Like many Tacomans, Kane Tobin and his girlfriend, Lauren Donnellan, were taking a stroll through Wright Park on a Sunday. It was during this walk they would discover the old Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club greens and where throughout the next year would work to re-introduce Tacoma to the sport of lawn bowling.
The original Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club was founded in 1929, when half the appeal of the sport seemed to be in the exclusivity and formality it offered. In the original club members had to wear completely white uniforms, communication was done only through hand signals, and new members had to take lessons before even arriving on the greens to play a game. The club was eventually ended due to a lack of new members.
In 2017, Tobin and Donnellan and other enthusiastic bowlers reopened the Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club but this time with a brand new set of rules and a completely different approach to the game. “We looked at everything that was done that was causing the sport to no longer be played and we said ‘we’re going to do the opposite of that,” said Tobin, who now serves as the club’s president.
The new Tacoma Lawn Bowling Club embraces its new themes of community and inclusivity. Now the greens are open to anyone who wants to play, even those passing through the park are more than welcomed to join a pickup game. Talking is encouraged whether it’s about game strategy or just getting to know the person you’re playing with better. Speaking on the new culture of the club Tobin said, “It was really about breaking down the barriers that make people not want to come on to the greens, identifying those and getting rid of those. Making it a fun sport again.”
On Sunday, June 24, I had the chance to go out to the greens and try lawn bowling myself. To be honest, I didn’t have any experience with lawn bowling beyond a couple games of bocce ball and a few YouTube tutorials, but I was excited and eager to learn.
To begin I had to find a set of bowls which would fit comfortably in my hand and then make my way to the green to learn the basics. Lawn bowling is similar to bocce ball in the sense that there’s one small ball, called the Jack, that is rolled onto the green and which players must try to get their balls closest to. What distinguishes lawn bowling from bocce ball is in lawn bowling the bowl has a bias which allows players to curve their shot. The scoring system works more like curling where the player with the closest ball receives a point and any other bowls they have closer to the Jack than their opponent.
Throughout the afternoon I played three different games where I found myself enjoying the sport and getting to talk to different people. Like any sport, there is an element of strategy and skill, but this was the perfect game to play while relaxing in the park while still having a competitive and sometimes close game.
It was also during my time on the greens I could see the sense of inclusivity and community. Players came from all walks of life and ranged in ages, yet the differences didn’t matter. What mattered was they were out having fun playing a game and enjoying each other’s conversation and company.
The practice and mindset of inclusivity were also extremely prevalent throughout the afternoon. All the club members were more than happy to talk to those who stopped at the fence to see what was happening and when new players arrived were eager to teach them. During games, all players were treated equally and with respect from those who had been to regional competitions to those who had just stepped onto the green.
While the club is still young it is incredible to see how two people with an idea to bring others together can grow into a club where all different people can come to have fun. And it all starts with a game.