The short mat game began in Ireland and was later introduced into this country. There now exists the English Short Mat Bowling Association (E.S.M.B.A.), which is supported by regional associations.

The game has its own set of rules, and any prospective player would do well to be conversant with them before playing the game proper.

Short Mat Bowls Rules

As the title implies, the game is played over a much shorter length than the flat green game. The carpet is between 40-45ft (12.2m – 13.7m) and 6ft (1.8m) wide. At both ends, there is a fender, and 1ft (0.3m) in from the fender there is a white line, representing the ditch. There are other white markings on the carpet but players would be best appraised of the reasons for such markings by studying the rule book.

Short Mat Bowls Equipment

short mat bowls mats

Equipment to be used is the same as that for playing on the larger indoor or outdoor surfaces. There are regulations as regards the weight or size of the bowl to be used but, in the main, those who have the necessary equipment for playing the outdoor or full-length indoor flat green game would be correctly set up to play the short mat game.

The basic skills required for playing the short mat game are exactly those for playing the flat green game indoors and outdoors. These are, of course, line and length. Any short mat player must practice and perfect both as far as possible. He must develop a good ‘eye’ for the line and a good ‘feel’ for the weight he needs to bowl a correct length.

The fact that normal-size bowls can be used will also assist the player in developing his individual grip. He will also learn that it is essential to get the body as close to the playing surface as possible, and he will certainly learn the importance of the speed of the arm coming through to enable him to bowl the required length.

short mat bowls indoors

Because the mat is only 40-45ft (12.2-13.7m) long, it can be laid on a large variety of surfaces, providing the surface is flat, and so leisure centres can be used. Usually more than one carpet can be laid because such centres offer an abundance of floor space. Halls of every description are usually acceptable, even if the carpet has to be laid diagonally. Short mat offers the extra bonus that the carpet can be taken up, rolled and stored away at the completion of the games, thereby enabling the hall to be used for any other function.

It is yet another advantage of the game that players can be protected from the weather and are therefore reasonably sure that they can play their game at the date and time arranged. There are several bowling clubs that play the short mat game during the winter months in their club pavilions and it has been known for some to extend their existing pavilions to accommodate this short mat. Such actions speak volumes for the popularity of the game as a whole.

As well as the reduced length, the short mat game has also introduced a block. This block is 15in (4.6cm) long, 3in (7.6cm) high and not more than 3in wide, and is placed at the centre and across the mat. Any bowl that touches the block on its course across the carpet is declared ‘dead’ and removed. It also has another purpose. Over such a short distance, it would not be too difficult for a bowler to use a heavy bowl to disturb or break up the head.

Short Mat Tips

Short Mat Block

The block can effectively prevent this from happening and, therefore, the majority of shots that will be played will be drawing shots. Of course, if a jack has been moved off the centre line, a player of some skill could still use the heavier bowl to gain an advantage but the use of the block has certainly influenced players to think of the drawing shot as being the most important shot to learn, which is a positive point as it is basic to the playing of the game, no matter what length of carpet or rink is used.

The growth of the short mat game has been quite startling in so short a period of time. The example of one county that went from nine short mat clubs to more than eighty over a two-year period speaks for itself. This kind of growth has been particularly evident in areas such as the South West, but it would be wrong to think that it is confined to predominantly rural areas.

There has always been the grumble that there is not much to do in such rural areas during the winter months, but it would be an oversimplification to suggest that this is the main reason for the popularity of this game. Indeed, there is evidence that the short mat game has an enormous attraction for many thousands of bowlers in all parts of the country.

It would also be somewhat naive to imagine that short mat clubs are mere ‘nurseries’ for the outdoor or indoor flat green game. However, it must be said that many people do turn to the short mat game because they are unable to join a flat green bowling club that is already over-subscribed, and probably has a waiting list.

The short mat might also give some players the appetite to play on larger surfaces and, if they live in parts of the country where they are able to join bowling clubs, they can fulfil that appetite.

One group of bowlers who benefit greatly from the short mat game is the disabled. There is obviously no great physical input required, and for those in wheelchairs there is an ease of movement from the mat to the opposite end of the playing area that they would not find in either and indoor or and outdoor bowling green.

shortmat bowls measuring

The players of short mat bowls are no less competitive than their counterparts who play on the larger playing surfaces, and this is quite evident from the league structures that now exist. Results and league placings are published in local newspapers and are avidly scanned by those who wish to work out the possible chances  for promotion or indeed demotion.

