Published: Wednesday, June 22, 2005
The bowling green
128-member club plays sport of kings and queens
by Sue Dremann
aren't many sports that could put an invasion by the Spanish Armada
on hold, but lawn bowling once did just that.
Bill Ranney, left, and Ken Brady react to a point-changing
bowl during the Mixed Draw Pairs tournament in April.
As the dreaded Spanish fleet was spotted amassing off the
English coast in 1588, Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh
were in the seventh round of an intense lawn bowling match. Drake
refused to leave until he'd finished the game - then he went and
defeated the Armada. The well-documented story is perhaps the most
famous in a litany of lore surrounding lawn bowling, the so-called "Sport
Once a game that enthralled kings and queens and robust men, lawn bowling is
now mainly played by older folks, said Grace Griffiths, hospitality chair for
the Palo Alto Lawn Bowls Club, a 128-member club playing regularly at the lawn
bowling green beside Gamble Garden on Embarcadero Road.
"As a kid in Britain, I'd say 'Let's go watch the old wrinklies bowl,' and
now I've become one of them," Griffiths said, her eyes twinkling. A
retired midwife, she comes out to the lawn bowling club every chance she
she isn't playing tennis"
Jean Wren tallies the scores as Don Hughes
gathers the bowls together during a casual Thursday afternoon
Fred Hawley bowls during the Pizza Bowl on a sunny Wednesday
evening. Every Wednesday evening in the summer, club
members chip in for pizza or chicken after their games.
Bud Teasdale, left, greets fellow Santa Cruz lawn bowlers
Harry Schoenfeld and Bill Ranney before the Mixed Pairs
tournament in April.
Bowlers Charles Bailey and Ed Walker decide which bowl
is closest to the jack, the small white ball, during
the Mixed Paris tournament.
Lawn Bowls Club members organize the scoreboard before
playing an informal game one Wednesday evening. Each
member has a personalized name tag that they attach to
the scoreboard according to their position in the game.
Palo Alto Lawn Bowls Club members sit down for pizza,
salad, wine and beer after their Wednesday evening Pizza
At the Palo Alto Lawn Bowls Club,
members play the game in the tradition of Henry VIII, but under
less trying circumstances than did Drake. Lawn bowling
is easy to play but can be as challenging as chess, according to Palo
Alto club president Terry Hogan.
Stephen Schoenfeld of the Santa Clara
Lawn Bowls Club rolls his red bowl during the Friendship
Game in April.
Team members each take turns rolling flattened "bowls" the size of
fattened Kaiser rolls on their edge. The bowls spin 120 feet down the green
toward a "jack," or white ball, clicking as they knock into
each other, jostling for the closest position. The goal is to get a
to the jack and win a point at the end of a round.
Shaved as close as a buzz cut and as smooth as velvet, the green, designed
by John McLaren (who also designed Golden Gate Park), was created as a WPA
project in 1933. The lawn adds character to the game, determining a bowl's
speed: slower when moist, faster when dry, Hogan said.
The pace is leisurely, with plenty of time for conversation and
developing friendships. There are plenty of social opportunities
- "pizza night" on
Wednesdays, baked in the clubhouse's full kitchen; and "Chicken
with barbecue often cooked by Hogan. Someone may even strike up
a tune on the upright piano.
Don Hughes, a member with the Palo Alto
Lawn Bowls Club for about three years, wears a pair of
shoes worn in from bowling during a weekly draw game.
People come from all walks of life, from doctors to insurance
salesmen, and range in age from 12 to 85. Although membership is
desired, one doesn't have to be a member to play, Hogan said.
Most members treat their bowls with care,
wrapping them in socks and toting them in bowl-specific
cases. Since there are no American manufacturers, bowlers
must order their bowls from England, Australia and New
For tournaments, players don "dress whites." Tournaments span from
the local level to national championships. There is even an annual match with
Berkeley, patterned after the Stanford football "Big Game." The winning
team takes home "The Meat Axe," a cleaver mounted on
John Hickson, former Palo Alto Lawn Bowls
Club president and current city liaison, digs out patches
of an invasive grass from the all-Bermuda grass green.
Members of the club regularly volunteer their time to
help the city of Palo Alto maintain the grounds.
The Palo Alto club won it last year. The ax is prominently displayed
in the clubhouse, where tournament boards hold five decades of
memorializing Palo Alto's winners of the "Sport of Kings."