Lawn bowls isn’t just for retired old gents – it’s a sport for everyone! But with dwindling player numbers, could council bowling clubs be on the verge of extinction? Could their fortunes be revived, wonders Gayle?
Most people have enjoyed a game of ten pin bowling at some stage in their lives – who could forget those stiff, unpleasant rental shoes that stunk of other people’s feet? But how many of us have tried lawn bowling?
Keen to expand my horizons, I head along to Orchar Park Bowling Club in Broughty Ferry for an afternoon session.
The first thing I notice is just how gorgeous and well-groomed this iconic green and pavilion are.
Set back from Monifieth Road and surrounded my mature trees and a privet hedge, it’s heavenly.
“I hope you’re not wearing high heels?” quips past president Sam Bryce with a cheeky wink.
He’s joking, of course, and no, I’m not. Instead, I’m sporting a rather garish (and more importantly, flat) pair of gold slip-ons.
“Have you tried lawn bowls before?” asks competition organiser Bruce Anderson, and I’m slightly ashamed to say that no, I haven’t. But things are about to change.
Handing me a bowl, Sam shows me how to hold it correctly and explains one side is heavier than the other. This means when it moves, it curves.
“The weight is offset; one side has a bigger curve than the other,” he says. “That’s what we call the bias.”
The aim is to get your bowl (which can be any colour) as near to the “jack” (a white bowl) as possible.
The members here today intend playing 15 “ends” of the rink (there are six rinks on the green) and that can take around two hours, including a tea break.
After a few pathetic shots, which see bowls go in the wrong direction and nowhere near the jack, Sam steps in to show me how it’s done.
Despite my shockingly poor bowlingmanship, I’m having great fun, and that’s down a combination of enjoying the upbeat banter, the scenic setting…and the fact there’s coffee and cake!
However, it troubles me to discover the fantastic wee club, founded in 1911, could risk closure.
Like many other council bowling greens, player numbers at Orchar Park have diminished dramatically.
At its peak, after the First World War, the club had 126 members. Today, it has just 17.
Showing me the club’s first book of minutes, dated 1911, and telling the story of how a fire in the basement saw the loss of old trophies and records, Bruce says he puts the dwindling player numbers down to a lack of young blood.
“Some folk have this idea that bowling’s just for older people, but that’s not the case,” he says.
“It’s not too strenuous but it gets you into the fresh air and you can meet people and make friends.
“You don’t need formal lessons. You can pick it up as you play with help from players. All equipment is provided and all you need is flat-soled shoes.”
Club secretary Alan Justice reckons bowling is “just like golf or billiards without the sticks and holes” but just as much fun.
“It’s a very social sport as you’re always close to team and opponents,” he adds.
“It’s difficult to get that message across as lawn bowling is often thought of as an old retired gents game.
“Unfortunately the old tend to wear out and become unfit so leave the club which is our current predicament. We’re down to 17 members but still have a keen core attending regularly.”
So what can be done to revive this inclusive and historic sport?
Kevin Cordell, council convener of neighbourhood services, is keen to see more folk take up bowling and wants to increase awareness of facilities throughout the city.
Despite the drop in players, he says there are no plans to shut Orchar Park.
“Bowling remains an active sport for people of all ages and Orchar Park offers an excellent facility,” he adds.
You can pop along to play there most days or turn up for sessions on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1pm.
Why not give it a bash and go some way towards helping to keep this historic sport alive?
Just remember – you don’t have to rent a pair of stinky shoes!
It’s thought there were at least 20 council-run bowling clubs in Dundee in the late 1980s. Now the council now operates just seven bowling greens, with many former facilities flattened. Council-run clubs at Victoria Park and Baxter Park were shut in 2015, in a bid to save the council £30,000 in maintenance costs, with fears others could be axed for similar cost-cutting reasons. The season at Orchar Park runs until the end of September. Membership is free for the first year. For more details, email firstname.lastname@example.org