bowl, it’s very distracting

Remain behind the mat or behind the head when it is not your team’s turn to play. Always remember that, as soon as your bowl has come to rest, possession of the rink passes to your opponent and you should not communicate with your skip until you have regained possession of the mat.

Keep to your own rink. Don’t become a wanderer and distract other bowlers. Walk down the centre of your rink when you are changing ends. Walk around the head to ensure you don’t displace any bowls. Be aware of players on the next rink.

Stand well back from the head when drive shots are played and warn others on adjacent rinks.

Always help to clear the bowls, except the lead, who will be placing the mat.

Outdoors, on sunny days, be aware of your shadow. Don’t let it mask the jack or allow it to fall in front of the mat when a player is about to bowl. Avoid obscuring any of the rink markers or the jack.

Don’t walk past the end of the rink when a player is about to bowl towards you.

Don’t applaud a team member who has outrageous luck.

Don’t wave opponents’ bowls through the head. Don’t make comments like - through the gap, or, stop etc.

Never criticise your opponent, the green or your own team. If you cannot say something positive , don’t say anything at all.

Encourage and praise your team. Always appear to be enjoying the game and remember it’s a team game.

Compliment your opponent on a good shot. Admit a fluke with grace.

Respect the green - never drop bowls on to the green, nor stand on the edge of the green, nor stand or walk in the ditches

Be a gracious winner and a good loser and win or lose always shake hands with your opponent(s) and thank them for the game.


    • Backhand | When (for a right-handed player) the bowl is delivered so the curve of the bowl is from the left to right.

    • Bias | The shape of the bowl which causes it to curve.

    • Delivery | The moment the bowl leaves the hand.

    • Ditch | The gully around the green. If a bowl ends up in the ditch and it is not a ‘toucher’ then it doesn’t count.

    • Draw | A bowl delivered at the correct weight, and with correct line, to arrive exactly where you want.

    • End | The sequence of play from the moment the mat is placed down until all bowls have been delivered and you know who has won. A bit like a game in tennis!

    • Foot fault | If you don’t deliver the bowl with part of your foot on or above the mat.

    • Forehand | When (for the right-handed player) the bowl is delivered so that the curve of the bowl is from the right to left.

    • Green | The total playing area. There are usually 6 rinks on each green.

    • Jack | The little round target ball to which you’re trying to get your bowls closest.

    • Mat | The rectangular shaped mat from which the bowler must deliver the jack and/or bowl.

    • Weight | The amount of force with which the bowl is delivered to execute a particular shot.

    • Rink | The rectangular strip of the green, between 4 and 6 metres wide, on which the game takes place.

    • Stance | Position adopted on the mat prior to delivery.

    • Shot | The bowl that is nearest the jack at any stage of play.

    • Toucher | A bowl that hits the jack during its original course. This bowl still counts even if it ends up in the ditch.

Ready for a game? 



MEN’S league games consist of a team of three rinks of four bowlers. Each four that wins their rink gets two points (1 point each for a draw), and the team with the higher total score for the three rinks will get a further FOUR points (3 points each if the totals are equal). Therefore TEN points in total are available.

If a rink is one bowler short, then the first two bowlers have three bowls each and the skip has two bowls. However, a penalty of 25% of the rink score is deducted at the end of the game from the rink with the missing player. Even though your rink may be trailing your opponents, it is essential that you endeavour to lose by the least amount possible, as the overall score is important in the final points tally.


LADIES league games consist of two rinks of four bowlers. Each four that wins their rink gets two points (1 point each for a draw), and the team with the higher total score for the two rinks will get a further two points, (1 point each if the totals are equal). Therefore SIX points in total are available.

If a rink is one bowler short then the first two bowlers have three bowls each and the skip has two bowls. However, a penalty of 25% of the rink score is deducted at the end of the game from the rink with the missing player. Even though your rink may be trailing your opponents, it is essential that you endeavour to lose by the least amount possible, as the overall score is important in the final points tally.

You are not allowed to practice on the rink that you will later play on during the same day,

Each member of the team has an important role to play. All players should read every section as some comments refer to all bowlers.

Before the commencement of a league match the two Captains write their players names for each rink in playing order on the scorecards. The cards of the two sides are placed face down and drawn to see which fours are playing on which rink number. A coin is tossed and the winner can elect to go first or second. For all subsequent ends, the winner of the previous end will always be first to go on the next end.

Prior to the commencement of the match, two practice ends are usually played. The team that won the toss (or was put in first by the winner) will deliver the jack on the first practice end, and the other rink’s lead will deliver the jack on the 2nd practice end. To get used to the condition, and the run of the green, it is usual for one delivery to be on the forehand and the other on the backhand.



The first player is known as the ‘LEAD’ and their responsibility is to place the mat and deliver the ‘JACK’. The Captain of the team will advise you who has the first jack. As the first two ends are practice ends, whichever team puts up the first jack then the other lead  delivers the second jack.

