0 Black balled for sure

BLACK BALLED FOR SURE! Telling the secrets of a bowling green

By Henry Bechelet-STRI Turfgrass Agronomist and Chairman of Silsden Bowling Club

CAD-tastic (!)

The drawings contained within this article are a great example of how our Computer Aided Design (CAD) team bring raw data to life. The CAD department is usually concerned with mapping out large scale construction projects, golf course design drawings or the golf course planting schemes of our Ecology Team. The drawings are used to guide work; they allow the ideas and plans of our design specialists to become reality. The CAD department is a highly skilled, patient team often working to tight deadlines. They are also full of fun and don't get out much, so when they said they'd like to do a surveying job I pointed them in the right direction. They had a nice couple of days in the sun at Silsden (West Yorkshire), away from their computer screens with the aim of bringing their own drawing to life. I'd like to show you what such a drawing can do.

This is the end

Of course, my club mates are not going to be pleased. The game is hard enough without showing everyone the way. In crown green bowls the home green is our ground to be used for our advantage. If we set up the surface correctly it will do things that only we know about. Things you cannot see. We will use these things to win our game, fair and square! Home advantage is essential when you want to win the league-or simply survive. Like all greens, ours has its own particular set of tricks. Jo-Ann and Alan's (our CAD Department) drawing helps show surface nuances beautifully. The only thing is, by revealing the secrets to all and sundry I could well be thrown out of my (magic) circle of friends. Black balled for sure.

Figure 1: The result of the survey, a contour map of Silsden bowling green


It's certainly not the taking part

The first thing that the drawing shows you is that the crown on our green is neither even nor particularly high. No two crown greens are alike and they all bowl differently. This is our green and ours alone. As a player you must know your own green (and win) and trust to the inexperience of all others.

Finger peg

I'll try to show you how we use our green during a game. Keeping it simple, you score points by getting your wood (bowl) or woods nearer to the jack than your opponent. The aim is to reach 21 points in singles, 25 in doubles. You have two woods to play with. When you win an end you set the next mark (bowling position). You can go anywhere you like; short or long, pegging or straight, across the green, along the edge or even to the button (the top of the crown). In crown green bowls the woods and jack are biased (weighted on one side). When setting a mark you can use the bias with the slope (so it curves or "pegs") or against the slope to go straight (or even drop if the slope is stronger than the bias). You usually follow the lead bias but may sometimes find a different way in to the jack. For a right-hander, the bias is called "finger peg" for a draw (the bias is on the little finger side of your palm) and "thumb peg" for a back hand. Good players can bowl anything but do tend to favour certain marks. A good mark is one that you know inside out but is tricky for your opponent to work out. Good players are merciless and will flog a mark to build as high a break as possible. You can only stop them doing it by winning the end and setting your own mark. Us crown greeners tend to flog marks if we can (!!). I'll show you what I mean…

The three wise monkeys

STRIFig.2-Varleys-Duck-Walk.jpg Donald Varley (2nd Team Captain and ruthless pensioner) will murder you along the "duck walk edge". The diagram on the right only shows half of it, finger peg from the top corner along the right hand edge. Donald will send the jack to finish on top of the ridge taking care not to run too far and off the green. He will then put his lead wood a yard off. Unless you play on a perfect "road" with dead weight you won't beat it. If you go too wide it won't peg at the end. You can go a little narrow but if your weight isn't bang on you're off the green. This mark is precise. Donald set the mark and so knows precisely how far to send his woods to reach the top of the ridge. After two or three ends of losing, you may decide to get clever and try thumb peg to find the straight way in. There is no straight way in, the wood lifts away (see dotted line a). If Donald's in the mood, all you can look forward to is a cup of tea. If you can't find the pace you'll be going back and forward dragging your chin behind you. This is a home greener's mark but the green needs to be running for it to be tricky enough. A sluggish surface is not so precise and is easier to work out.


Like Donald, Digger (Anthony Walsh, Club Secretary) can bowl any kind of mark but favours short round peggers. The diagram left shows Digger's bit, which is a seemingly simple round pegger. The mark uses (my) finger peg from under the ridge at the side, kicking off the crown then running straight down the quickest part of the green-like ice. Thumb peg back is not such a slick finish. In the finger direction you've got to be on exact line and dead length to get anywhere near. Digger will be near. Too wide or far goes straight, too narrow or short pegs away. If you decide to go straight at it thumb (dotted line a) it drops away at the end and off the green. Going back thumb is a push (look at the contours) to mess with the opponent's mind and going straight at it also lifts away (b). Digger is left-handed making it difficult for a right-hander to follow him in. For this mark to be to Digger's satisfaction the green must be running-especially down the bottom edge. Digger wins.


