LAGUNA BEACH Calif. — When Scott Roberts delivers a lawn bowl to the immaculate playing green, he does it gently, slowly, the movement of his legs and bowling arm always sliding straight ahead.
He fell in love with the game, which shares similarities with curling and bocce, 12 years ago. His wife, Linda, was looking for a birthday gift and decided on an annual membership to the Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club.
It was the beginning of an obsession that has brought him new friends, scratched a competitive itch and offered plenty of opportunity for exercise. Plus, he lives near one of the oldest and best known clubs in the nation.
“This is one of the most desirable clubs not just in the country, but in the world,” Roberts said.
Located by the water with an unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean, the club is among the largest and most celebrated in the nation. More than 400 members call it their home club, nestled along the coast in one of Orange County’s affluent suburbs.
Admirers of the game proudly talk of its accessibility. Gentle on the joints, it can be played by all ages. The size and weight of the bowls is up to each player, and each throw has to do with feel and little to do with strength. Men compete evenly with women, the young holding little to no advantage over the old.
Club dues are also cheap. The Laguna Beach club offers free lessons to anyone interested in learning the game. Memberships for an entire year are $250, and allow membership holders to play at most other national and international clubs.
Even second-hand equipment can be found on the cheap.
“You can get a set of lawn bowls that will last for life for the cost of a driver,” said Roberts.
It’s also gentle on the body. Lawn bowling has no fast twitch motions that put undue stress on joints or ligaments. Players don’t make the bowls curve, that’s a result of how they’re weighted. The goal is to get as many lawn bowls close to the jack, a white ball slightly larger than a golf ball.
Players can block and protect the jack from other players’ throws. A common strategy is to send a lawn bowl behind the jack in case a player bumps the small white orb backward. Missing short is no good and a regular subject of self scolding among players.
“It’s a very easy game to understand, but it’s very difficult to get good at,” said Greg Mech, one of the Sunday regulars.
Roberts has served in various leadership roles for the club and has been a willing booster of the game’s virtues. He doesn’t get to practice as much as other players, but he likes to believe he can out think them.
“It’s not just the physical aspect,” Roberts said. “It’s also the tactics. What do I want to do here?”
Sunday morning at 8 am is Roberts’ window to get a few games in, sometimes one on one, or with a partner, or three separate pairs battling each other.
Another of the regulars, Pat Gallis, came across the game in the 1970s when he was still playing basketball and volleyball to get exercise. About eight years ago, in his early 60s, he set aside his high tops and take up lawn bowling. Now he’s hooked.
Players also like to indoctrinate others, adding new players seemingly as important as winning games. And they love to repeat that lawn bowling is for everyone.
“Anybody can play this game,” said Robert’s wife, Linda. “You can be young, you can be old, you can be fat, you can be skinny, you can be disabled.”