The game is played on green grass, in fine weather, with a picturesque backdrop — just the sort of scene Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has been describing for more than 60 years. But this game is one you can play for 60 years. It is lawn bowling.
Lawn bowling is like chess played on a board measuring 120 feet in length with four rounded pieces that move in unique arcs. The object is to roll those pieces as close as possible to a target ball, known as the jack. It takes practiced skill and mild physical exertion, which is why many lawn bowlers can enjoy playing into their nineties.
But as a competitive sport, it is not for geezers. Loren Dion, the top player in Santa Barbara, is 31. He took the silver medal in singles last weekend at the U.S. National Lawn Bowling Championships in Seattle.
“We’d like to get more young people involved in the sport,” said Dion, who was introduced to lawn bowling by his father at the age of eight. To spur some interest, Dion’s company is cosponsor of the Memory Glass Pairs Tournament, which will take place this Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 3-4) on the greens of the MacKenzie Park Lawn Bowls Club at State Street and Las Positas Road. Admission is free to the event, which will start at 9 a.m. each day and continue into the afternoon, with social conviviality to follow.
Dion and Phil Luth are defending champions of the tournament. They will be challenged by 23 other teams, including San Diego’s Steve Smith and Bill Brault. Smith was the winner of the national singles last week. Among the mixed-gender pairs in the tournament are Eva Lee and Ian Ho of Laguna Beach. Eileen Morton of Santa Barbara placed fourth in the national women’s pairs competition.
Dion grew up in Carpinteria. He played point guard on the Carpinteria High junior varsity basketball team. “We had the best record (17-3) in the school’s history,” he said. “But, mostly, I was a surfer. Once you’re a surfer, everything else is written off.” Lawn bowling was a sideline activity for him until, at 24, he was chosen to play in the World Junior Cup at Hong Kong. “I got more serious after that,” he said.
Lawn bowlers refer to the “three L’s” — line, length, luck. In other words, the trajectory and distance that the bowler intends to accomplish, always with the hope that some random effect — there can be as many as seven other balls scattered around the jack — does not spoil his shot. Unlike bocce ball, the Italian version of the game, lawn bowls are purposely lopsided and do not roll straight. “The story is that a baron took a knob from the stairwell of his mansion and sanded it down,” Dion said. “He made a ball that curved around the others.”
Tom Dion, Loren’s father, passes on the wisdom of the generations. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he constantly reminds his son. Tom’s grandfather brought a love of lawn bowling from Scotland to Canada, where Tom and his father learned the sport. When he inherited a set of bowls from his grandfather, Tom taught Loren.
“I still play some,” said Tom, 70, “but when you get older, the body doesn’t always do what the mind says.”
Lawn bowling opportunities are available seven days a week at either MacKenzie Park (Mon., Wed., and Fri.) or the downtown Santa Barbara Lawn Bowls Club (Tue. and Thu.) at De la Vina and Victoria streets. Both clubs are open Saturday and Sunday. Membership at MacKenzie Park is $250 a year. Many bowlers belong to both clubs.
McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary is cosponsor of the pairs tournament along with Memory Glass, which Loren Dion co-owns with Nick Savage. They produce blown-glass receptacles that contain a pinch of cremated ashes. Dion says the business was not started with aging lawn bowlers in mind. Those he plays with are very much alive.
GAMES OF THE WEEK: The opening night of the football season starts on the road for three local high school teams. The Santa Barbara Dons travel to Channel Islands in Oxnard; the San Marcos Royals visit Cabrillo at Lompoc High; and the Dos Pueblos Chargers take on Righetti in Santa Maria. SBCC’s Vaqueros open on Saturday evening against Allan Hancock College at the Righetti field. … Former UCSB star Chris Pontius has been added to the U.S. men’s soccer roster for Friday night’s match against Costa Rica (8pm, ESPN2). … The final of the Bombardier Pacific Coast Open, the climax of the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club’s centennial year, will take place Sunday, September 4, 2 p.m.
TORTUOUS OR TORTUROUS? Both adjectives apply to the Pier to Peak Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile run that follows the twisting contours of Gibraltar Road up to La Cumbre Peak. It starts at 6:30 a.m., Sunday, September 4, at Stearns Wharf.