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Calgary Lawn Bowling Club still rolling PDF Print E-mail
Written by MAYAN FREEBORN   
Friday, 13 August 2010 09:03

Reporter tries her hand at the 800-year-old sport

At the corner of 16th Avenue S.W. and 12th Street, a chain link fence surrounds a pristine, manicured grassy turf.   A wrought-iron gate reads 1923, and beside it a sign is posted for the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club.  Entrance is upon membership, but anyone is welcome to give the sport a try.

Lawn bowler, Lindsay Mackie (left) watches as a team member bowls during a Saturday afternoon jitney, an event where teams are drawn from those in attendance on the day.
Photo: Holly Hofmann/ Calgary Journal
My curiosity piqued at how a lawn bowling organization had held onto a chunk of prime real estate near the beltline for so long, I decided to go for a free lesson.

On a Wednesday evening, I made my way to the bowling green, making sure to wear flat-soled shoes so as not to disturb the bright green lawn.   Lindsay Mackie, the club treasurer and a lawn bowler for 54 years, greeted me with a handshake.

Having never played the game before, and having only ever seen photos of it, my first question was,  “Is it like bocce ball?”

“It’s more like curling on grass,” Mackie replied, explaining how a lawn bowling ball is weighted on one side, so it curls along the grass depending on the throw.

Mackie measured my fingers and handed me a set of the smallest balls available. We walked to the parallel playing strips, called rinks, which measure 20 by 120 feet and are marked by white stakes. I asked Mackie how the club has managed to keep land so close to 17th Avenue S.W. for over 80 years.

He turned to me with a funny-you-should-ask look.  With a sigh, he replied: “[The city] told us they’re not renewing our lease. We don’t have much to fight with.”

He pointed to a small park beside the lawn bowling greens and explained how the city wants to extend the small park into a larger one.  

Dennis Urquhart, spokesperson for City of Calgary Parks, later commented the club may be relocated in order to fulfill the requirements of the 2006 Open Space Strategy, which requires one hectare of open space per 1,000 people for downtown communities.  He added that no final decisions have been made as of yet.

There is an upside. Mackie said the club is looking into whether the clubhouse, built in 1929, is a historical site. Also, the lawn bowling club will not move locations until at least 2012 and the greens won’t be closed until the city has found a new club site.

“We’re worried that we’re moving, but we can’t do anything about it,” Mackie said.

My lesson continued, and Gilman Freschauf, current president of the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club, joined us.  I think he was surprised to see a young woman interested in bowling.

Freschauf has been lawn bowling for 21 years and joined the club in 2005. He says it can be challenging recruiting members.

“It is still seen as more of a seniors sport, although it was, once upon a time, very popular. It has gradually gone down in popularity over the last 50 years,” Freschauf says, explaining that some people put off getting into the sport because they think it’s something they’ll get into when they’re older.

I watched some seasoned players bowl in the next rink over, and got nervous.

Formed in 1923, the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club has participated in many tournaments over the years. Pictured above are winners of a tournament in 1938.
Photo courtesy of Calgary Lawn Bowling Club
The purpose of the game is to get the balls close to the white ball, or jack, that is thrown at the beginning of the game, like in bocce ball.

The rink is marked by white stakes that are visible on the boards at the end of each rink. After Mackie rolled the jack down the middle of the rink, it was time for me to make my first bowling attempt.

Like pin bowling, there is a line that cannot be crossed. The player must stand on a mat. Mackie says one foot can step off of it, but one must remain on.

Rolling my ball, I found that it would curve too far out. A tip Mackie offered was to point my feet in the direction of the white stakes.

I wasn’t a natural.

Barely able to keep my balls within bounds of the rink, Freschauf drew my attention to the bowlers on the second green.  The man who was bowling was blind, said Freschauf, explaining how the greens are also often used by visually-impaired bowlers who practice there several times a week with their directors, or coaches.

There are four levels of lawn bowling for the visually impaired: B1, which is total blindness; B2 has up to five per cent vision; B3 has five to 10 per cent vision; B4 is in the high 10 per cent vision.

Brian McIvor, a blind lawn bowler started playing with the club three years ago,

competing in the B1 category.

Visually impaired players are allowed more time – a visually-impaired game lasts about three hours, or to 21 points, whereas a sighted game lasts around two hours.

Mackie explained there’s a social aspect to lawn bowling, and I experienced it firsthand. The people were friendly and the atmosphere was nothing but calm and relaxing.

“I think it’s lovely on a Saturday afternoon in the sun…bowl, have a cup of tea and [a piece of] cake and then go home,” Mackie says.