Barefoot and bowls are two words I really never imagined I’d be saying in succession any time during my life. But now I have, many times, and I have also written about it for Australia and New Zealand magazine.
What is it?
Try and stay with this; it’s bowls, on the lawn, just like usual, but with no shoes. And it’s called barefoot bowls. Well, you’d have thought it would have been that simple, wouldn’t you? But it’s not.
Here is what I wrote about “Barefoot Bowls” in last year’s December issue of the magazine.
Australians love their sports, as you probably know. Favourites are cricket, rugby, unless it’s against the All Blacks, and of course, Australian Rules Football. All good outdoor sports that take advantage of the fine weather in this country.
There is another sport that is hugely popular here that may surprise you though. It’s not as if it’s a sport you won’t have heard of either, after all it’s been around, apparently, since 5000 BC.
When Caesar ruled Rome, the game was known as ‘Bocce,’ before it spread to Britain, Europe and eventually, Australia.
Yes, I’m talking about Bowls, or Lawn Bowling.
To give you an idea of just how popular it is in Australia, I went to a ‘Find a Club’ page on a website here and punched in my postcode. Hitting submit instantly told me there are 135 Bowls club’s within 100 kilometres, that’s 62 miles, of where I live.
There were a staggering 55 clubs within 25 kilometres. Australia, according to my research, has over 2000 clubs with 240,000 members. Over in the UK, a country with about three times the population of Australia, there are only 2700 clubs with 132,000 members.
Clearly bowls is more popular here than in the UK, but why?
Bowls is for old people, isn’t it? Played by retirees, dressed in freshly pressed white short-sleeved shirts and shorts, matching white hat and long socks pulled up to the knees. Sticklers for the rules too. Yes, we have some bowls players like that here as well, but we also have something else.
It’s called ‘Barefoot Bowls’.
I did a little research to write this article, as you may have guessed, during which I came across a website with a page on ‘The History of Bowls’. Not a word about barefoot bowls.
A Google search does show that barefoot bowls exists, but only in Australia it seems. All the results in my search ended with a .com.au. The idea appears to have come into existence about 12 years or so ago. You would think the first rule of barefoot bowls is to be barefoot, but you would be wrong.
You can wear thongs (flip-flops to you) if you like, or sandals or trainers. You can also choose to go barefoot but the whole concept is basically, wear what you want, within the confines of what’s legally acceptable in a modern society of course.
Removing the stuffy white uniform and rules has opened the door to a younger generation of baseball cap wearers with sleeveless vests, boardies (shorts for surfing) and a pair of sunnies.
It gets better; bowls clubs have bars and drinks are very often a little cheaper than in the pub. So just like darts, or snooker, you can have a drink whilst you play your sport. Except you are outside, in the sun.
Bowls clubs often promote barefoot bowls functions; hen nights, buck nights, birthdays and other fun events. It’s easy to see why this has become so popular over the last decade.
I mentioned to my wife recently that I might like to take up bowls, a suggestion met with rolling eyes. “You’re not old enough for that!” she said. Alas, here in Australia, I fear I may actually be too old, unless I keep my trainers and socks on.
For those of you who have been disappointed by the lack of barefootedness in this article, this is for you…
Update July 2019
Still for those of you who have been disappointed by the lack of barefootedness in this article, guess what I saw the other day when I was walking from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach?
Oh yes he is…
Who would have thought?