The Bowling Green
Where Broadway begins, at the intersection of State and Whitehall Streets lies
Manhattan's Bowling Green, the oldest green park in the city. The area began as a cattle
market and a place for parades. In 1733 it was converted into a bowling green, hence
today's name. Until 1776 there was a statue here of George III surrounded by an iron
fence. After the American declaration of independence had been published, New Yorkers
pulled it down and usd the lead for ammunition.
The Bowling Green eventually suffered the same
fate as the statue. It 1914 it had to yield to a subway station and the playing greens
were transferred to Central Park (pictured right). Today it is still an open space with a
History of the Sport
Some sort of bowling (there are many forms - boule, bocce, petanque,
etc.) can be traced back to the Egyptians. And other sports developed from it - for
instance Curling (now and Olympic sport) which is basically a winter version played on
ice. The oldest Crown Green still played on is in Southampton, England. It has
been in operation since since 1299 CE.
Every British child used to know at least one bowling story - when Elizabeth I's
"sea-dog" Frances Drake was informed that the Spanish Armada was near - on July
18, 1588 - he was playing a game of Bowls on Plymouth Hoe. His reputed response was
"We still have time to finish the game and to thrash the Spaniards, too."
Banning of Bowls
Oddly enough for a game which is now seen as the epitome of placidity, bowling was
banned for many centuries for most people. Henry VIII played the game, but banned it for
the poor because "Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers and Arrowhead makers" were
spending more time at recreational events such as bowls instead of practising their trade.
He ruled that anybody who wished to keep a green pay a fee of 100 pounds, and that
the green could only be used for private play and he forbade anyone to "play at any
bowle or bowles in open space out of his own garden or orchard".
This ban was maintained for centuries. In 1618 King James I issued The Book of
Sports and, while condemningfootball (soccer) and golf, encouraged the playing of
bowls. His son, Charles I issued his own Declaration of Sports in which he
"our good people be not disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawful
recreation, such as dancing, either men or women; archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or
any other such harmless recreation, nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-ales, and
Morris-dances, and the setting up of Maypoles and other sports therewith used."
But he also maintained:
"we do here account still as prohibited all unlawful games to be used upon Sundays
only, as bear and bull baitings, interludes, and at all times in the meaner sort of people
by law prohibited, bowling."!
It was only in 1845 that the ban was lifted, and people were again allowed to play
bowls as they wanted.
Despite the laws, bowls continued to be played, and was played in the America from
early 1600's. The game spread to other parts of the British Empire also: Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand. Crown Green and/or Lawn Bowling (there are
slight variations between the two sports) was the leading sport in America before
the Revolutionary War and part of the historic fabric of New York City. Bowling Green Park
at the tip of Broadway was established on March 12, 1733 and believed to be the first
public park in North America. Although considered the "Sport of Kings",
bowling was played in America by such notables as George Washington, George Vanderbilt,
John D. Rockefeller and Walt Disney (who used to lay planeloads of bowlers to his Palm
Springs home for bowling weekends).
Location of Bowling Green
Richard Suren Keoseian, Founder and president of Metropolitan Lawn Bowling Club of
New York explained the flat green game in an email as follows:
The aristocratic elements of the game have been preserved for centuries and, although
considered a "sport of kings", does not bar players for age, race, religion,
politics, size, sex or celebrity. Anyone can play. All they need to do is walk, bend
over and swing their arm.
Up close, it is a one-on-one struggle, a duel, a contest where every bowl is a
competitive thrust and parry. Quite simply, a small white ball, the "jack" is
rolled down a close cropped grass lawn 120 feet long by 15 feet wide, called the
"rink". The jack comes to rest about 75 feet down the rink and is centered.
Players then take turns "delivering" three pound bowls in the direction of the
jack. Once all have rolled their bowls (generally four per person), points are awarded to
those closest to the jack.
The game is interesting because the bowls are not round but elliptical - cut on the
bias - causing them to curve anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters of the way along
their run. In effect, you have to aim to one side of the jack, not straight on.
Proper dress - whites and flat shoes (without heels).
The difference between the lawn bowling (or flat bowling) described here and crown
green bowling is that in crown green bowling the green has a slight "crown"
and the jack is biased. Moreover, flat green bowls is confined to play on
rinks, while crown green bowls can be played in any direction on a green.