Photos by Sarah Bennett
When asked just how old the Long Beach Lawn Bowling club (LBLBC) is, its president, Peter Sinclair, humbly shrugs his shoulders and gestures towards a picture from 1928.
“At least as old as that,” he said, picking up the photograph that shows the lawns--just off of Park Avenue between 10th St. and Anaheim St.--in the same shape they are now but surrounded by small, almost barren grass hills rather than the schools, massive trees, and buildings that currently encapsulate the space.
The small clubhouse is something of a hidden treasure, complete with mismatched furniture and an array of lawn bowling relics ranging from trophies to balls handed to the club by a British visit almost a hundred years ago. Names and pictures are everywhere: a man celebrating his 102nd birthday in the 1970s, a notice to former club president Pat Gonzales that she was to be inducted into the Lawn Bowling hall of Fame, the club’s own Hall of Fame with its last name reading, “Beanie Owens, 2012.”
“Beanie is right over there,” Sinclair said. “She’s the only woman to make it on that part of the wall”--he gestures towards the last row, dedicated solely to lawn bowlers over the age of 90--"91 and she’s still goin’.”
The aura of the LBLBC is one that is hard not to fall for. The array of men and women dedicated to it--some 80 people are members of the club, with about half under the age of retirement and even a handful of twentysomethings--show the love of the odd sport, whether it is the fact that all the men have a tan line on the back of their calves because they continually wear their bowlin’ shorts or whether it is the fact that the women show no fear of engaging in competition--after all, the club’s two national champions, Pat Gonzales and Cecile Langevin, are both women. But gender aside, they all simply love the game they play and each exude a personality that lives to draw in newcomers.
Five lawn bowling games going on simultaneously at Long Beach's Lawn Bowling Club
As Sinclair happily explained to me the history of the ball itself--an oddly shaped sphere which is slightly flat on opposite edges while weighted on one side so people can maneuver around other balls--he abruptly stopped himself.
“Tell me when it’s a quarter 'til--I’m not used to this president stuff,” he said, referencing his duties to get the Tuesday morning open games going. I looked at my watch and said, “Well, it’s already a quarter 'til.”
“No, no--according to my watch,” he said, before moving on to explain that games have often been so close that they’ve slid dollar bills between balls to determine a winner.
After it suited his timeframe, Sinclair stepped outside to have everyone gather together while a man raised the United States flag. After pledging allegiance, he informed the group that due to the odd number of people playing today, three will have to play cutthroat--ultimately meaning they will be play individually against each other rather than on a team. Slight groans escaped mouths. Some even blatantly ignored the question.
“It’s just not as a fun when you’re not on a team,” Sinclair whispered before proclaiming, “Someone’s gotta do it.”
Three begrudgingly agreed and the groups, after being randomly assigned as they always are, head to one of the three giant lawns to begin their game.
LBLBC President Peter Sinclair (left) holds a basket of names to determine team placement.
The overall arch of the game is simple: a white ball called the jack is strategically placed by the skip, one of three players on a team. Following that, players on the teams must strategize to get their balls as close to the jack as possible. And contrary to the seeming simplicity of the game, the skill is complex--as The Educator of the Lawn, Reggie Rook, explained.
“Everything can affect your ball,” Rook said during my lesson. “Lawns are measured by their speed in numbers; the higher the number, the faster your ball will roll easily. Astroturf is really fast--like a 14 or 15. and then you have to account for outside things: the dampness of the grass or turf, the shortness of the grass, even wind. I know it sounds crazy but you’ll be amazed at what a gust of wind can do to your trajectory.”
And with that enthusiasm and knowledge, the LBLBC offers free lessons to those interested--and hopes that you’ll enjoy the game enough to become a member and continue Long Beach’s longest leisure-sport legacy.
For free lessons, call (562) 433-9063. Draw bowling occurs Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10AM and 1PM. The Long Beach Bowling Club is located at 1109 Federation Drive.