At first glance, the crowd dressed in white gathered at the southwest corner of Eisenhower Park in East Meadow might look as if they’re playing bocce, the popular summer sport of backyard barbecues. But look again. The balls are a bit bigger. They have a different shape and are rolled, not tossed. The field is larger. And players have to keep one foot on a mat while releasing the ball.
Welcome to lawn bowling.
At Eisenhower, the bocce and lawn bowling courts sit side by side. But bocce is the more popular sport, and it’s the lawn bowlers who are looking to recruit new members, though lawn bowler Larry Krasnoff, 73, of Roslyn, can’t understand why there aren’t more players. “I call this the best-kept secret of Eisenhower Park because so few people know about it,” said Krasnoff, a retired architect. This is Krasnoff’s second year bowling with the Sunrise Lawn Bowls Club, the group that occupies the lawn bowling area at the park. “I learned in the winter in Sarasota, Florida, and played it again in Honolulu, so when we got home I looked for opportunities to play around here,” he said.
Sunrise members say the close-cropped green with a ditch around it is the only lawn bowling field on Long Island. Dues to join the club are $25 a year, for a season that runs generally from May through October. Players meet Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from about 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
After the games, many of the members often stay to play a game or two of cards, or saunter to the neighboring bocce field for a round of competition.
The Sunrise club is holding clinics to attract new members, said club president Michelle Turner Deane, 52, who started bowling with the group in 2010 after seeing bowlers on the field while at the bank across the street. Turner Deane and her husband, Dave Deane, 50, of Baldwin, have since become avid lawn bowlers. “Michelle has done a great job keeping the group together,” said Joan Kelly, 77, of Levittown, who has been bowling with the group since 2000.
“She’s excellent at explaining the rules,” noted Eunice Rischan, 95, of Wantagh, who’s bowled with the club for 40 years. The friendships and exercise keep her coming back, said Rischan, who worked in property management. She would love to see younger people and the newly retired join the group, which had 40 members when she first joined. “They would make friends with people they’d never have met, otherwise. We come from all over.”
Members get friends to try lawn bowling, and some join the club, but relatives stay away. “I guess the kids think, ‘It’s Mom and Dad’s kind of thing, let them go do it,’ ” Rischan said, and many of the members’ adult children don’t live in the area. Turner Deane said her teenage children have no interest in the game.
Lawn bowling at Eisenhower is done on a 120-square-foot bowling green that is divided into 20-foot-wide playing lanes called rinks. Players use a grapefruit-sized weighted ball — called a bowl — that weighs from 2 to almost 4 pounds, depending on which size best fits a player’s hands. Players score points by rolling their bowl as close as they can to a heavy white or yellow target ball, called a jack.
The Sunrise club members play 10 frames, just as in indoor bowling. The game takes about an hour. One roll of the ball up the rink is a frame. Then the jack is thrown again to the other end of the court and one time down the court makes the second frame, explained Eddie Glickstein, 80, of East Meadow, who was a salesman in the graphic arts industry. He’s one of those players who, as he puts it, “wandered over from bocce, and stayed.” He’s completing his first full season with the group. “It’s challenging in a different way than bocce is, and I enjoy the company,” Glickstein said. “And it gets me out in the fresh air for some exercise.”
A little body English helps the bowls make it down the court on most throws as players lean in the direction they want their bowl to go. They groan if it goes the wrong way, but mostly it’s friendly competition. “We’ll applaud if there’s a great shot that changes a team’s situation,” Rischan said. Often, tape measures come out of pockets to see just which team gets the point for having its bowls closest to the jack.
While the game is often compared to bocce, where heavy balls also are rolled toward a smaller ball, lawn bowls are designed with “bias” so players can put spin on their throw. The bias is what causes the bowl to curve as it rolls. One side of the elliptical bowl has a large circle, and the other side has a small circle, so players know which way to roll the ball so it turns toward or away from the jack.
The game gets interesting because of the shape of the bowls. Take into account any bumps in the greens and whether the trimming of the grass makes it fast or slow, and the outcome is far from certain. Tactics play a big part in getting a winning score.
Throw vs. roll
That technique challenge keeps Dave Deane coming back to test his skill. “The rules aren’t hard, you can learn them pretty quickly,” he said. “The hardest thing to get is the form, to know how to release the bowl — throw vs. roll.”
Turner Deane agrees that tactics play a big role in lawn bowling. “Do you want it to go straight or do you want it to attack your opponent’s bowl,” she asks. “It’s all in how you release the bowl.” She flicks her wrist to get a large curve on her bowl. And bending low in a stoop gets a very accurate roll. “When you roll it, crouch lower and let the bowl take off from under your knees,” she explains. “And the more you stand upright when you release it, the more it’s like a throw.”
Many in the United States regard lawn bowling as a game for those who are retired, but it’s possible to win $10,000 purses and earn a living at it in Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand, according to Patrick Duffy, 38, of Brooklyn.
Duffy, now president of the Northeast Division of Bowls USA, is a championship player who’s won every big tournament in America and played on Team USA in international play. He started lawn bowling when he was about 16 and remembers bowling with his dad, Charlie, at the Eisenhower Park field to qualify for tournaments. Duffy now bowls mostly in New Jersey, although he sometimes joins the action at the New York Lawn Bowling Club’s green in Central Park near the park’s West 69th Street entrance.
Bowls USA, formerly called the United States Lawn Bowls Association, like the Sunrise club, is working to attract younger players to the sport. Duffy has urged the Sunrise members to re-enlist with Bowls USA to get help revitalizing the club. Turner Deane said the group expects to make that move next season.
As part of international efforts to keep the sport relevant and help it grow, World Bowls, the international lawn bowling association federation, has petitioned the International Olympic Committee to add lawn bowling to the 2024 Olympics. In the first step of the process, the IOC will hear its petition in December, according to World Bowls’ website.
Lawn bowling is already played in many Commonwealth countries and is a regular part of the Commonwealth Games, which are next scheduled for 2018. “If the Olympic petition is granted, that will be a huge boon for the game,” Duffy said.
READY TO ROLL
The Sunrise Lawn Bowls Club is holding two clinics from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 and Sept. 24 to introduce new players to the game. Head to Eisenhower Park’s Playing Field 1, near the ice center. All equipment is provided. Go to the Stewart Avenue entrance at Merrick Avenue and turn right into the parking lot. The fenced-in playing field is visible from the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Merrick Avenue. For more information, call 347-512-1500.
— KAY BLOUGH