No one takes the sport more seriously than 38-year-old Frank Souza of San Francisco. He is typical of younger players who are giving up other sports for the special rewards of lawn bowling. "I used to play a lot of tennis," he says, "but one day I was watching my father practice lawn bowling. I thought, it would be a cinch. When I tried it I found out it wasn't so easy." In 12 years of competition Souza has been on the winning doubles and triples teams at the national open and runner-up in the U.S. Singles, which pits divisional champions against one another. "In tennis," he says, "if you're not 19, forget it. With this sport you have a fair chance whatever your age."
If lawn bowling is acquiring a new image, that image looks a lot like Dave and Judy Redo. It is not so much the way, they drive a bowl as the way they drive themselves. Last year Dave was general chairman of the men's national open while Judy was co-chairing the women's event. Dave, 39, comes from a lawn bowling family but didn't take any interest in the game until after he left college. Both he and Judy, 37, enjoyed other sports before they took up lawn bowls. "We like competition and we like to travel. This gives us both," Dave says. "I also like it because both Judy and I can play equally. She almost gave up tennis because she doesn't like to lose."
A lot of other women share this sentiment. In fact, the biggest changes in the game are coming from them. Six years ago 77 women bowlers organized the American Women's Lawn Bowls Association under a charter from the international women's organization. They held their first national open tournament the following year and this year the AWLBA has more than 600 women on its membership rolls. Now some women are pressing to join the men in a single organization, but they are meeting stiff resistance. One of their officials says flatly, "The two organizations will never merge because men belong to the International Bowling Board and there cannot be any women members of that."
Toni Mercer of New York City is not one to say never. She became a lawn bowler while she was watching a match in Central Park. A player put a bowl in her hand and said, "Try it." Within a year she had won her first tournament. She thinks lawn bowling could be a swinging sport. But it will be up to the women. "I'm not a women's libber," she says, "but I'll tell you one thing. Men are negative. It takes women to change things. Men don't have the imagination. They don't want their nest disturbed." Mercer and other women members of her club are responsible for a publicity campaign that doubled its membership in six months. Now they want to shake up the other 134 clubs around the country.
Even if every club in the U.S. boosted its membership by 100%, that would only bring the lawn bowling population to 20,000—still a lot of bowlers away from the 50,000 in New Zealand, the 60,000 in South Africa, the 500,000 in Australia or the 400,000 in the British Isles.
It will be a while, too, before the grandpa-grandma image disappears, if only because the older folks are happy and fully capable of meeting youth on an equal athletic footing. Eighty-two-year-old Margaret Hodges of Sun City, Calif. played four matches in a single day at last year's open. The next morning she conceded that her legs were a little stiff "until I started to bowl again." She wasn't eliminated until the semifinals and then by the eventual champion.
The old people are in no hurry to be laid to rest underneath the green or even the Rubico. The whippersnappers will first have to beat them, and that's easier said than bowled.