Jocky (Chris Wilson, 1st Team Captain) is pure class. He knows every inch of the green and is the greenstaff's biggest critic. He likes it running how he likes it. Jocky is a finesse bowler who uses the weight of his woods to work the slopes. He can bowl any kind of mark but favours corner to corner across the crown. Quality bowlers are not afraid of lengthening you out. Of the two sets of corners, Jocky is not fussed but you'll usually find him flogging the ones shown right. Finger peg from the top corner is all about length, you can get a touch wide and if your length is good it will do it all for you (see a). Thumb peg same direction is also about length but don't get wide or narrow (see b). Going back to the top corner is a push that catches everyone out (see the contours again). Jocky will probably soften you up on this bit then kill you off elsewhere! Jocky insists on a fairly quick surface that is running consistently. We don't have much of a crown to work with so we need a running surface to bring out the subtleties. Jocky will use the greens subtleties to beat you.

Enough already

So, on all kinds of marks we need the green running. If the surface is not firm, fast, smooth and true I'll have the 1st Team Captain, the 2nd Team Captain and Club Secretary "concerned". Now you understand. We set up the surface to reward the good players and they demand it running to bring out their tricks. A sluggish surface does not favour a running wood. With the crown being less pronounced we need the surface running more than most-we don't have the slopes. So, what do we do?

Firm, fast, smooth and true

The speed of a bowling green is all about surface firmness and not simply height of cut. Our green is cut at 5 mm and runs as fast as we like. Achieving a firm surface is simple, get rid of your thatch and prevent its further accumulation. We scarify and top dress at the end of the playing season to keep thatch accumulation at bay and the surface firm. We usually incorporate the top dressing down solid tine holes but did hollow tine three years ago to remove thatch cores. We solid/slit aerate throughout the winter to promote the natural aerobic breakdown of organic matter in the soil profile. During the playing season, we only apply fertiliser if absolutely necessary, too much feed only produces soft growth. We use an initial dressing of (8-0-6) fertiliser with the onset of spring growth then try not to for the rest of the year. We do use lawn sand (4-0-0 + Fe) in spring and autumn to generate some growth if required. We undertake light scarification if the surface becomes slightly soft underfoot but, by not over-feeding, this doesn't tend to happen now. We are trying to encourage a predominance of the finer grasses by maintaining a relatively unproductive and undisturbed environment. Bents and fescues produce naturally firm and drought-tolerant surfaces. We never irrigate. Our green is firm and fast, the woods finish forever.

Smooth and true is also necessary if you want your green running properly. A fast and uneven surface is not the ticket. We concentrate on quality of cut by setting the mower correctly and brushing before cutting. Occasional verticutting or light scarification serves to clear the base of the sward and lift lateral growth to smooth out the surface. A light top dressing is applied in spring to iron out any minor undulations. Rolling is carried out at the start of the season and before special tournaments. Mr Varley has been known to roll his own particular marks to give them an added edge! We sarel roll to prevent surface capping.

Consistency is paramount. Dry patch can bring inconsistencies. The problems tend to come when people irrigate in an attempt to cure dry patch. This only tends to make unaffected areas more lush while leaving affected areas untouched. This makes the green of varied pace and impossible to bowl properly. Dry patch requires proper treatment with wetting agents. It is not necessarily an indication of under-watering.

Dig a pony

So, this is our green laid bare for all to see. It's one on its own. It is the character of the surface that dictates how we set it up. What is important is to find out what suits yours and produce it. Remember that success in greenkeeping is not in any single thing that you do-it's in everything you do.

Apologies to Donald, Digger and Jocky for revealing their secrets. I hope you understand. Aren't Jo-Ann and Alan clever!

ON THE LEVEL-Surveying a Crown Bowling Green

By Jo-Ann Pickles (STRI CAD Supervisor) and Alan Wright (STRI CAD Assistant)

We, the STRI CAD team, spend most of our time at Head Office stuck behind computer screens trying to formalise the jottings of our Consultants into workable drawings. For our own interest and as part of our appraisal objectives we decided to undertake a levels survey of a crown bowling green. On 16 and 17 June 2003 we escaped to Silsden to map out Henry's home green.

Firstly, the bowling green dimensions were measured and recorded. We then constructed a grid across the green to allow the spot heights to be measured at regular intervals. The levels were taken at 1 metre intervals for the first half and 2 metre spacings for the second.

Once back at the office, the dimensions of the green and surrounding features were entered into a CAD (Computer Aided Design) machine using AutoCAD 2004 software. A grid was then drawn for the X and Y co-ordinates of the spot levels, which were manually entered into the machine.

STRIFig.1-Spot-levels.jpgFigure 1: With the boundaries drawn the spot levels were then entered onto the grid.

Once all the spot levels were entered, they were exported into PDS Version 9 (Professional Design Systems) software (used by the STRI for ground modelling and volumetrics). A 3D model was then built and contours generated (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The contour map of the green


The finished model was then saved as DXF (drawing interchange format) and imported into Adobe Illustrator for colouring (see below).


Editorial Enquiries Editorial Enquiries

Contact Kerry Haywood

07973 394037

Subscribe to the Pitchcare Magazine Subscribe to the Pitchcare Magazine

You can have each and every copy of the Pitchcare magazine delivered direct to your door for just £30 a year.