Hit the Green at Ala Moana Beach Park with the Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: the Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club.
Photos: Odeelo Dayondon
➸Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club is the only group in Hawai‘i dedicated to the ancient and genteel sport of lawn bowling, aka lawn bowls. The game involves rolling a weighted ball, called a bowl, across a large, manicured lawn toward a target. The tricky part is that the weight is off-center, so the bowl does not roll in a straight line. Rather, it hooks at the end.
The club is based at the lawn bowling green near the tennis courts at Ala Moana Beach Park. Hidden behind a low, white-brick wall, the green is a little-noticed park feature, despite the flags and the “Bowling Today—Visitors Welcome” sign that club members hoist to attract attention.
➸The club has about 40 dues-paying members, though with a $7 donation, anyone is welcome to drop in for a bowl. Last year some 1,500 people did just that, according to the club president, Mark Berwick. Most of the drop-ins are travelers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, where lawn bowls is widely played.
Lawn bowls is not physically demanding, which makes it appealing for older players. But it’s really a game for all ages. “In Australia and New Zealand, all the schoolchildren play,” says David Ferguson, a recent visitor from Auckland. “At the rest homes they have greens for the old people to play, too.”
History of Ala Moana lawn bowls
➸The green in Ala Moana Beach Park was constructed in 1935 and 1936 by Australian servicemen stationed in Honolulu. They built it with three feet of crushed coral beneath the grass, so the playing surface dries out very quickly after a rain.
In the early 1950s, the green was abandoned and overgrown with weeds, but it was restored in 1956 and has been in continuous use since. Various local lawn bowls clubs have come and gone over the years. The current club was formed in 1974. It was the first to admit women.
LAWN BOWLS vs. SPANISH ARMADA
In lawn bowl lore, Sir Francis Drake was in the middle of a game of bowls when he learned the Spanish Armada was approaching. As the story goes, Drake continued bowling, declaring, “There’s plenty of time to win the game and thrash the Spaniards, too.”
Photo: Mark Berwick
Before playing, everybody shakes everybody else’s hand and says, “Good bowls.”
Players compliment their opponents when they make good shots.
Players stand quietly and still while their opponents bowl.
There is no trash talking, body checking or arguing with umpires.
There is no arm waving, air-horn blowing or fake sneezing right before an opponent bowls.
Cell phones are frowned upon.
After playing, everybody shakes everybody else’s hand and says, “Good bowls.”
Left to right:
Ray Yourcheck, retired California Highway Patrol officer
“This is something I think I’ll be able to pursue for the rest of my life, while I don’t know how many years I have left to play tennis.”
Randy Reicherts, airline mechanic
“In the rest of Ala Moana park, you’re vying for space. Here, we have our own space. It’s like a whole different world here.”
Glenys Ferguson, visitor from New Zealand
“You can hold a glass of beer or a glass of wine in one hand and bowl with the other. Mind you, with the Australians, I don’t know how they can see, they have so much to drink.”*
* While alcohol goes hand in hand with lawn bowls Down Under, it is prohibited at Ala Moana Beach Park, so the boozy bowling Ferguson refers to isn’t part of the scene there.
The Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club hits the green at Ala Moana Beach Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10 a.m. Everyone is welcome. A donation for green maintenance is appreciated.