Also, since 1986, International Series between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales have been staged, as well as championship matches. It would be equally wrong to assume that the short mat game is any less exciting. Bowlers demonstrate the same keenness, dedication, skill and determination as they do in the outdoor game.

There is no less delight at having played a good bowl, as the length of the carpet does not affect the obvious pleasure of succeeding in beating your opponent.

The age range of those wishing to participate in the short mat game is even wider than that of the outdoor game. Young people of even eight or nine years of age take part, these could prove to be good ‘seed-corn’ for the future of the game as a whole.

Admittedly, some younger players may find it difficult to hold even the smallest bowl allowed by the rules but they are still learning so many other important things, especially the etiquette of the game.

There seems to be no reason why interest and participation in the short mat game should not continue to flourish. There will be a number of players who may never wish to play on any larger surface, but always stay with the short mat game of bowls. As in all sports, the majority of people like to win, but possibly more important still is the enjoyment that any game has to offer. This enjoyment appears to be abundantly evident in so far as the short mat game is concerned and, therefore, it will retain its devotees and practitioners and its status as a game in its own right.

Short Mat Bowling Clubs

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88 thoughts on “Short Mat Bowling For Beginners

      • Mike Dickinson says:

        From what I have read on the internet, any bowls may be used for short mat bowls, however, you may notice that indoor bowls are specifically sold in sets of 4, as most indoor matches require the player to send either 3 or 4 bowls for each end.

  1. Lynette Zadrazil says:

    Hi, I am a bowler having played in South Africa and England. I am now living in Austria and through World Bowls have found out that there is no existing bowls club here. I would so love to start a short mat bowls club here in my small village. We have so much time during our long winter months to play and I think because of the convenience of the equipment we would be able to find an appropriate Quartier.
    Please can you inform me as to what I must do to start/form a club and how and what I would need to start this venture.

    • Hannes Happ says:

      Hello Lynette,

      where are you living in Austria?
      I am here in Strobl – Wolfgangsee-Salzburg.
      I´ve got 2 shortmats.
      Greetings Hannes

  2. Susan says:

    As a beginner, I would have liked some advice on choosing bowls for short mat. Are there certain types that are more suitable than others for short mat versus outdoor bowling? Where is the best type of place to buy them? Can you ‘try before you buy’? What sort of price should I expect to pay? Can I get a set of four, with two red and two blue (depending on which team I’m playing for)? If not, can you use blue and red stickers, or might these make the bowl run differently? Do slimline bowls have any disadvantages? (they look like they might be better for smaller hands?) How do I decide if I should buy a heavy or medium weight bowl?………so many questions and I’m struggling to find clear answers.

    • Edward Dyer says:

      This might be a bit late, but short mat bowls doesn’t have the red and blue you might see on TV. You can have any colour bowls. The weight isn’t important, but the swing/make is. If you are a skip over a lead, you will want bendier woods, but leads need straight woods, ideally. Stickers are played with and will match a team.

  3. Paul Levinson says:

    My local bowls club has just purchased a mat to play short mat bowls and they are
    telling me that the size of the bowl or wood allowed is maximum size of ‘’0’’
    is this correct.
    Paul Levinson

      • RAC says:

        Amendment to my comment. Having looked up the rules, min dia is 4.5inches, max dia is 5.25inches max weight is 3.5lbs.

        • Edward Dyer says:

          Legally, in short mat (At least in the Unite Kingdom), the largest size is the size 5, and smallest is the regular 0.

          There have been instances of players being shown away with the large size 6 and 7 bowls.

        • David BLACK says:

          We have room for two short mats side by side with a 15″ gap between. The mats would have to be against the side walls but we have space at each end for benches to sit on. Is it ok to have the mats like this?

          • Brian Baker says:

            It is better to reduce your gap between the mats and allow the bowls to be able to fall off the mat both sides. Official rules may say the gap between mats is too tight but for social and most friendly games providing adequate warnings/instructions to players is given it should be OK.

