Chris test page 82 So you want to bowl

You live in Greater Victoria and are considering lawn bowling. . .

You’re in the right place. This area has no less than ten lawn bowling clubs – more bowling clubs per head than any sizeable city in Canada, one per 38,000 people. Compare this with Metro Vancouver, another hotbed of Canadian lawn bowling, where there is just one club per 100,000.

If you stood near the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre at North Dairy Road and Cedar Hill Road, no less than seven of Victoria’s lawn bowling clubs are within a five-kilometre drive. See Map.

It is absurdly easy to join a local bowling club. At Oak Bay, there is a sign on the gate that says “You are welcome to come in and watch.” So if you see people playing, push open the gate and ask a player, “Can I join this club?” The answer will be “Yes.” Later on you will find that there is money involved — but it’s around $4 a week. See table below.

If there is no one around at the club, fill out a Contact Us form and someone will arrange to meet you at the club.

From observation, our club members fall into three broad groups:

  1. Those who value the social aspects of a club. They may play the game every day or just occasionally, but the most important thing about club membership is social interaction, coupled with a bit of gentle exercise.
  2. Couples and families who are looking for an activity they can all do together. Most people can play games of lawn bowls at much the same level for most of their lives. Men and women, grandparents, parents and children can all play against each other. The only real difference in ability emerges when one of you decides to practise seriously. Even then, you can often be successful at the game just by chance. The game of lawn bowls is full of lucky shots (mostly by your opponents; your own scoring would be recognized as pure skill, of course.)
  3. Competitive players who wish they had not had to give up the thrill of competition, but advancing years has put paid to rugby, tennis, hockey and the like. Lawn bowls is smooth and steady actions and not too hard on the body.  It does offer many more competitive events than you might imagine.

To see how lawn bowls appeals to each of these types see: Social Member; Family Member; Competitive Player

If you have decided that lawn bowling is worth a try, how do you chose which of the ten local clubs to join? The following narrative reviews some of the factors that may influence your choice. Since you have found this page on our website, it is not surprising that the analysis below has an “Oak Bay bias”, but really what we want is to get you out on to any of the bowling greens in our lovely city. Then you’ll be like so many club members who almost invariably say, “I do wish I had started bowling earlier. .  .”

People pick a club for different reasons: they know a member there; it is closest to their house; they like the look of it; the website is very informative, etc.  All ten clubs in Victoria are pleasant places to spend a couple of sunny hours rolling bowls along beautiful manicured greens, while chatting to friends.  A number of clubs state on their websites that they strive to be “the friendliest” club. They are all fulfilling their promise. There is really no such thing as an unfriendly lawn bowling club. The clubs do have some different characteristics, though, which may help you decide which to join.

Location: All of the Greater Victoria clubs are in pleasant surroundings. Most are in parks. The Canadian Pacific club is unique in that its players are on display in the heart of downtown.  The Sidney Club is very central to that city, a short walk from Beacon Avenue. The Victoria Club’s two greens are secluded behind tall hedges on the east side of Beacon Hill Park. Central Saanich is deep in the countryside. Oak Bay is . . . in Oak Bay; what more need we say? 😊

Depending on location, there may be a charge for parking.  At Oak Bay, it’s free.

Number of Greens: Six of the ten clubs in Greater Victoria have single greens; two clubs – Oak Bay and Victoria – have two greens; and the Juan de Fuca club has four greens that were built for the 1994 Commonwealth Games. Each green can accommodate eight games at once.

At Oak Bay, we use both our greens a few times each week because often 50 or more players turn up for some of our weekly events. Having two greens also means we can host the larger inter-club tournaments at Oak Bay – and we can extend playing time in the late evenings because one of our greens is floodlit. If you work all day, the ability to play in the evenings may well be important to you.

Year-round Availability: Most, but not all, of the clubs are open year-round.  After bowling all summer, the year-round clubs offer social card games and board games in winter. Oak Bay offers darts and bridge twice a week and scrabble, cribbage, canasta, table tennis and conversational French once a week.

You can bowl year-round at four of the ten Victoria-area clubs. Oak Bay, Lake Hill, Vic West and Sidney clubs offer the indoor short mat game in winter, which is a very similar game to outdoor bowling, but played on a mat that is only one third of the length of an outdoor rink. With two club houses, the Oak Bay club is able to have its two short mat rinks permanently in place from October to April. A third mat is added for tournament play.

What is expected of a club member? Club memberships require very few actual commitments. You can go to the clubs any day – or you can choose not to. If you turn up for casual bowling or any social activity, you will get to play; but no one is counting on your being there. The games proceed whether you are there or not. (Club tournaments are an exception. You do have to reserve a place in them in advance, and appear at the scheduled time.) If you wish, you can even organize private games with other club members at any time. Even the smaller clubs have eight rinks that are available much of the day, just waiting for you to use them.

