Friday, June 3, 2011

Feature: 'Roll up in your soles' for The Courier Mail

Written for The Courier-Mail's Friday liftout, CM2. Also published online.

Barefoot bowls is a perfect way to have a good time with your mates, so kick off your shoes and have a go at this game of concentration and technique, writes Anna Angel
IF THERE'S a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with a few drinks in the sun, and some friendly competition between mates, I'd like to hear about it.
Barefoot bowls, lawn bowls' younger and less uptight cousin, is winning over Queenslanders young and old.
In a successful bid to breathe new life into the sport, bowls clubs across the state have kicked off their shoes - literally - and shaken off a stigma of the game known as ``old man's marbles''.
Brisbane clubs have been bowled over by how popular their combination of cheap food, drinks and entertainment is with those in their teens through to late 40s.

A novel bring-a-friend day in the late 1990s drew so many casual players to New Farm's Merthyr Bowls Club - through word of mouth - that they were soon forced to expand.
Today Merthyr is arguably Brisbane's most popular spot to get your toes on the green.
Another club to pick up on the barefoot trend early was nearby New Farm Bowls Club.
``When the club embraced the idea of barefoot bowls it was to generate a new group of people coming in,'' New Farm Bowls Club board member Peter Izard says. ``The social side is what appeals - the amount of laughter and rivalry on a bowls green is amazing.''
Letitia Hodges, 22, of Beenleigh, says she went along to barefoot bowls last month on a whim and can't wait to go back.
``I'd seen the guys out there drinking and just having fun, and I thought it looked really great,'' Hodges (pictured) says.
``It's so much better than going to a pub on a Sunday, with the same crowd and the same music. It's something different, and it's much more relaxed.''
The aim of the game is to roll your bowl, which is weighted to curve, closer to the white ball (called the jack) than your opponents.
If you've never played before, don't worry.
Most clubs will run through a quick coaching session before letting you loose on the green.
``You only need to be prepared to have a great day out in the sun, and to kick your shoes off,'' Izard says.
The sport is steeped in tradition, with Queensland's first bowls club, Booroodabin (The Boo), in Newstead, dating to 1888.
While not all serious bowlers are keen to relax conventional rules and welcome visitors, the weekend traffic is crucial to business.
``I instigated barefoot bowls here, and I had to get it past the old-fashioned members who didn't want too many other people coming into their club,'' Coorparoo Bowls Club's Robyn McGilvery says. ``But now they realise it's those younger people and families that are helping keep our doors open.''
Bowls Queensland's Josh Thornton is thrilled to see more people trying out the sport, with or without shoes.
``It's something that helps get rid of that stigma that lawn bowls is just for older people,'' he says.
Thornton is working with clubs across the state to introduce a fresh calendar of social events and in-house bars and restaurants.
Coorparoo Bowls Club has even painted some bowls to glow in the dark for night games.
The low cost of a game of bowls - about $5 to $10 for two hours or more - is a big draw for families.
Then there's the after-match beers and stellar meal deals.
``People love the prices of the drinks. Where else can you get a stubby for $3.50?'' McGilvery says.
Call your local club in advance, especially if you are making it a family or group affair.
Many clubs have smaller bowls available so kids can play, while some don't allow children under the age of 12 on the green at all.
Get the bowl rolling and find your nearest club at or email
Follow these tips for a great time bowling
The basics
The aim is to roll your bowls closer to the (small white) jack than your opponents. Bowls are weighted so they will curve, and have two symbols on the surface. The smaller symbol marks the bias side. Always keep the bias facing the centre line of your rink. Judge from your first pitch which way you need to angle your next bowl in order to reach that elusive jack.
Drink between the flags
Clubs will have licensed areas. Feel free to take your tipple of choice within, but most will discourage drinking of any substance on the very expensive green.
Listen and learn
Most club staff will show you the ropes when you begin a game, but don't be afraid to ask members for their pro tips or - better yet - sit back and let them show you how it's done.
Book ahead
Popular clubs such as Merthyr book out their rinks, so it's best to call ahead - especially for large groups and peak times. If you're taking children, make sure your local club is well equipped.

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