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Bowls In Focus : November 2009
If you are a V8 Supercar driver there's just one decision to make: do I strap my butt into a Ford Falcon or do I climb through the roll cage of a Holden Commodore? But when it comes to the rustic game of lawn bowls - wow! The choice of playing equipment is just staggering, and that's the opinion of a chap who has played the game for nearly four decades. How confusing must it be for the novice trundler? Without entering the aesthetic territory where colour choice is a fashion statement, there's the question of appropriate bowl size, grip or ungripped and the bewildering range of product from the five (soon to be six) manufacturers. It's a minefield for the uninitiated. So let's look at this situation through the eyes of a fictitious newcomer to bowls, Brian Beginner. He walks off Union St in Windsor and joins Australia's oldest club, Melbourne. He gets some introductory tuition from development coach Arnold O'Brien, who informs him of the importance of acquiring a set of bowls that fits his left hand. Brian is a southpaw, apparently. Afterwards he sits on the bank and watches two of Melbourne's best bowlers, Jason Saunders and Russell Green Jr, going about a practice session. Saunders, the club champion, is using Almark Edge Plus, while Green, the brilliant Premier Division skipper, is rolling Henselite Dreamline bowls up and down the rink. Brian then puts a telling thought in place - the Edge Plus is a bowl for singles specialists and the Dreamline is for skips. Is he right or wrong? If you visit the Henselite website, this is the marketing spin the makers use for their volume seller. You have to wade through verbiage with a syrupy thickness and sweetness akin to molasses. It says: Dreamline is a bowl that satisfies the needs of competitive bowlers. It is ideally suited for medium to fast free running greens and a flatter profile and narrower width. This provides the bowler with more comfort and control of the bowl. With a flat finish, this bowl's stability on fast free running greens make it an obvious choice for club, state and national level bowlers. The 'Ergo' profile has been designed with narrower shoulders; the benefit is to provide the user even greater control when delivering the bowl. It can also allow the use of a larger size bowl than would normally be used. Apparently ergo fit is Henselite-speak for a slim profile. They use the term full fit for the original wide profile. Henselite has full fit bowls in products called ABT-evo and the recently released Alpha. Another full fit bowl is the no- longer-made Impact. Bamboozled Brian now stares intently at his left palm. Will an ergo fit bowl be a correct shape for me? Who will know - a coach, perhaps? He could evaluate both bowls, but he's too much of a novice to be able to make an informed decision. The green speed chart indicates Dreamlines are suitable for greens running between 13 and 16 seconds if it's the heavyweight model you choose, with Henselite recommending it for greens at 14 and 15 seconds. Does that mean the Dreamline is completely unsuitable for a 12-second green that's common in Melbourne when the pennant season starts in October? Should Brian have another set of wide- turning Classic bowls for the wet grass greens? And what about those artificial greens that run at 20-seconds - do I get a third set? Brian decides bowls is like golf where you have a range of equipment specific to the situation. The firm's bias chart indicates the Dreamline takes more grass than the ABT-evo, which they say, is better on slightly faster greens and "is the choice of those that play to win. This traditional full shape fit allows consistent performances on fast greens. The evo has a narrow finish, but with enough flexibility and control for all requirements." I'm not intending to play to lose, thinks Brian - the ABT-evo is clearly the bowl for me. The Edge Plus, according to the guff on the Almark Bowls website, "this general purpose bowl incorporates all the features" of its minimum-bias Edge model "however it has a little more draw around shorter bowls to the head ensures its popularity on holding greens." It has been "specifically designed to perform on a variety of green speeds. Whatever your level of play or position in the team, Edge Plus will ensure you maximize your potential." Brian decides: he'll go with Edge Plus because the PR says it's fine for all green speeds whereas the Henselite bowls all specify a narrower speed spread. What he doesn't know is that Dreamline and Edge Plus are closely related members of the same family, a bit like distant cousins whose parents don't like others knowing their sibling status. There's no link between the two websites although both products apparently emerge from the Darebin Rd factory. The Almark brand is an offshoot of Henselite. It dates back to the early 1980s when the company began making bowls for the UK market, according to the company's online history. Almark bowls started appearing on the Australia bowls scene early this century. First there was the Edge, but it proved a bit too narrow biased for Victorian tastes. The range was enhanced with the slightly wider Edge Plus. So is the Edge Plus and Dreamline the same bowl with different words laser edged into the plastic surface - a bit like the Mazda 323 and Ford Laser was the same car with different badges attached? No, comes the harmonised response from Henselite and Almark spokespeople. But it makes the average bowler wonder, especially when they perform so similarly on the green. If you think this is confusing, throw in the imported bowls from Britain and it's less clear. There's the Greenmaster Premier and Taylor Redline SR from the same Thomas Taylor factory in Glasgow. They are direct market rivals of the Dreamline and have similar performance characteristics. And then we have the Drakes Pride factory in Liverpool that produces the International. It's also does the same things as the Dreamline, Edge Plus, Premier and Redline SR. And if that's not enough, we finally have the upcoming bowl from the new Ambak firm. It's called the Odyssey and will be made in Liverpool. The pre-release gossip is that it's in the same market ballpark as the other bowls mentioned. If blokes who have been playing our game for decades are confused by all the spin and word of mouth, what must it be like for a newcomer such as Brian Beginner? Peter Gerty