To commence the game and at all subsequent ends, the front edge of the mat shall be not less than 2 metres from the rear ditch. The mat should be laid longways and square to the ditch behind you and the centre of the mat should line up with the rink number. The skip should ensure the mat is in the right position and, if not, will give directions to the lead. The jack should then be delivered and must end up a minimum of 23 metres from the front of the mat. At the side of the green there are markers which indicate 23 metres, but this presupposes that the mat is exactly 2 metres from the ditch. If the two skips cannot agree that it is a legal length then a tape measure is used. If it is less than 23 metres then the opposing lead delivers the jack and can also move the mat. This would also happen if the jack is delivered outside the confines of the rink or is delivered into the far ditch. If the other rink’s lead also delivers an illegal jack then the jack is placed 2 metres from the far ditch and again the mat maybe moved.. A pole 2 metres long is available to correctly place the jack which should go to the side of the end of the pole not at the tip. Even if the second lead delivers a legal jack then the first lead will still play first. The lead should stand on the mat and give directions to the skip to ensure the jack is lined up with the rink number. By holding your hands in front of you, you indicate the distance you want the jack moved either left or right. The two leads now bowl both their bowls.

Whichever team wins the end retains the jack for the next end. For tactical reasons the skip may wish to instruct you where to place the mat or whether he wants a short or long jack. Often during a game the skip will stand where he wants the jack delivered.

The lead’s job is to get both bowls as close to the jack as possible. Ideally one just in front and one just behind. Even if your opponent is close to the jack, you should still try to get one as close as possible, not try and remove his bowl with weight. The choice of hands, forehand or backhand, should be decided by the bowler unless directed by the skip. Your possession of the mat finishes once your bowl has come to rest and then possession passes to your opponent. Possession of the mat ensures that the only bowlers talking are the bowler on the mat and his/her skip. Once you leave the mat you cannot communicate with your skip until you have regained control of the mat. The skip will indicate to you how far in front or behind your bowl has gone. This will help you adjust for your next bowl.



The home player should be responsible for keeping the scoreboard up to date.

As a player you will be directed by your skip as to the type of shot he/she wants you to play and on which hand. Remember the skip is in a better position than you are to read the head. Always commit to the shot you are being asked to play. If you are not sure whose bowls are which and how far they are from the jack then ask your skip. You can only do this whilst standing on the mat.



The third player is normally a more experienced player and may need to play different types of shots as directed by the skip. Also, whilst the skip delivers his bowls, the third player takes over the skip’s role and advises the skip of the type of wood to play. Any of the skip’s woods that touch the jack, when delivered, should have a chalk mark placed on them by the third player, even when they end up in the ditch. All chalked bowls in the ditch will remain “live” for the duration of that end, and their position marked, so that the bowlers at the other end can see where they are. Any other bowls entering the ditch, without first touching the jack, will be declared dead and removed. Once both skips have delivered all their bowls, the two number three’s then decide which bowls are closest to the jack. If a bowl is on its side and likely to fall over, then a wedge should be placed underneath it. If it is one of the skips last bowl of the end, then 30 seconds should be allowed from the time it came to rest before using a wedge. If a bowl is not secured and falls prior to, or during measurement, then the bowl should remain in its new position and the shot determination continued. All shots previously agreed shall count. Any disputes are measured by the number three who disagrees with a claim by the other number three. The result is then relayed to the skips who will record the score on the scorecard. Whilst the number three’s are determining the score, all bowls should remain in situ, and all other players should stand away from the head.

To keep the game flowing, the lead for the team who won the end should immediately collect the mat and deliver the jack, leaving the other players to move the bowls back behind the mat.



The skip has sole charge of his/her rink and their instructions must be obeyed by his/her players. The skip decides with the opposing skip all disputed points and their agreed decision is final. If they are unable to agree then the dispute is referred to the umpire whose decision is final.

Firstly the skip ensures the mat is properly lined up. He then places the jack in its correct position with the help of the lead. This should be done by hand and not by kicking the jack into position.

Prior to his players delivering their bowls, he issues instructions to them. Any bowls that touch the jack will be marked by chalk even if the bowl and/or jack enter the ditch. Position markers are used to show where the jack/bowl has ended up in the ditch. Any dead bowls are removed from the rink. It is he skip who decides the tactics and strategy of the team.

The skip is also responsible for completing the scorecard and should periodically check with the opposing skip that their scorecards agree.

At the end of the game both skips sign both cards together with the time the game finished.


At the beginning of the year the Team Captains and selectors will pick the teams for the forthcoming outdoor season. All bowlers wishing to be included in a team will be selected and a list of bowlers names together with the team they will represent, will be posted on the notice board.

A fixture booklet will be produced to enable you to see when and where your team is playing. If there are more players in each team than is required it would mean that you may not be selected every week. Due to holidays and sickness etc., some teams may not always be able to field a full team. On these occasions, with the Captain’s permission, they may wish to borrow players from other teams. There are restrictions to this practice and your Captain will be aware of this.

Each week the Captains will place their team selections to represent Ventnor Bowling Club on the notice boards together with the date, time and colour of attire for the match. It is your responsibility to come to the clubhouse to see if you have been selected. If you have, then you should tick your name so your Captain is aware that you will be turning up.

Travelling arrangements should be agreed with your Captain for away games. You should therefore telephone your driver to make arrangements. If you are unable to play you should delete your name, initial the deletion and telephone your Captain immediately so that he is able to find a replacement.