Bocce Ball vs. Lawn Bowling – 4 Main Differences6 min read

If you have watched people playing bocce ball, you might have wondered just how different it is from lawn bowling. They’re similar in that you try to get your balls as close to the jack as possible, so it’s not surprising that a lot of people mix up the two games. However, there are several differences between lawn bowling and bocce ball in spite of all the similarities.

In this post, we’ll deconstruct the main differences so you’ll have a better idea of what constitutes as bocce ball and what is lawn bowling. Let’s get started.

#1: Differences in Balls Used

The biggest difference between lawn bowl and bocce ball is in how the balls are shaped. Bocce balls are perfectly round, so they can travel straight down the playing surface towards the pallino or jack. The player’s throwing technique will determine how the ball travels, and they can even put some spins and curves into their throws.

On the other hand, a lawn bowl has an elliptical side instead of being completely round as you can see in the image below. This is mainly because it is supposed to travel in a curved path and the elliptical shape helps with that. Originally, makers of lawn bowls would insert weights in one side of the ball, creating a weight bias to produce the curving effect.

Image Credit: Mattinbgn on Wikimedia

Because the official rules no longer allow the addition of weights, players now depend on the shape of the bowl alone to produce that bias. You may not instantly notice this slight difference in shape, but there’s a visible difference in how the balls look overall.

First of all, a lawn bowl is much bigger than a bocce ball. Some of the smallest lawn bowls have a diameter of about 116 mm and the biggest ones can go up to 127 mm in diameter. Meanwhile, a standard bocce ball measures 107 mm in diameter as discussed in our previous article on petanque vs. bocce ball.

Another difference is in the color of the balls. A bocce ball set comes with eight balls of two different colors, typically blue and red. If you’ve read our bocce ball FAQ, you would also know that some sets even come in four different colors. On the other hand, lawn bowls usually come in black and brown, although you may be able to find other colors too.

#2: Differences in Delivery Technique

If you observe how players deliver the ball in lawn bowling, you’ll notice that it differs from how you throw a bocce ball. In bocce, you use an underhand throw just like in softball. There are different throwing techniques in bocce but you typically toss the ball in the air to get it as close to the pallino as possible.

In lawn bowling, you roll the ball as close to the ground as possible just like in regular bowling. That’s why you can’t play it on surfaces like sand, where the ball will have a hard time rolling forward. This gentle rolling technique is similar to the specialized bocce ball throwing technique called pointing.

Image Credit: Lewis Clarke

#3: Differences in Court Size and Surface

Another major difference between lawn bowling and bocce ball is in the court size and playing surface. Due to the shape of the balls and how the balls are expected to travel, there are significant differences in the kind of playing surface you can use for these two games.

Lawn bowling regulations are more specific and less flexible, mainly because of the unusual shape of the balls and the delivery technique used. As mentioned earlier, a lawn bowl has an elliptical side so the shape is quite unique. Plus, you need to use a rolling technique to deliver the balls so this makes it difficult to play on soft and uneven surfaces like sand where the ball wouldn’t be able to roll.

In lawn bowling, you need to use a bent grass playing surface so the balls can roll smoothly towards the pallino. Lawn bowling rinks are usually 19 feet by 120 feet, which is much larger than the typical bocce ball court.

Image Source: Public Domain Pictures

The official bocce ball court size is around 13 feet by 90 feet, but for casual play, you can make adjustments according to how much space is available. Backyard bocce courts are slightly smaller than this.

Even in terms of playing surface, bocce ball courts offer more flexibility because there aren’t any official regulations for court material. Your playing surface could range from synthetic carpets (for indoor play) to grass or even packed dirt. A lot of people use sand, and more modern courts even use a poured liquid playing surface.

You’ll need to adjust your throwing technique based on what surface you’re playing on. For instance, rolling techniques could work best on smooth surfaces but you’ll need to actually toss the ball in the air when you’re playing on sand. Otherwise, your ball wouldn’t be able to move forward.

#4: Differences in Origin

Since there are so many similarities between the game rules, you’d think that they at least share the same history. While this may well be the case, there are some variations in the documented history of the two games.

The origin of lawn bowling has been traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries in London. In the biography of Thomas Becket, popularly known as the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Fitzstephen wrote about a game similar to lawn bowling called jactus lapidum. Although the popular belief is that jactus lapidum refers to the game of bowls, some also believe that round stones were used to play an earlier version of the game.

As we’ve thoroughly discussed in a previous article on the history of bocce, bocce ball’s origins can be traced back to ancient Egypt. An Egyptian tomb painting dating back to 5200 BC depicts two boys playing a game that looks very similar to bocce. Some even believe that the game could date back as far as 9000 BC in Turkey because of some ancient stone balls that were uncovered in the region.

Although these are suppositions, what we know for sure is that bocce can clearly be traced back to the time of the Romans. During the Punic Wars in 246 BC, Roman soldiers had already been playing a game with rules very similar to bocce ball. So while there is a possibility that lawn bowling has been adapted from bocce, there is no documented proof that the two games have the same origin.

Bottom Line

Both bocce ball and lawn bowling are extremely fun games that require skill and strategic throwing techniques. After you understand the differences between the two, you’ll have a better idea of how to play them. Whether you choose to play bocce or lawn bowling is up to you, but you should definitely try both to see which one you enjoy more.

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