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Vol. 17, no. 4
August/September 2014


Good Bowls! 

Story by Larry Lieberman

Photo by Tommy Shih


It’s 10 on a Saturday morning at Ala Moana Beach Park, and with hearty handshakes and cheerful greetings of “Good bowls!” all around, a mixed doubles group takes the field for a round of lawn bowls. They’re playing on a well-manicured bowling green that has been around for nearly eighty years: Created in the mid-1930s by Australian servicemen stationed in Hawai‘i, the green has hosted bowlers for almost every year since, making space in Polynesia for a decidedly British sport. Traditional lawn bowling garb is crisp whites, but in Honolulu the players’ wardrobes are more colorful— in keeping with the players themselves.


“People get involved for the competition and the camaraderie,” says Robert Katzman, vice president of Honolulu Lawn Bowls Club, which is forty years old this year and has an eclectic roster of dues-paying regulars. Katzman himself discovered the sport a few years ago, drawn by a chance to exercise and socialize. “Players of any age, from eight to 80, can have a good match,” he says before pausing to take his shot. He aims for a small white sphere some twenty yards away called a jack and rolls a polished oblong black bowl toward it (“Don’t call them balls; they’re ‘bowls,’” he admonishes). Players take turns rolling bowls toward the jack; the aim is to get the bowls as close to the jack as possible and thereby to score. It requires finesse, patience and strategy— easy to learn but difficult to master.



Hundreds of guests show up at Honolulu’s bowling green each year, and all are welcome. Some are novices there for a free lesson or just to watch. Others, like John Green of New South Wales, are professional lawn bowlers; Green was in Honolulu earlier this year to compete in the club’s annual Aloha Barefoot Bowls Championship. “It’s a dream to be able to travel the world playing this sport,” he said. Bowler Claire Day, looking regal in a flowered hat and vivid shirt, echoed his sentiments. “People from all over the world,” noted the part-time Hawai‘i resident from Alberta, “are welcomed here.”