    • Mike says:

      Not true I play Short Mat with a size 4, their might be a Confusion with CARPET Bowls which play with a Small Plain Bowl with a Bias, normally supplied by the Club. Carpet Bowls are played on a Carpet with no Centre wood block or End Fenders.
      My Bowls are Taylor with a Vector Bias, and play all positions but normally Skip or 3. I do have a long reach, which allows me to play with a straight bowl, especially with the Faster Mats being used today. I do notice that players still playing with a Wide Bias on there Bowls struggle due to the 6ft wide Fast Mats.

    • Ron Collingridge says:

      No. Short mat bowls was started by outside bowlers to keep their eye in. Hence they used the same bowls as they used out side, 00 right up to size 6

    • Tom Millar says:

      Any size of bowls and weight can be used. Each individual have different size of hands and a gentleman may use a size 5 bowl heavy but a lady may one use a size 0 or possibly a 1. I personally use a size 3 heavy whereas my wife uses a size 1.

  4. Peter says:

    What happens when on the last end of the game is played and the opposition has shot wood, he has one bowl left and is told he is holding shot. All agree that is the case and they shake hands. As the two skips are walking down the mat, the shot wood falls away. Should the decision stand.

    • Roger Hammond says:

      The accepted rule of ESMBA is used frequently in competitions and is as follows;
      The final bowl of an end must be allowed 30 seconds to ‘settle and fall’ after coming to a standstill.
      Common sense suggests that skips will agree and no-one should step on the mat for this period..

  5. Mike Dickinson says:

    Really useful information, thank you. I’m looking to set up an indoor short mat bowling club. Is there a directory of clubs for each UK County? How would I go about registering with the EIBA?

  6. Clive langdon says:

    Sorry guy but can anyone help as to how to remove creases from a short mat bolts mat ours has been rolled and has a few creases in it

      • Roger Hammond says:

        Not completely true RAC…..if you are referring also to the ‘ditch-line’ also……a bowl may roll through a curving route touching and even passing-over the ‘ditch-line as it may roll out of the ditch again. So long as the bowl does not touch any other bowl within the ditch or the fender of the ditch, it will remain live!

    • Edward Dyer says:

      Yes. Provided the jack isn’t dead, a shot played that touches the jack is a toucher (Provided the shot didn’t hit the block or the fender).

      • Brian Rogers says:

        Who desides if the wood in play has touched the center block as sometimes it is very hard to tell and action has to take place quickly.

  7. Mike,Worthington says:

    Is it still classed as a touched if a bowl does not hit the jack directly?.IF it hits the jack after colliding with another bowl is it s touched?.This is a cause of argument where I play. Can someone clear this up please.I believe it has to hit the jack directly to be a touchet. What is the rule please

  8. Sue Jay says:

    Should the rubber mat be put back down before or after bowls have been rolled back to start the next end?

  9. Elsie Laird says:

    I have just started Short Mat. But have Lawn Bowled for some time.
    Is there any place to buy the Short Mat .book or rules.

    • Roger Hammond says:

      Yes . As soon as a bowl passes the nearer dead-line, whether bowled or carried, it is classed as bowled…so will be declared dead if carried.

  10. Pete McEvoy says:

    I’m new to this game and it strikes me that players are more interested in debating the finer points of the rules than improving their performance. Folks, it’s only a game.

  11. Pedro says:

    In singles if I win the end must I lay the mat to play the first wood or can I ask my opponent to play first? I ask because one of my club players can only play by aiming at the head hoping for the best, he cannot play any other way.

  12. L Bunting says:

    I am looking for information on positioning feet on the mat and what is foul shot. My husband is learning short mat bowls and played a shot with one foot against the backboard and was still inside the white lines. He was told this was a foul shot. looking for rules that provides information on this

  13. TOM WHITESIDE says:

    Hi can anyone tell me if a new rule regarding the first bowl of an end has been set. I have been told that if the first bowl hit the jack into the ditch and follows it into the ditch .That bowl will removed from the head and play will continue with the jack remaining in the ditch. Any updates on this rule if correct would be greatly appreciated.

    • Brian Baker says:

      There are NO circumstances in England that prevent any player from firing as long as weight is declared. The Lead can ditch the jack first bowl if they so wish.

