A PROFESSIONAL lawn bowling circuit should be created in Scotland in recognition of the talent and potential of Scottish bowlers, according to leading figures in the sport.

Scotland's Commonwealth Games lawn bowling team this month won a record breaking number of medals in its events on the Gold Coast. It's total of five, which included two golds was second only to host nation Australia, whose players are already professional. Scotland's team remains amateur.

High performing Scottish players include Alex 'Tattie' Marshall who won his fifth gold medals in Australia this year, making him Scotland's most decorated Commonwealth Games athlete. Other medal winners in the team included his fellow players in the men's fours Ronald Duncan, Derek Oliver and Paul Foster, while another gold when to Darren Burnett playing alongside Duncan and Oliver. The women's team meanwhile won both a silver and a bronze.

David Gourley, former medal winning bowler and coach for Team Scotland, claimed that the decision to introduce a high performance programme five years ago had paid off, with investment from Sport Scotland allowing coaches to focus training and set targets. But he said it was time to go further and create professional opportunities for Scottish players competing against professional players from Australia and Malaysia.

"There is a lot of skill that goes unseen,” he added. “There is the technical and the tactical side. You have to be able to make the right decision under pressure. For the Scottish guys to have to take juggle training with their jobs and take unpaid leave in order to compete is really quite something. Obviously we want to see a professional circuit there.”

However he claimed that a lot of work was needed to get to that position. He added: “We need to look at changing our competition structure, particularly for women who don't have the opportunity to compete at the same level (as men). We also need to raise our profile and part of that is about making people more aware of how well we do in bowls as a small nation."

Alan McMillan, chief executive of Bowls Scotland, which was formed from the amalgamation of men's and women's associations in 2010 said he and several directors had ambitions to see the sport go professional. Other sports such as rugby previously had only amateur leagues but later went professional allowing leading players to be paid.

"Our medal target was three medals of any colour but we are thrilled and delighted that [Team Scotland] achieved a lot more," said McMillan It's the best games that we've ever had. The standard of playing is very high. What you've also got to remember is that when you go out to Australia these guys are paid professionals. The clubs in Australia are very different but we'd like to see [Scotland go professional] in the future.”

He claimed it would ensure Scotland held on to its hard fought place as a bowling nation in the future but acknowledged the lack of money in the sport made the aspiration challenging. "I think that the players deserve to be getting something back for it in terms of getting paid,” he added. “It's something that we need to work really hard on."

The success of Scottish lawn bowlers has been recognised by Sports Scotland, who targeted the sport for additional financial support following the team's success in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Funding rose almost 30 percent to £1.84m.

Clare Johnston, who won a bronze medal bowling in the women's pairs with Lesley Doig, and who this week will return to her part time job at Kilmarnock Football Club, said it could be tough to combine the demanding training and competition schedules with paid work elsewhere. "We are a top nation, a feared nation,” she said. “It would be great to be able to take that to the next stage.The talent that's coming through is impressive, particularly from the under-25s. When I started playing it was all grey skirts and white blouses. Bowls is definitely changing.”


THE soft comforting sounds of Kingswood bowling green in Glasgow's southside, are like an audio postcard from another time: the genial whoops of congratulation on a shot well played, a smattering of warm applause as the game ends, and the gentle, haphazard clink, clink, clink of bowls being gathered together, ready to start again. The green is beautifully manicured, the rinks (regular strips that run its length) clearly marked with pegs and daffodils bob happily in the warm sunshine.

Scotland's lawn bowling team may have had its best Commonwealth Games ever, winning a total of five medals in Australia, but what does that mean for nation's bowling clubs?

Here on this sunny afternoon, with Hampden Park looming in the background, its clear that etiquette plays a big part in the life of a bowling club. Associate members play only in the afternoons though full members can join sessions running seven days a week. Flags are flown to announce match days, uniforms are worn for competitive games - though a polo shirt and bowling shoes will suffice at other times. No blue denims are allowed, though trainers are now permitted.

Despite the rules, bowling clubs are welcoming places. Coaches are on hand to teach beginners and more established members will help new ones find their way. After the Gold Coast games, clubs are hoping to attract more people to swell their ranks. Kingswood's membership currently sits at 168, well below the full membership of 240. Leaflets have been dropped, there's a banner hung up on the railings and a programme of informal activities and tasters planned.