Premises: All the clubs have pleasant club houses for social occasions and for storing your bowling gear. Most clubs allow private rental by members, should you wish to host a large gathering for a special occasion.

Oak Bay is unique in Victoria with its two club houses. One is a sports pavilion where the short mat game is played all winter long. The other is a large social pavilion with a licensed bar that can house dinners of up to 200 members and where indoor social board and card games take place.

Costs: Annual membership fees range from $135 at Burnside LBC to $225 at Juan de Fuca. Oak Bay LBC fees are $210 a year. The table below is intended for a quick comparison only. The information was collected from the clubs’ websites in June 2018. It is not necessarily current, nor does it provide every detail. Check with the club for complete, up-to-date information.

Club Full (playing) member Novice
(1st year)
Social member Social + indoor bowling Under
Under 18 Associate fee
(2nd club)
Burnside $135 $85   N/A   $35  
Canadian Pacific $190 $190 $40 N/A   $95  
Central Saanich $175 $175 $55 N/A     $65
Cowichan $175 $175   N/A      
Gordon Head $175-185 $175-185 $35 N/A $60-87.5    
Juan de Fuca $225 $225   N/A     $85
Lake Hill $170 $180 $30 $65 $85 $85  
Oak Bay $210 $210 $55 $55 $90 $35  
Sidney $185 $185 $45 ? $42 $42 $25
Vic West $200 $200 $50 $50      
Victoria $185 $150 $30 N/A   $35  


All clubs offer remarkable value; for a few dollars a week you are a member of an active local community. If you forego just one of your coffee shop visits per week in favour of a bowls game at your new club, the costs net to just about zero!

Social Interaction: Once you join a club you become a member of a community of 100-200 club members, nearly all of whom you would not otherwise have met.  They can be a varied lot. Oak Bay did an informal survey of its members; the first letters of their professions and interests almost completed the alphabet!

Once you have joined one of the ten clubs, you become a member of the 1000+ community of lawn bowlers in Greater Victoria, whose clubs you can visit pretty much whenever you want to enjoy a game with a new circle of friends. Going further afield, you can play at lawn bowling clubs in 53 countries round the world. Armed with your local club membership card, you will likely gain entry to any one of more than 7,000 clubs.

Am I good enough to play? In the first place, you do not have to be “good enough.” You just need to be able to roll a bowl, and all the clubs will teach you to do that. You’ll be surprised to find that your own wildly inaccurate beginner shots often end up scoring, due to the constantly changing nature of every game. Bowling ability appears to have no correlation with education, wealth, gender, physical strength, personality or pretty much anything else, other than practice. Those who bowl a lot tend to bowl better, but that’s about it.

Because there are virtually no physical barriers to playing, it means that all family members can enjoy playing the game on equal terms. (Hands need to be big enough to hold a bowl, which usually means over the age of about 12 years.)

Bowling ability might have a slight negative correlation with age after the age of eighty or so, but there are even tournaments exclusively for the over-80s where Oak Bay players, in particular, have been very successful.

There are wheel-chair bowlers and bowlers with delivery aids because they cannot bend over too much. Elderly bowlers may want to share a position in a game so that they don’t have to walk up and down the green but can sit down and rest frequently. And there are very young bowlers who become experts – and in a depressingly brief period of time, compared to those of us who took up bowling in retirement.

In short, almost anyone of any age can bowl – and ought to. We don’t know for sure if there is a correlation between frequent bowling and graceful aging, but at our club we have had a number of cases where people bowl energetically into their nineties. Are they slowing down the aging process because they have found the Oak Bay LBC? The answer is not definitively known, but ask yourself – are you prepared to take the chance of not joining Oak Bay LBC and thus risking the loss of those extra years of your life??? 😊

Which is the club for me?: Maybe you still find difficulty in picking the right club for you. . . You don’t have to make a lifetime commitment. Unlike golf clubs, for example, none of the clubs have initiation fees, so your membership is “portable.” You can join one of the ten Greater Victoria clubs to start, and try another the following year. Or you can join two clubs. Or . . . you could just start with Oak Bay and stay there. After all, it is the club that ticks all the boxes. We have several members who enjoy their “gold watch status” of 25+ years with our club.

A number of people from other clubs take out a social membership in Oak Bay LBC because it includes winter short mat bowling all day, every day. They bowl outdoors at one club and indoors at another. Some keen lawn bowlers join their nearest club and take out an associate membership at another, where they get the variety of more greens and expand their social circle. If you want to play at another local club, just occasionally, you do not have to actually join the other local club. Any member of “Bowls South Island” to which all the Greater Victoria clubs belong, can go to one of the other BSI clubs and freely take part in their daily organized game.

One of the major benefits of the Oak Bay club is that it is open every day of the year, offering lawn bowling all day and into the evening in summer and short mat bowling at any time of day in winter. No other club in Greater Victoria can offer that.