  14. Martin Villar says:

    If a bowl ends up very close to the jack but is not a toucher then falls and touches the jack before the next bowl is delivered is it then classed as a toucher or not?

  15. James Herring says:

    Is it correct to have your right foot on the mat and bowl with your right hand
    And step forward with your left foot.
    Or vice versa e.g left foot on the mat and step forward with your right foot?.
    Or does it not matter which foot goes forward as long as one foot is on the
    Mat .

    • Brian Baker says:

      It may all depend at the shot you intend to play there is no right or wrong way of which foot you bowl off, but most of the top bowlers do not step but deliver the wood from a fixed stance

  16. Brian Adams says:

    Short Mat Bowls….Can anyone advise, when a `live` bowl or `jack` lands in the ditch, is it placed where it first hit the fender or where it ultimately comes to rest. I play in two clubs and they both have a difference of opinion regarding this matter.

      • Brian Adams says:

        Thank you for this….but in outdoor bowls the jack will stay where it fell into the ditch and not roll any further, so why different rules? Plus what if the jack / bowl hits the left or right side of the fender, is it classed as `dead end` in the case of the jack and a new end started or removed as would be the case if it went off the side of the mat in the case of the bowl?

        • Brian says:

          There are different rules as they are completely different games outdoor ditches have rubber to prevent movement Short Mat do not, A wood that has touched a jack in play is not dead if it touched the inside of the fender and comes to rest in the ditch it is marked in its final resting place, the same applies to the jack. However if a toucher touches the fender and falls off the mat it is removed. If it hits the end of the fender and remains on the mat it is still in play.

    • Roger Hammond says:

      When a Bowl ends up in the ditch ‘as a toucher’ , including sometimes hard enough to move the fender, neither bowl nor jack should be moved by hand; the accepted method should be for the fender to be carefully pushed forward to its correct position with the ‘horns’ being placed on the
      ditch-line……..the offending bowl and jack must be allowed to ‘sit where it settles’.
      The bowl and jack may end up NOT touching the fender,; but that is the only correct option(ESMBA).

  17. Tony Durbin says:

    A few years ago I managed to gain a grant from The National Lottery to start up a short mat club in our village – this has now been joined with the lawn green bowls cub to make one bigger club – we got a mat – winding machine – the center block – and 10 sets of woods ranging from size 0 to size 5. A whole load of folks now enjoy our sport – both indoors and out. I am now wheelchair-bound and recovering from a severe stroke, but still hankering after a game or two of bowls from that thing – it’s a struggle, and looks like I will have to join a different club to get a game – but hey ho that’s life – there are many ex bowlers in the churchyard who would love to swap places with me I guess – so I feel fortunate

  18. Maggie says:

    One of our club members has two different sets of woods and likes to play with a mixture of woods from the two sets. Is this allowable according to the rules? Thank you

  19. Steve says:

    If the jack is sitting mostly in the ditch but a small area of it over the ditch line tape, can I still play onto the jack or does my bowl become dead as soon as it encroaches the white tape.

    • Brian says:

      The key factor is the front line of the tape ie the line nearest the bowler if the Jack is passed this point then it is dead and its position marked. It can therefore then only be moved by a previous toucher. If your bowl has to pass this front line it is dead before it makes contact with the jack and therefore has to be removed and the jack moved back to its marked position.

    • Roger Hammond says:

      If it not a toucher, it will be declared ‘dead’ as soon as it settles with any part of the bowl hanging over the outer-( live) edge………it will therefore be removed as ‘dead’ so will not have any effect.

    • Chris Collins says:

      You are correct. For a jack to be “live” some part of it must be in the playing area so that it can he hit by a bowl. Otherwise, a bowl becomes dead as soon as any part of it touches the ditch line tape.

  20. Roger Hammond says:

    Yes, ! I have a personal tendancy to experiment with mixed bowls and often play with differing sizes, bias and weight chosen for the mat being used. There are advantages to be had but it takes a lot of practice…….(.and sometimes fails)……but the secret of this game is practice, practice practice!!!

  21. Paul Mccullock says:

    If a bowl takes the Jack over the dead line can a player knock another touched bowl onto Jack from play to win point

  22. brian says:

    If that wood was their opponents and was considered to be in the count they concede it as shot, if it was their wood then they forfeit it.

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