WILLIAMSBURG — Joining the field of the Northeast Division Open, hosted recently for the first time by the Williamsburg Inn, wasn’t a painstaking process.
“You just sign up,” said tourney participant Wick Hall, on Wednesday, “Pay your fee, enter and either get the heck beat out of you or get lucky and win one or two.”
The winning part, in any sport, has a tendency to capture novices.
Hall observed lawn bowling for the first time on a vacation to Spain in 2001. The retired West Virginia native has been hooked since.
Representing Pittsburgh’s Frick Park Lawn Bowling Club, Hall is a regular competitor, having traveled around Pennsylvania and to New York City for tournaments.
Williamsburg Inn hosted the Northeast Division Open for the first time with the six-day event that featured singles, doubles and triples competition wrapping Thursday.
The Bowls USA Northeast Division features 10 clubs including the Williamsburg Inn Lawn Bowling Club which is the only club of its kind in the state.
Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island each were represented in the division open.
“For the division, this is the big event,” Hall said. “Some stiff competition here. There are some national champions here. There are several people that go to the nationals and they’re competing with us.”
A former electrical engineer and golfer, Hall said he is attracted to the physics of the sport that has an ancient origin that dates back to at least the 13th century.
Bowls cannot be tossed and must be rolled along the typically flat, manicured greens, which are much larger in area than bocce playing surfaces. Bowls, usually about 3 pounds, also follow curved paths because of what’s referred to as a weight bias.
The object: Get your bowls as close to the small white ball, known as the jack, as possible.
There are, of course, the inevitable thuds of one competitor’s bowls barreling into the other’s that sound a little like collisions on a billiards table.
“When you’re getting good at it, it’s like making an 85-foot putt with about seven feet of break,” Hall said.
Hall and Bill Bryant, the Williamsburg Inn Lawn Bowling Club secretary, squared off Wednesday in a singles match. The two were once doubles partners in a tourney in the Poconos when Hall’s regular partner wasn’t available.
Bryant, a Washington native, moved to Williamsburg 10 years ago. He said lawn bowling has nearly taken over his life. “It’s competitive. It’s social. It’s not hard on the limbs like tennis. It takes a lot of skill.”
A marker near the Williamsburg Inn’s green reads, “Lawn bowling was brought to Jamestown by the first English settlers. Williamsburg had a public bowling green before 1721 and there were greens at nearby Green Springs and Westover plantations.”
The sport enjoyed a revival in the 1950s with games on Duke of Gloucester Street before the Williamsburg Inn green was completed in 1966.
The Williamsburg Inn Lawn Bowling Club, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, currently features 60 members with close to equal male/female representation.
One of them is Mayor Clyde Haulman, who took up the sport just a few years ago.
“It’s easy to get involved, and extremely difficult to get good at,” the mayor said.
Haulman was introduced to the sport by his neighbor, Sven Berg, who claimed the open singles title at the recent division tourney.
The Northeast Division Open is not a qualifier tournament, meaning there’s no national or bigger tournament to follow. But recently, the Williamsburg Inn Lawn Bowling Club did produce a national qualifier in Lew LeCompte. He won the division singles playdowns and will represent the club in a California competition this fall.
The Williamsburg Inn green isn’t quite large enough to host a national event and that’s something the mayor would like to see change.
For now, there’s plenty of space for newcomers. A club representative occupies the Colonial Williamsburg-maintained green each day from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Visitors are welcome to give it their best roll.
“It’s just a wonderful, gentle game,” Bryant said. “And anybody can be a good bowler, no matter the age; women, men children; anybody can play the game.”
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-345-2352.