Kathie Draeseke towels off a bowl while considering her first throw. Conditions are poor at West Point Grey Lawn Bowling Club — the mid-April day is drizzly and grey, and the wet green hasn’t been cut to competition-length yet. Taking on the lead role in the pre-season demonstration doubles game, Draeseke is partnered with skip and club president Cathleen Rowlette. The pair is matched against Alice Kwan and Louise Weinberger.
Under dry conditions, Draeseke would aim the weighted bowl fairly wide so it curled right towards the previously thrown jack. Conscious of the too-deep damp grass, she cups the bowl in her hands, bends her knees and rolls it narrow.
“That was good. It’s not short. It’s behind the jack,” she tells the Courier. “If it was short, it would be in my way next time, so you always want it behind the jack — and, it’s close to the jack.”
Draeseke is one of roughly 70 active female and male bowlers from the club, which serves as a social hub, mainly for the West Side’s well-established seniors community.
Founded in 1921 at Sixth and Trimble, the one-storey clubhouse, flanked by two greens, sits behind the iconic red brick Queen Mary elementary school. Trimble Park borders it from the south and east sides, while streets of million-dollar single-family homes stretch westward. Grey clouds camouflage the view of the North Shore mountains today, two weeks before the club’s much-anticipated April 27 launch of lawn bowling season, followed by its annual open house April 28 to recruit new blood.
Draeseke, who dropped by the clubhouse to help spring clean, took to lawn bowling almost instantly after joining about six years ago. The 68-year-old retired accountant is attracted to the game’s strategy and camaraderie between players and doesn’t hesitate when asked if she’s competitive. “Very,” she says with a laugh.
“I’ve love playing and I love winning. We all do, but we play as teams so you’re always supporting each other.”
Rowlette, an enthusiastic ambassador of the sport, compares it to curling on grass. It actually belongs to the boules game family and is related to bocce.
The goal is to roll bowls on well-manicured greens so they stop near a smaller white ball known as a jack. Bowls come in various sizes and are shaped unevenly so they don’t roll in a straight line. Singles, doubles, triples or fours can play. Matches last about two hours. Whites aren’t typically worn any longer except during tournaments and players can become good enough to play in games after a few coaching sessions, according to Rowlette.
Lawn bowling struggles to attract younger players despite efforts to broaden its appeal. Like many clubs, West Point Grey’s membership consists mostly of retired seniors — one of its youngest players is 50. Stereotypes of aging lawn bowlers in white garb dog the sport, which disappoints Rowlette.
“I love the game so much and my feeling is if you can get people to try it, they’ll love it. Because not too many people try it and don’t end up playing it, so I’m always trying to convert people,” she says.
Bowls has been played in Vancouver for more than 100 years, according to John Aveline, second vice president of the Vancouver and District Bowls Association. Metro Vancouver has 23 clubs, eight of which are in Vancouver. Richmond and North Vancouver have the largest clubs, each with more than 250 members. Interest was at its height in the 1930s, 1940s and into the 1950s. Membership numbers probably weren’t any higher, but the sport’s public profile was greater, explained 48-year-old Aveline. While he acknowledges stereotypes surrounding the sport, he points out they aren’t found in other countries such as Australia where members of the national team are mostly in their 20s and bowls is as popular as curling is in Canada.
Membership in B.C. is nonetheless ethnically diverse — Aveline cites a high number of bowlers of Chinese origin, “mainly because bowls is played in Hong Kong, where many bowls clubs have a status more akin to golf clubs here.”
While golf is often regarded as an exclusive and costly sport, lawn bowling at the West Point Grey club is the opposite. New members pay only $85 a year, which includes free lessons, use of equipment and use of the clubhouse. After an inaugural year, they pay $170.
For Draeseke, there’s nowhere she’d rather be in the coming months than at the club. “It’s outdoors and on a sunny day it’s absolutely beautiful with a view of the mountains,” she says. “It doesn’t really matter how the game’s going if it’s a sunny day.”
West Point Grey Lawn Bowling Club is at 4376 West 6th. Its open house is from 1 to 4 p.m., April 28.