At the Jackson Park Bowling Green: Lakeside Lawn Bowlers, Chicago Croquet Club, roll with old traditions

Brought to you by Jackson Park Advisory Council and its host website www.hydepark.org. For JPAC: Gary Ossewaarde

Jackson Park/JPAC home. Facility is shared with Chicago Croquet. ? Croquet on weekend mornings, Lawn Bowling afternoons and Tuesday evenings.

The following feature on the South Side Lawn Bowling Association and the Jackson Park Bowling Green appeared in the Hyde Park Herald July 2, 2003 and is followed by a feature on lawn bowling and croqueting at Jackson Park and cricket in Washington Park, June 29, 2005. The Michaels mentioned are active members of Jackson Park Advisory Council. The bowling green and clubhouse now share facilities with with the south side Croquet Club and other rented uses as a Park District special facility. The Green and the club go back to c. 1927 and has had some close calls with various district administrations. Maintenance is difficult and expensive for the green, which requires special (sandy) soil and sod, and for the clubhouse. The Lake Side Bowling Club until recently had an exclusive contract going back nearly 30 years and did much of the maintenance on the club house. The bowlers and croquet players have worked out an amiable sharing schedule.

Lakeside Lawn Bowling: Tom Michael at 708-366-8228, bigguylor@comcast.net
Chicago Croquet Club: chicagocroquetclub.org.

By Dylan Carden

The Lake Side Lawn Bowling Club gathers on manicure grass tucked deep beneath the Jackson Park oak trees overlooking Lake Michigan.

"It's a jewel in the middle of it all. It's lost, so many people don't know it's over here," Willye Tillman smiles on the front porch of the brick club house, where bowlers have gathered for more than 80 years.

Those who have found their way to only public bowling green in Chicago arrive weekend after weekend to return for the sub-culture that has formed around this archaic sport.

Lawn bowling is a game learned in an afternoon, and mastered in a lifetime, say players.

"I was retired and I needed to pick up something, there was this parade and someone handed me a bowl. I've been hooked ever since," explains Ernie Moorehead about his introduction to the sport.

The sport is as old as the Pyramids, and derived from the same culture. It was spread by the Roman Empire (which bowled with human skulls), and now exists throughout Europe in many similar forms, such as Bocci and carpet bowling. Robert Burns, William Shakespeare, George Washington, and Walt Disney all lawn bowled.

The rules are as follows: game are played between two teams of one to three players; each player is allotted four grapefruit-sized plastic balls (known as bowls); the players attempt to roll their bowls as close to a billiard-sized white ball (or jack) as possible. The jack lies roughly 100 feet away f rom the players. The bowls have a natural curve of three to ten feet, known as the draw, which causes many problems for blossoming bowlers.

"It's funny, sometimes they break like they're supposed to, sometimes they go straight," says a frustrated Pat Lawrence, a recent addition to the club clad in a T-shirt with "Love is the way" printed across the front.

It is also in the draw and the grass conditions that many players find hidden luck.

"It all depends on the grass," explains Erinie Moorehead, a seasoned bowler, who has discovered that on some days you have "good grass," and on others "bad grass." But as Moorehead has also figured out, as simple as the rules are, the game like all others takes determination.

"The name of the game is practice, practice, practice, practice," said Moorehead.

While the rules are basic, there is an etiquette that, a the club flyer states, "make it a thoroughly pleasant game." This includes the all-white garments that draw passing bikers and joggers to see what the ghost-like figures in the park are up to.

"We wear all white outfits because the English stop for tea," jokes Lorrie Michael who co-runs the club with husband Tom Michael. "Tea at three," smiles Moorehead.

After a long afternoon, the bowlers rest in the clubhouse, taking their tea and cake like proper English dignitaries. People congratulate others on excellent rolls and well-earned wins, and then discussion takes a shift to light issues and comforting chatter.

"We keep coming back for the one great shot," says Lawrence, who soon after rolled a bowl that nestled against the jack. Lawrence turned around to her spectators and with polite enthusiasm and clenched fists quietly yelled, "yes, yes, yes," and gave her fiercest battle face to the smiling competition.

"You've been practicing at night haven't you?" asked Tillman from the porch.


Bowled over: Hyde Parkers delight in lawn bowling, croquet and cricket

Hyde Park Herald, June 29, 2005. By Tedd Carrison

Cal Wright was on his way to work when he spotted the strange conglomeration of white shirts huddled around a well-manicured patch of Jackson Par. Dumbfounded, he later approached the group and was so impressed with their sport that he promptly joined the Lakeside Lawn Bowling Club of Chicago.

That was 30 years ago. Today, wright still dons the traditional white uniform and acts as the club's resident lawn bowling historian and instructor. His 77-year-old organization comprises roughly 65 members and is one of the three local sports that offer players an alternative to the baseball, basketball and tennis that dominate most parks.

Despite an injury to his Achilles tendon, Wright demonstrated some proper lawn bowling techniques, rolling each "bowl" with stunning accuracy. "In an hour you can learn to enjoy it," he said explaining the simplicity of the game. "But I spent 20 years trying to really play."

When the lawn bowlers are finished with the Jackson Park "rink," it becomes a "court" as the Chicago Croquet Club takes over. Though only five years old, the croquet club has a membership that is 50 strong and is preparing to host some of the nation's best players in an August tournament.

Rick Cooper, a member since 2001, explained that unlike many other sports, croquet is an intellectual game. Players must strategize where to place each ball, account for the potential interference of an opponent, and carefully manipulate basic physics principles al within a 45 second time limit. "It's like chess and p;;p, except you stand on the table," said Cooper.

He said that because the object of the game is to directly interfere with the progress of an opponent, croquet can be very competitive and even heated. "We are all great friends but we get pretty vicious when we play," said Cooper. He said it is evident why golf is preferred in the business world. "It's kid of hard to negotiate a business deal once you have destroyed [your opponent's] shot."

Aside from its contentious qualities, croquet was banned for a brief time in Boston when a local reverend deemed it inappropriate for men and women to be playing (and subsequently drinking) together. Though the ban was soon lifted, Cooper said it hurt croquet's appeal in the United States. Still he said that the game is popular in many circles and is played in the same way and with the same equipment as it was 100 years ago. "We don't want the equipment to get better and better and the game to get easier and easier," he said.

Through the Midway to Washington Park, a third sport of the British Commonwealth can be seen entertaining another group of white cotton-clad players. Every Sunday morning, near the baseball diamonds at 55th Street and Elsworth Avenue, six teams converge to play three separate Cricket matches. This game, resemblant of American Baseball, has no foul territory, a 5-pound ball, two concurrent batters and an average score that exceeds 200 runs.

One team's captain, Sabbir Ahmed, said that 49 teams play in and around Chicago and the game is growing in popularity. Another player attributed this growth to the immigration of people from Cricket-playing countries and increased coverage of Cricket matches on television.