Cockeyed and loving it

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July 28, 2003 // UPDATED 10:59 am - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

A ball that rolls funny, a pint and green grass: the Downtown ritual that is Brit's lawn bowling

Two stories up from the concrete and bustling Nicollet Mall is a scene one would more readily expect to see in an English countryside. But here, on the patio of Brit's Pub and Eating Establishment, men and women wear tennis whites, enjoy pints and roll oblong balls on a manicured lawn.

It's summer, which means one thing at Brits: English lawn bowls season. Lawn bowls (for those who have never experienced it) is a cross between bocce ball and bowling. And on any given night, Downtowners can be found enjoying their adopted pastime.

It's both a non sequitur and a five-year-old Downtown custom. In the shadow of the Target Tower is a secret garden -- a patch of grass maintained to putting green standards, cobblestones, umbrella-shaded tables and potted plants. It's almost another world, except for the honking horns of Downtown traffic and the high-rise buildings looming next door.

"I enjoy [lawn bowling] because it's played outside," said Matt White, a member of the Hubert White lawn bowling team. "It seems like not that many sports are played outside anymore."

The competition On a recent Tuesday night, the Hubert White team squared off against opponent Atkins HF&G in league play. Sixty-four teams (each made up of four players) comprise the two leagues at Brit's -- the Scottish League and the Premier League. Leagues play on Monday and Tuesday nights, and the season runs from the end of May through September. Most of these teams are sponsored by Downtown businesses, but some are simply groups of friends.

According to Brit's General Manager Shane Higgins, there is a five-year waiting list to get a new team into league play. He said approximately 50 teams currently wait on that list. On weekends, anyone can play, beginning at 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis for $5 per person per hour.

For a game with so many people vying to play, one would think the actual matches would be competitive. However, on this night, there seemed to be more laughing and drinking than serious competition.

White is definitely there for the fun. "I'm a mediocre player," he said. "Sometimes I rock the house. Sometimes, I'm not that good."

Dean Kelman has been playing on the Atkins team for a couple of years; but says he travels so often that he misses many lawn bowling nights, so he hasn't developed a serious strategy.

Kelman said his project-management firm is British-based, and the Minneapolis office has many British employees. You might assume the Atkins team would rank tops in their league, but as of July 15, they were 0-4.

Kelman reveals that most of his British co-workers refuse to play lawn bowls because they think it's a game for senior citizens. "They feel like it would be like young kids from the United States going over to the U.K. and playing shuffleboard," he said.

Still, on this particular night Atkins does boast one British player, Manchester native Ian Greenwood. Greenwood explained that the version of lawn bowls played at Brit's is from southern England because the lawn is flat. In northern England, they play Crown Green Bowling on a hilly course.

"The lawn bowling here (at Brit's) is for sissies," Greenwood joked.

Although Brit's rink (official term for the lanes on the bowling green) is not hilly, veteran bowler Paul Horan said the green does have 'undulations' that play into his strategy.

"Lane two is the best. Lane three has a slight dip," Horan, a member of the Hubert White team, said. "If you don't hit it correctly, the bowl doesn't respond."