Lawn bowling makes resurgence in St. Pete

- It's easy to miss a historic landmark while driving down 4th Avenue in St. Petersburg,

It could be mistaken for a tennis court, unless you see the old sign: St. Petersburg Lawn Bowling Club.

"It's different than bowling where you're going to knock down the pins," said club president, John Woermer. "It's more like bocce."

Teams of two, three or four aim to get as close as they can to a small white ball known as a jack. Just like in bocce, it's rolled out first. The actual bowling balls are what make this sport a bit more challenging than bocce or pin bowling. Known as bowls, they're not balls at all. 

"It's not perfectly round," said Woermer. "It's more like two bowls glued together for its shape. This is the weighted side with the small circle. That's the side it's going to curve to. It makes it a little harder."

"You don't have to get close," added Woermer. "I mean, you could be four feet away sometimes, that could be the point. You know, it's not like you have to be right on it."

Lawn bowling came to St. Petersburg back in 1916.

"Lawn bowl started with two guys. One guy brought his bowls down from Canada and they went to a park one day and started rolling," said Woermer.

Former mayor Al Lang also helped lead the charge to bring it to town.

"We've got some of the old newspaper clips. The club, they used to travel. There used to be big matches here and everything then," said Woermer. "Back then, when you came into St. Petersburg, you came by train down Central Avenue. You stayed in the hotels, there was no air conditioning, no golf courses, so you had to get out during the day. What you did, you lawn bowled."

A lot has changed over the last 100 years.

"Nobody likes to sweat anymore," said Woermer. "Back then the men wore a vest and a tie and women wore long dresses."

These days, bowlers wear mostly white to stay cool. They bowl on a green clay surface. As the sport's name suggests, it wasn't always played this way.

"Lawn bowling started on grass, but from there it evolved into the rubico that we play on," said club member Audrey Shane.

Between November and April, members gather for a friendly match Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

"Yeah, it's good fun," said Alan Biles, who's on holiday from the U.K. "We enjoy ourselves out here. We love coming."

People from all over the world have made their way to lawn bowl in St. Petersburg.

"Our members are from Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland, Australia, German heritage," said Woermer.

Most of the folks who lawn bowl are retired, but all ages are encouraged to stop by.

"I just advise all people our age to get out of the rocking chair and bowl," said Shane.

"You know, it just takes a while to get the distance and everything down pat, but you can start bowling the first day," said Woermer. "It's a lot of fun."

Club members will tell you it's a good sport to find comradery and competition. Or, in other words, the grass is greener where they lawn bowl.

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