Kevin Costner’s field of dreams was a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield. I found mine on a patch of dormant Bermuda in a retirement community in Arizona.
There are no Shoeless Joe Jackson types looking for redemption in the Lawn Bowling Club at Pueblo El Mirage. There was no money on the line when I competed in my first tournament, two days after a brief orientation. The veterans here help the newbies learn the basics of this game that, until a week ago, was foreign to me. I watched from the sidelines for several days, 10 or 15 minutes at a time, wondering what in the world these men and women were doing rolling funny-looking balls on a surface that looks more like particle board than grass.
But it makes more sense now, and it’s a little addicting.
The object of the game is to roll the bowl — not ball — down a closely-cropped grass lane, or rink, and try to place it as close to the jack — a dead ringer for a cue ball — as possible. It’s much harder than it sounds because the bowls aren’t like bowling balls. There are no holes for fingers, and the bowls are unevenly weighted. So if the bowl is rolled straight for the jack, if its “bias” is not taken into account, it makes a beeline for Palm Springs.
I’m not a golfer, but many have told me than lawn bowling is a lot like golf, particularly putting. The good putter always assesses the curve of the course and how hard, or soft, to putt the ball. And most importantly, how to put the ball in play so it curves into the hole.
There’s much more to lawn bowling, most of which I don’t understand yet. It gets very strategic at the higher levels. At this point, I’m happy to place the mat correctly and not drop the bowls on my sandaled feet. I’m still learning how to score and hang up the bowl rake correctly. I’m doing a lot of raking, because I’ve been on the losing side of a lot of rounds, or ends.
But that’s OK, because each time I play, I learn something new. Like not to get too excited about placing my bowl close to the jack. Because more likely than not, a veteran will place their bowl just a little bit closer, and then it’s time to rake again.
I like the formality of lawn bowling. The ritual handshakes before and after each match. Before tournament play begins, the singing of the American and Canadian national anthems. The hand signals that communicate points scored, or not. All whites are mandatory for tournament play, unless sporting a lime green Pueblo El Mirage lawn bowling club shirt. I’m eyeing one of those for next year.
Yes, my wife, Betty, and I will be back in the desert for the 2019 season. And lawn bowling will no longer be a curiosity, it will be my activity of choice. I’ll be focused on “getting good grass” and keeping “the little in the middle” as I soak in the winter Arizona sun on this most unexpected field of dreams.