Lawn Bowling Enjoys an 86-year History as an Official Club of Hermosa Beach
Bowl me over.
- Written byQuinn Roberts
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
It was a Thursday around 11 a.m. in the middle of the September heat wave, but that didn’t stop the Hermosa Beach Lawn Bowling Club (HBLBC) from playing. Multicolored umbrellas shaded about a dozen members from the sun while upbeat music played from the loudspeakers.
After competing for a few hours, the members picked up their equipment, put it in their lockers and headed back out to the patio to enjoy drinks and snacks while shooting the breeze. It’s become a common ritual.
“We aren’t like a lot of other lawn bowling clubs,” says vice president Art Lester, who has been a member for five years. “We keep the beach vibes going and try not to take things too seriously.”
The club is a hidden gem. Located right next to Clark Field on Valley Drive, the HBLBC was formed in 1936 by John Clark, a former mayor of Hermosa Beach who was originally from England. Clark, the first club president, owned the land the club is on along with parcels next to it. At one point the club had three different greens.
The flags are one of the first things you notice when walking to the club grounds. Each one represents countries where members are from and include the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and England. The last flag is Ukraine, which is hung as a sign of support for the country.
“I’ve lived in the South Bay for 50 years, and for so long I didn’t know what was behind the fence,” says 85-year-old Detlef Herbst, the club’s only member from Germany and also its oldest.
Tony Crutchfield, who is originally from Australia, has been a member of the club for 27 years and its president for six years. He has been amazed at the growth of the club since he became president—especially during the pandemic. It had about 15 members when he took over and has grown to 91 members.
“People really were looking for things to do outside [during the shutdown], and lawn bowling is perfect,” says Tony. “It’s not your traditional way of exercising, but it keeps you limber and a lot of times you walk a mile during a full game.”
Lawn bowling is not a sport often played in the United States and has the stigma of attracting only older participants. While the majority of the members are retired, the club is trying to change that narrative and does have some members in their 30s and 40s.
Most of the younger members come on Saturdays, when the club is busiest. You can also find members at the club on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Those interested in a free lesson can stop by at 9:30 a.m. before competition begins.
Incredibly popular in other countries, especially Australia, many participants in the U.S. have to be educated on the sport to learn the nuances. That’s a big reason why the club has open houses throughout the year.
Lawn bowling requires a combination of skill and strategy. The objective is to roll biased balls so they stop close to a smaller ball called a “jack” or “kitty.” Since the biased balls are not perfectly round, they roll on a curve.
After each competitor has played all of their balls, it’s then determined which are closest to the jack. Points are awarded for each ball that one player gets closer to the jack than another player. A singles match is decided by whoever reaches 21 points first. Competitors also play pairs or triple matches.
The club has gone through its ups and downs. In 1994 it was down to one member named Alice Ehlers. Had she decided to give up and stop playing, the land would have been taken over by the city and lawn bowling would no longer exist in Hermosa Beach. However, she recruited Brian Osbourne to join the club, and more signed up after that.
Pictures of Alice, along with other former presidents and members, line the walls inside the club. One shows Clark instructing women dressed in all white how to play. Glass cases display trophies and medals dating back decades.
Because of the club’s past, the current number of members is so important to Tony. He realizes the history and tradition of the club and never wants it to get back to small ranks again.
“I’m so proud that since I have become president, we have continued to grow as a club and the community has become so interested in lawn bowling,” he says. “You can see how much people enjoy it, and we want to make sure that continues for many years to come.”