Introduced by the city’s Scots who were lovers of lawn bowling, the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club with its three manicured greens has survived over a century to become the oldest such club in the country.
Various forms of lawn bowling date back to Roman times, and possibly even further back than that. In England, it has a heritage dating back to 1299, when the first lawn bowling club was established, but it is to the Scots that we owe our bowling green. This seemingly innocent sport was not once, but twice outlawed by British law, on the concern that enthusiastic lawn bowling citizens were neglecting their other chores. A special exception was made on Christmas Day, when common people were allowed to indulge in the game.
However, in Scotland this ban was never enforced and lawn bowling grew enormously in popularity. It is said that today there are more than 200 public bowling greens in the city of Glasgow alone.
In San Francisco it was a Scottish fraternal order — the St. Andrew’s Society — who first formed what came to be known as the San Francisco Scottish Bowling Club. With the blessing of (Scottish) park superintendent John McLaren, the first game was bowled in October 1901, using wooden bowls (balls) brought by members from Scotland. A permanent green was established in 1902, with McLaren joining the club at its first vice-president, and, with the exception of the the time surrounding the 1906 earthquake and fire, it has been in near constant use ever since.
The 1906 earthquake wreaked havoc on this quiet oasis from the city. The quake itself ripped up the perfectly manicured lawn and the US Army corralled cavalry horses there for the months following the earthquake, fire, and riots, leaving the court almost unrecognizable.
In 1907, men in the traditional all white uniform of lawn bowling returned to their newly restored green, and in 1912 the men were joined by women in an adjacent court.
The San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club is recognized as the oldest public club in the country with three courts for play, and the 1915 Edwardian clubhouse is now San Francisco City landmark #181.
The club offers free lessons every Wednesday at noon.
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- Christopher Pollock; “San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park - A Thousand Acres of Stories” 2001, West Winds Press