Story: Bowls, pétanque and tenpin

Lawn bowls from England, pétanque from France and tenpin bowling from the United States – each is considered a thinking person’s game. People of all ages can play, and many people enjoy the thrill of competition as well as the social side of belonging to a club.

Story by Lindsay Knight
Main image: Playing bowls in front of the bathhouse building, Rotorua

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Lawn bowls

The game of lawn bowls started life in Ancient Egypt. It migrated to England in the 13th century and was revived by the Scots in the 19th century. Rules were formulated and the formal flat green was adopted. In the 2012 there were 610 bowling clubs in New Zealand divided into 27 centres and three major regions. Many of New Zealand’s top bowlers have gained success in world competition.

Lawn bowls is a game that requires thought. The level of fitness required is minimal, which makes it ideal for people who have retired from more active sports. Players come from a range of socio-economic groups and ethnicities. Bowls is a social sport with a small number of elite players whose achievements have been at the top of international competition.

Indoor bowls

Indoor bowls originated in England and was introduced to New Zealand in 1908. Being indoors, weather does not influence play. The green is a woollen or synthetic mat. Although the rules are similar to those of lawn bowls, both men and women can compete on an equal footing.


Originally from France, the modern game of pétanque is played on courts or pistes, a hard surface usually made of crushed lime or shells. The game arrived in New Zealand in the 1990s and the first tournament was held in Auckland in 1992. There were 45 registered clubs affiliated to Pétanque New Zealand in 2012.

Tenpin bowling

Created in the United States, the game of tenpin bowling has grown in New Zealand. About 30 commercial alleys were in operation in 2012. People of any age or ability can play the game and it is usually associated with informal, relaxing and inexpensive social events. International tenpin competition is fierce and dominated by those countries such as the United States that have a long history in the sport.

How to cite this page:

Lindsay Knight, 'Bowls, pétanque and tenpin', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 June 2024)

Story by Lindsay Knight, published 5 September 2013, updated 1 January 2015