Saturday, June 26, 2004

Bowling on the lawn

Cincinnati's club (in Newtown), where members relish the competition, is one of only two in Ohio

By Dustin J. Seibert / Enquirer staff writer

Not too many sports' most talented performers are nonagenarians.

Dee Hargitt of Eastgate bowls during a lawn bowling game at the Little Miami Golf Center in Newtown Wednesday
June 16, 2004.

(The Enquirer/Brandi Stafford)
But at the Cincinnati Lawn Bowling Club in Newtown, Duane Christy, 94, the oldest and most senior member, is hailed by his peers as the best lawn bowler in the 34-member club. It's a distinction he quickly dismisses.

"Both my son and grandson are better than me," he says, pointing at two generations of lawn bowlers: Richard, 63, and James, 36, both competing in separate games.

Despite his much-lauded skill, Christy was taking it easy during club games on a recent evening, enjoying the mellow sunny weather on the sidelines from under a straw hat, his legs crossed and a pensive look on his face.

A friend introduced him to lawn bowling in 1975 when he was still working as a social worker in Madisonville. When he retired two years later, he took up the sport regularly.

"It keeps me young," he says.

Click here for entire diagram
(The Enquirer/
Randy Mazzola)
Richard, who lives with his father in Kennedy Heights, followed in the elder Christy's footsteps and began lawn bowling after retiring from his job as a computer software consultant 15 years ago.

The Christy's aren't the only ringers in the house, though. Rex Bolinger, a burly, white-haired bowler, rolls a "perfect" bowl, one resting directly in front of the jack (the first ball thrown for position), while playing against former Lawn Club president Ed Ball and Richard Christy, who, despite his father's praises, is taking a beating.

Well into the game, Bolinger and his wife, Emily, who drive down every week from West Carrollton to play, are sitting on a comfortable 10-point lead.

"We're getting beat pretty bad," says Christy.

The game provides a low-impact cardiovascular workout. Current club president E. Rowley Elliston, 63, a retired Indian Hill High School physics teacher, wasn't too active before suffering a heart attack in 2000. He says he picked up lawn bowling as a workout activity to get his blood flowing. "The game is mostly stretching," he says.

The sport originated in England in the 13th century as a derivation of "bocce," (which still exists as a separate but similar game). Bocce doesn't take place on a lawn and allows players to toss or roll the bowls.

The Cincinnati Lawn Bowling Club formed in the early 1920s and remains only one of two greens in the state (the Forest Hills Lawn Bowling Club is in East Cleveland). After 62 years in Avondale, it moved to its current location in 1996.

In Australia and Britain, where lawn bowling is highly popular and considered a competitive sport, players follow strict rules requiring all-white clothing and even skirts for female players. That rigidity doesn't fly in Newtown.

"We try to be pretty casual here," says Elliston of Milford, who is dressed in white, but points out the various colors of clothing on the field.

The club meets every day except Friday and Monday, and the number of games played is determined after everyone arrives.

"It depends on the weather, how tired people get, how old we are," says Ball with a laugh.

Some members joined the club as a result of its proximity to the Little Miami Golf Center, including Bob Turley, 47, of Sharonville, who says he saw club members playing after finishing a round of golf a few weeks ago. He joined shortly thereafter.

His son, Ryan, 15, the only teen player on this day, is considering joining the club with his dad, but isn't too sure.

"It's kind of slow and there are a lot of old people," he says.


Strategies to improve your game

Don't spin your wrist. Unlike regular bowling balls, lawn bowls are weighted to create a natural bias. When rolling, aim with a trajectory diagonal to the jack so that the bowl eventually spins close to the jack.

Knock around the jack. If your opponent has a bowl blocking your path to the jack, simply aim for the jack itself and knock it out of the way.

Use your skips wisely. Skips are members of two-or-more player teams that direct the bowler. They help determine the necessary trajectory and suitable goal for each rolls.

Rules of the game

Players' motions in lawn bowling resemble regular bowlers', but the objective is similar to those in the game of horseshoes: They roll "bowls," wooden or rubber oblong sphers weighted on one side. Players try to get the bowls close to the "jack," a white porcelain ball that resembles a cue ball. The jack ball is rolled at the beginning of the game 75 to 100 feet from the players. Only the team with its bowls closest to the jack can score after each "end," or rotation of teams. The bowls naturally curve, so the bowler's goal is to aim to the side of the jack and have the bowl slant as close to it as possible. Too much oomph on the bowl, or not enough, can send it far from the intended target.

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