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Lawn bowling: Intensely competitive?

This week it definitely has been. The annual tournament for national and international players came to O.C.

September 27, 2013|By Emily Foxhall | This post has been corrected, as noted below.
  • Aaron Sloen, from Northern Ireland, lines up a shot during the U.S. Open of Lawn Bowls at the Newport Harbor Lawn Bowling Club in Corona Del Mar.
Aaron Sloen, from Northern Ireland, lines up a shot during… (Don Leach / Daily…)

California weather has long attracted out-of-state visitors looking to spend time outdoors. They flock to the golden coast to surf, bike and rock climb and, as it happens, "play bowls."

More than 300 players took to the greens this week for the U.S. Open of Lawn Bowls, an annual tournament for national and international players that ends Saturday.

The only qualifications? Membership in a lawn bowling association and a small tournament fee.

This fall marks the fourth of five consecutive years that Orange County clubs, including the Newport Harbor Lawn Bowling Club, has hosted the competition.

"They thought that by doing this for five consecutive years we would eventually be able to market this game," said Mert Isaacman, chairman of the U.S. Open committee. "To a point, we have."

Many advocates of lawn bowling, or "bowls," as it is affectionately known, hope to grow the sport in America among a more varied and younger crowd. More typically, as in Orange County, it is played by retirees.

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The week's intense competition would be a change for what is otherwise a largely social sport in California, but it would nonetheless demonstrate the attractive nuances of the focused game.

"Look how tight and how complicated that head is down there," said John MacDonald, gesturing toward a match in Newport Beach on Friday. "That's really pretty busy. That's really a sophisticated shot down there."

MacDonald oversees the grounds at the Newport Beach club. He ensures that the field is always fit for play, with the grass measuring at or below an eighth of an inch. Players must wear flat shoes to protect it.

"The green itself is our biggest single asset," he explained. "It's like one big giant golf green."

The city used to own a lawn bowling green on Balboa Peninsula, but beginning in the 1960s, members started to grumble that they needed a new one, according to city records.

They said the group was becoming too large to fit in the space, and so they began looking for something larger.

"Over the years, many locations have been considered for relocating lawn bowling activities," reads a 1971 report submitted to the city manager.

The Irvine Terrace Park location, where local aficionados play today, was considered a "prime" choice.

Deed restrictions at the time prevented any organized sports from being played in the area, but the determined lawn bowlers wouldn't take no for an answer.

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