Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club will roll out the green carpet for its annual open house

The Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club will open its greens to the public on Saturday, May 7 from 10 am to 3 pm for its annual open house.

The club has been a mainstay in Recreation Park since it was founded in 1928.

Five times a week, a group of mainly retirees fill up the club’s lawns to participate in lawn bowling: a sport similar in nature to bocce ball or shuffleboard.

Like bocce ball, the goal of the game is to get a ball as close as possible to the target—a small white ball called a “jack.”

The twist: the balls—termed “bowls”—have a bias. The almost imperceptible curve in one side of the bowls causes them to roll straight for about ten yards before hooking inwards as they lose momentum.

“It’s a game of finesse,” said Long Beach Lawn Bowling President Mark Holden, who joined the club four years ago through CSULB’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a personal challenge,” Holden said. “You get to get out in the fresh air, get to see all these people and get to play with them and have a little friendly competition.”

The sport isn’t intensely physical. Some members use mobility devices to pick up their bowls, others use small stools to help lower and lift themselves onto the greens for their turn.

Some attend merely for the social scene, watching bowlers compete as they relax in the sun near the lawn’s many rose bushes, chatting amid the intermittent “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” of members hitting or missing their marks.

Mark Holden, president of the Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club, picks up a blue bowl at the Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club on April 23, 2022. (Richard H. Grant | Signal Tribune)

Executive board member Roberta Morrison, who joined in 2014, said she remembers walking by lawn bowlers on Park Avenue when she was a teen attending Wilson High School.

It wasn’t until she became an empty nester that she decided to try lawn bowling with her husband on Wednesdays, which eventually became their go-to date night.

“My husband was hooked. He’s very into sports,” Morrison said. “At first he thought it was just like bocce ball and was not very into doing it with me. But then he saw the strategy that’s involved in the game and now he competes.”

Like the Morrisons, the distinctly challenging strategy of the game is what compelled Holden to go all-in on lawn bowling.

He even has his own bowls, speckled with dark blue, complete with a case where he keeps measuring tools—a single centimeter of distance from the jack can determine a winner.

“As the target gets more crowded with balls around it, it becomes more challenging to come in and curve into the target,” Holden said, noting that sometimes he’ll roll a hard ball to shatter a circle of bowls, similar to breaking a set of pool balls.

The club typically plays friendly games of triples, where each player gets three bowls and is paired up with players of varying experience levels.

The least experienced players roll first, when the greens aren’t yet crowded, leaving more experienced players with the task of maneuvering around bowls towards the jack—an opportunity for them to flex their “fineness.”

On Saturday, April 23 around 10 am, Dwight Parker stood on the club’s meticulously trimmed and flattened greens, palm wide with a bowl in hand, aiming at his jack.

“I was a golfer. A lot of the guys are golfers. This is a little less physically demanding, but you get the same kind of competitive intensity,” said Parker, who joined the club four years ago. “Golf was a big time commitment, could take four hours plus. This is two, two and a half hours, and you meet great people.”

The club is part of a collective of about 30 lawn bowling groups in Southern California, which sometimes meet up for matches and tournaments.

Holden said the club boasts several “world-class” bowlers—a Bowls USA Hall of Fame member, a gold medalist at China Bowls, a silver medalist at the Asia Pacific Championship in New Zealand and a “Bowler of the Tournament” at the US Open, meaning they took first place in three separate categories.

During its open house, prospective bowlers can get free lessons from these pros. Those who can’t make it to the open house should not fret—the club offers three free lessons to anyone interested.

“We basically open up the doors to anybody watching off the street and give them an opportunity to get out and just have a little trial run,” Holden said. “Roll a few balls, see if it interests them. If it does… [I mean]they don’t have to show interest to get pizza, but it is here.”

A yearlong membership to the club costs $200, which includes keys to the bowling greens for members to play “anytime they want” and access to the club’s extensive collection of bowls in various sizes and weights to play with, Holden said.

Morrison also noted that the club will “bring out the barbeque” for holidays like Christmas, Fourth of July and Labor Day, and that the club also holds a ladies night.

The Long Beach Lawn Bowling Club holds bowling events on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am and Wednesdays at 5:30 pm

Those interested in playing should arrive 30 minutes early to be drawn for a team. Residents can wear any kind of attire, as the club does not follow the tradition of wearing all white to bowl.

For more information, residents can visit longbeachlbc.com.

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