Indoor Rink Width

 ARE INDOOR RINK TOO NARROW? First published in "To Day's Bowler" in 2002

I wrote an article sometime ago about the bias on bowls, which also covered the testing of same. Bowlers will now all be aware that after many years World Bowls Limited together with the manufactures and testers have introduced (2002) a new "Working Reference Bowl (WRB)" in conjunction with the standardisation of the test table and the test regulations. Basically this new working reference bowl has the same bias as the original but has been made to the much tighter tolerances that are now possible with modern machinery compared to the 1986 Reference Bowl.

The prototype of the Working Reference Bowl was examined on both indoor and outdoor greens. Its performance was also related to the 1986 reference bowl. only after all the tests and further examination by manufacturers was it agreed that its performance was such that it was suitable for the sport of bowls. Its performance and bias were particularly important to the Bowls Authority as they were acutely aware of the complaints emanating from both overseas bowlers and bowlers in the UK about bowls not showing sufficient bias on the green.

It took a lot of hard work, discussion and a great deal of expense to reach, in January 2002, a successful conclusion to the standardisation of both the tables and the regulations and with that agreement the new World Bowls Limited stamp for bowls testing came into use from the 1st April 2002.

The reason that I mention the standardisation is the knock on effect to the indoor bowls and the bowling surfaces concerning the speed of theses surfaces and the width of rinks. All bowlers would have heard over the years such statements as "Oh their bowls are straight" or "they go up the middle". Those bowls if tested on the standard surface might well be shown to be illegal but equally there are many rinks where a bowls performing to the new Working Reference Bowl could not be played. on those rinks which could be described as "outside" rinks it might not be possible to play to a full length jack on the centre line.

Just a short digression with a true story told to me by another manufacturer. They received a complaint from an indoor bowler that his bowls where now taking too much green at his club. What couldn't be understood was that the bowler agreed that over the previous seasons the bowls had been fine. The manufacturer on checking with the Club found that during the Summer close season the Club had increased the number of rinks from 6 to 7, but the green had not expanded! So the bowler who had not noticed the fact that each rink was now narrower thought that the bowls had increased in bias during the summer as they did not stay within the new rink widths! They immediately blamed the bowls! That story just highlights the problem.

The question then is why should this be the case that an actually minimum bias bowl can not be played, to a full length Jack on the centre line. Could it not then be said that the green is unsuitable for bowls! Is it because of the demand for faster rinks or is it because of commercial pressure at the indoor clubs? (Manufacturers have in fact been developing Indoor model bowls that show sufficient bias on the narrow indoor rinks BUT when bowlers use such models outdoors they cause comment on how tight they run)

So my suggested solution is that the indoor authorities should ensure that all rinks will allow a bowl made to the minimum to perform in a adequate manner, by which I would mean that it would stay within the rink when played either hand in either direction to a full length jack on the centre line.

It is perhaps somewhat ironic that for UK conditions outdoor rinks must be between 5.5 mts. and 5.8 mts., or for those like me who still work in feet that's about between 18 ft. to 19 ft. whereas the WIBC (World Indoor Bowls Council) allow a rink to be between 4.6 mts. and up to 5.8 mts. or 15 ft. to 19 ft. The rules do say that allowances can be made for domestic competitions to have narrow rinks and this is true for both indoor and outdoor. When it comes to a possible guide to what can be deemed a minimum width then perhaps the following observations may be useful. These measurements and observations where carried out some years ago at major indoor tournaments when it was noted that the reference bowl on a indoor carpet running at about 15 seconds took approximately 5 1/2 ft. of draw. So theoretically a rink 12 ft. wide would have allowed a bowler to deliver to a 90 ft. jack on the green. But note the word theoretically because no allowance was being made for the manner in which a bowl would be delivered by hand, the observations made did not involve a bowler. So perhaps another 18 inches should be added making the required space 7 ft. giving an absolute theoretical minimum of 14 ft. wide rink for a green running at approximately 15 seconds. Any increase in the speed of the green would require an increase in the width and a slower green could be narrower.

Indoor G0004

It can be seen in the above picture that this green laid in 1933 had rinks which were 17 ½ ft wide. Also the English Bowls Association (Indoor Section) Rules laid down the minimum length for 'new' rinks, but sadly the notes do not contain any information on widths!

Other adverts from the same catalogue indicate that the width of rinks basically depended on the space available.

Indoor B_1934_Hasting

The Hasting Pavilion carpet measured 100ft by 30 ft meaning that the rinks were only 15 ft wide.

Whereas the Torquay Club with space for just one Rink had it at 18ft. The size at 115ft by 18ft is said to be "in the correct proportion for indoor bowling". So perhaps even in the early 1930 there was some discussion on the width of rinks!

 Indoor G0003

The following advert was sent as a leaflet with a letter from Taylor - Rolph in 1936 . It is I think interesting that the heading on the left panel says "Indoor or Winter Bowling", little did they realise how significant Indoor Bowling Clubs would become with the indoor game being played all the year round.

Winter -bowling 1936

Returning back to the rules and the possible allowances to the width of the rink as laid down by the rules, it does seem logical that an absolute minimum width of rink should be laid down but that would also have to be associated with a maximum green speed and an understanding that a minimum bias bowl could be played either hand. Obviously this does refer to an outside rink more than the other rinks. Or would it be possible to say that the outside rinks always had to be to a minimum of 15 ft. as per the WIBC rules and that the other rinks on that green could be narrower. These narrower rinks might in some bowlers eyes be more problematic in that they may feel inhibited if the adjoining rink had played a short jack meaning that it made delivering on one of the hands more difficult as the bowl would perhaps cross over into the adjoining rink. However in both Australia and New Zealand were green speeds outdoor are much faster, the fact that a bowl travels into the adjoining rink is not unusual and is an accepted part of the game.

In speaking to carpet suppliers they advise that they can ensure a "bowl" will perform adequately and this can be achieved by adjusting the speed of the carpet. It is also worth noting that they say that they are under pressure to supply faster and faster carpets, thus exasperating the problem. Basically a "narrow" rink would have to have a slower speed compared to a full width rink. Outside rinks will still be more problematic particularly when the jack moves towards to the edge put that is just part of the game and the bowler will have to accept that they have to change hands to play to the jack.

This final paragraph was originally published in the magazine -

I would be interested to hear from any indoor bowlers who have any thoughts with regard to the width of there rinks and the bias of the bowls so please send any letters with regards to that for my attention care of the editor.

© Peter N. Clare / E.A Clare & Son Ltd. 2002/2009 - ©E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2013. This article can only be reproduced in part or whole with the permission of E. A. Clare & Son Ltd.