Though it's origins lie in the sixteenth century, according to Hugh Hornby - bowler and author of Bowled Over - the modern game as we know it today was developed in the early to mid 19th century, with a huge movement of clubs into Scottish cities. Instrumental in that was William Mitchell, from Kilmarnock – aka Mr Bowls – who created the first proper rule book. Early clubs still in existence include Kilmarnock Bowling Club (though not on its original site),Willowbank in the westend of Glasgow, Haddington and Lanark.

"Scotland has the biggest concentration of old bowling clubs in the world," adds Hornby. "It pre-dates football, it was hugely significant and yet it is not as celebrated as it should be." It was a growing sport right up until the 1970s when social lives often revolved around the pub, the football stadium, the bowling green and the seaside holiday.

But change it did. Across Scotland, 60,000 members are now playing at almost 900 clubs across the country – 20 years ago there were about 85,000 playing and there would once have been more. Despite Team Scotland's success on the global bowling stage, many greens are closing or are sold off to developers.

"There was once a waiting list but I don't think any club has one anymore and we are no exception to that, " says Kingswood secretary Mike George. Many of their members are retired and funeral announcements are a regular feature on the news pages of their website. Struggling to find a treasurer this year the only volunteer was not computer literate and there's a defibrillator in the club house.

But George claims that bowls doesn't have to be this way. "It's known as an old man's game but we had the Australian team here during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and I think the oldest is about 32," he says. His club is attempting to fight back, he insists – it has an under 45's league and star members include 23-year-old Rachel Sinclair who has represented Scotland and comes from a bowling dynasty.

George, now 64 and a retired taxi driver doesn't remember seeing his own grandfather bowl – he was just ten or 11 when he died – but the sport is in his blood too. "I enjoy the camaraderie," he says. "We do have a good laugh." So too do Margaret Waddell, 72 – her bowls slung in a rather stylish shocking-pink string bag – and her husband Robert, 74. They are joined by Iain Kyle, a recently retired HR advisor at Strathclyde University, who says he was persuaded to join by his father-in-law as – he chuckles – it made him eligible for £15 worth of drink vouchers.

"Jim, did you win?" calls Robert. A small but spritely man shakes his head, mock sorrowful. "I think they were cheating though," he quips jerking his thumb at May McNulty, 75, and Angela Walker, 67, who are making their way off the rink. Now firm friends they met three years ago when Walker made a new year's resolution to join despite knowing no-one.

All live within a stone's throw of the green and "enjoy the company". In that company is also 94-year-old Ian McGilvray, who retired from working in post office telephones in 1983 and still plays. "You need concentration to play bowls," he says. "I don't think the young ones are interested now, it's sad that they are stuck with their tablets and computers. I don't know what the answer is though."

Alan McMillan, chief executive of Bowls Scotland, says that the social importance of bowling clubs is often under-estimated. "We support people who have been bereaved, we support people's mental health and wellbeing," he says. McMillan believes the sport can bring in younger players with clubs making simple changes like making coffees and smoothies available as well as pints of bitter and gin and tonics, more relaxed dress codes and massive drops in rates for younger membership. Shorter games of 30-45minutes have been introduced rather than the three hour marathons of old. Some club house are used as meeting places for walking groups.

A shift is happening already, though. Prestwick Howie bowling green in Ayrshire, which has about 85 members had no junior members in 2015 but thanks to the suggestion of a new committee member Helen Kyle it got involved with Sports Scotland's Active Schools programme and started running both outdoor and indoor introductory sessions. The programme, now entering its third year, reaches about 400 children per annum and the club now has 21 young members aged seven to 15. About two thirds of them are girls.

"We thought there might have been some resistance from our existing members but all of them have been totally supportive," says Ian Robertson, club president. "Bowls is the one of the few competitive sports that grandparents, parents and children can all play together."

Kirsty Garrett, Glasgow City Council sports development and physical activity manager, claims the city, which saw over 10,000 spectators attend bowling competitions during the Commonwealth Games in 2014, is also playing its part. Last year 40,000 visits were recorded at its council run bowling clubs in Kelvingrove, Queens and Victoria parks. "At Kelvingrove we do things slightly differently as it is set almost within the University campus so we want to appeal to young people and students. We run things like barefoot bowls events in the summer which are more colourful and the rules are much less rigid."

Hugh Hornby thinks bowling clubs are worth fighting for. "I know literally hundreds of people through bowling," he says. "It's great for mental and physical health and its recommended for older people as ideal exercise. There's something special about being able to walk to your local bowling green in the evening sun. You have a reason to stay outdoors until nine or ten in the evening. The lawn might have just been mown and there's the sweet smell of grass. It's so peaceful." Clink, clink, clink...for now at least, another game begins.