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Lawn bowling club celebrates 100 years on the green

Sure, there's fun to be had on the green, but lawn bowling is mostly about socializing: Cup of tea, anyone?

Thanks to a not-so-subtle suggestion 20 years ago, Betty and Peter Wilson found true love at the Royal Lawn Bowling Club.

"I told him 'If you want to see me this summer you'll have to learn to lawn bowl,'" recalled Betty.

Four years later the pair married, and today the couple--ages 85 and 80 respectively--are at the club five days a week. It' a personal story befitting this grand old downtown club, which celebrated its 100th birthday this summer.

Club president Randy Rawson says some clubs are competitive, but the Royal Lawn Bowling Club is all about the social aspect.

"We encourage people to do some bowling, meet friends, have tea afterwards and enjoy a nice evening on the beautiful grounds," he said. Founded in 1923 at Government House, the club moved to a site south of the Alberta legislature in 1926.

Rawson describes the ancient British-founded sport as the perfect cross between bocce ball and curling. The object of the game is to roll the bowl--an oblong-shaped object weighing between two-and-a-half pounds and three-and-a-half pounds--towards a white target called a jack. The closest bowl to the target scores a point.

"Someone scores each end, which is different than curling," he said. "I would characterize it as easy and fun to learn but challenging to master."

Like curling, there are skips and leads on teams and the grass lanes they play on are called 'rinks'. The entire playing area is the green--a 124-foot square area that that is largely bent grass and similar to what would be found at a golf course green.

"We can play north-south and east-west. We'll have eight rinks in either direction," said Rawson, adding games can be changed depending on which way the sun is shining. "We also change direction so we don't wear out the green."

Like the three other lawn bowling clubs in Edmonton, this one also hires a greens keeper to take care of the green.

"Money for that comes from our dues and as an amateur sport we get a casino periodically," said Rawson of the club's May to September season. Casual, drop-in sessions run every weekday evening too, and a monthly weekend tournament rounds out the schedule. Play goes rain or shine (except when there's a threat of lightning).

Lawn bowling may be thought of as exclusive to the older set, but the 86-member club welcomes all ages. The average age here is 66, but the oldest member is 93, and the youngest is 12-year old Georgia Leger, who was encouraged to join by long-time member, and her grandmother, Fay Wilson.

"It's a lot of fun. I'm here twice a week," said Georgia.

"The connotation that it is just old people dressed in white and rolling bowls on a green has changed alot. Colours are encouraged. We don't have a strict dress code," said Rawson, adding that for the $85 yearly membership, players get access to the club, all equipment, coaching and instruction. That's invaluable for those who've never played before, he says, getting lessons from skilled club members.

In preparation for the club's milestone anniversary, member Val Wilson documented the changes through the decades. She says a familiar theme weaved through the photos and words of the club's historic past. "There is a high degree of sociability with lawn bowling!"