Choosing the set of bowls of the most important issue to face most bowlers when they begin to play the sport.
Yet, judging by the number of people I see whilst coaching and also on my travels, I would estimate that between thirty and forty per cent of them are using the wrong-sized bowls.
The popular method of determining bowls size has been to have the bowler span around the bowl with the middle fingers and the thumb of each hand. If the fingers and thumbs just meet around the running surface the bowl is supposed to be the right size. This theory may work in some cases, but it misleads many people.
I believe the only way to find the correct size is to swing a number of various sized bowls in the hand. With a new player, I would place a bowl in the hand and adjust the fingers to the correct grip that felt comfortable to the player.
Then I would ask the player to swing the hand back to the furthest point on the backswing. If the player feels the bowl may drop, then it is obviously too big. If the bowl can be handled with ease, than a larger size could be tried. Using this method, the player would be able to determine the largest bowl that could be comfortably and effectively used.
The next decision would be whether to use a heavy weight or a medium weight bowl. In the UK, a great number of bowlers actually own two sets of bowls. They may use a heavy weight one on the faster indoor surfaces and then change to a medium weight on the slower outdoor surfaces.
Many other players, including myself, use a heavy weight bowl on both indoor and outdoor surfaces. The heavy weight bowl certainly has advantages on a fast outdoor green on a windy day as they are less liable to be affected by a gusty crosswind. Also the heavy bowl can displace a lighter bowl more easily in the head.
The final decision whether you play with a heavy weight or a medium weight bowl will probably depend on comfort in the hand and whether your wallet can stretch to the purchase of two sets.
Often in the clubs players will argue the merits of one bowls manufacturer against another. The bowls companies all produce a variety of models and all manufactured to a high standard. Choosing any particular model will depend on what suits you best – whether you intend to play indoors and outdoors or you want a bowl specifically for faster indoor greens.
Though many club bowlers do watch the star players perform well on television and often purchase the same models as their favourite players.
These are some of the bowls available from the different companies:
HENSELITE has a wide variety of models, which include the CLASSIC – traditionally the choice for outdoor bowlers in the UK. The bowl has a wide arc and ‘hockey stick’ finish and though good outdoors, may prove a disadvantage on faster indoor surfaces.
The CLASSIC II is regarded by many as the best performing modern bowl. Designed to run straighter, with a less pronounced swing, it is ideal for UK indoor carpets. Many players do use these bowls both indoors and out.
The TIGER is the ‘New Kid on the Block’ and used by many Henselite sponsored players in television events. Greg Harlow and Ian Bond both won World Bowls Tour ranking tournaments last season using this model of bowl. Designed for both indoor and outdoor use, this model has a slightly wider bias than the Classic II and is only available in heavyweight.
The DREAMLINE is fairly new to these shores and is a narrow running bowl suitable fr very fast surfaces, and would certainly not be suitable outdoors in early May!
In the ALMARK range, Henselite has three models – the STERLING GOLD for outdoor use with a wide bias; STERLING KING, a narrow running bowl ideal for faster greens, and the STERLING SLIMLINE, a bowl with a narrower profile to fit the hand, but suitable for both codes.
DRAKES PRIDE provides the PROFESSIONAL, which has proved to be a very popular bowl in the UK. This bowl is used by many bowlers, both indoors and outdoors, and is ideal for those players not wishing to purchase two sets. Many top players would agree that this bowl has proved versatile in all conditions and on many different surfaces.
The ADVANTAGE is a tight running bowl and would only prove suitable on faster greens, preferably for front-end players.
The PROFESSIONAL PLUS is an outdoor bowl and would be similar to the Henselite Classic, therefore probably suited to slower outdoor conditions.
THOMAS TAYLOR also provided a wide selection to include its traditional outdoor bowl – the LIGNOID.
The ACE is probably its most popular bowl with many indoor bowlers and is used successfully by twice World indoor champion Andy Thomson. This is another bowl that can also be used successfully outdoors.
The VECTOR has a narrower line and would be popular on fast surfaces, especially for front end players, while the LAZER is a slim profile bowl with a narrow bias similar to the Vector. The advantage of this bowl is that it has been developed for comfort in the hand for those with smaller hands.
THE LEGACY also has a slimmer profile, but unlike the Laser has a wider arc and is considered a mid-bias bowl that could also be used outdoors. Taylor also produced the SPECTRUM and INTERNATIONAL, which are stronger in bias than the Ace.
Many of these bowls are now available in many colours, as well as traditional black, and it would be best to check availability with your local bowls retailer, though always remember that at present coloured bowls are only available in heavy weights and that relevant weight and sizes are published in most bowls catalogues.
This way you can check the relevant weight difference between heavy weight and medium weight bowls. My personal advice to any new bowler would be to select a mid bias bowl that will prove useful on most surfaces, for example Drakes Pride Professional, Henselite Classic II and Tiger and Taylor Ace would fall into this category.
As you gain experience, you may decide to try a narrower running bowl if you have a very fast indoor carpet. One word of warning – many bowlers believe the tight running bowls make the game easier and believe they can virtually bowl straight. That is not the case as in many instances weight control will need to be much better with a narrow running bowl as there is little margin for error and the tight running bowl will not bend with excessive weight.
With so many bowls on the market, always seek advice from a specialist bowls retailer and if possible inquire whether you might be able to try the model you wish to purchase. Sometimes bowls shops based inside indoor stadiums hold sample bowls that can be tried.
Finally, always remember no matter what set of bowls you purchase, you still have to bowl them – sometimes it is easier to blame the bowls when we play a bad game rather than our own poor play.
About Author: John Price
Former World Indoor Singles Champion
Resident professional at Potters Leisure Resort, Norfolk the home of world bowls