Let’s Bowl St. Pete Style

Way back in 1916 a few Canadians and Americans with a similar passion for a thinking person’s sport came together in the Sunshine City and resurrected an ancient fading game of skill. Pickleball, you say? Ha! So 100 years too late. It was instead the “Fascinating, healthful, clean sport called lawn bowling,” as noted in a late-20s pamphlet touting the myriad activities available in the sunshine city.

Rapid Growth of the Pastime

The gentlemen that started the club may or may not have known that 100 years later the organization would still be going strong. But in fact it is! The perhaps slightly under-the-radar St. Pete Lawn Bowling Club is now recognized as the oldest organized lawn bowling club in Florida, and 10th oldest in the US. I’m honestly flabbergasted that there are 10 of these clubs anywhere. Who knew?! What started out as a small club grew rapidly in 1920s St. Petersburg during the Golden Era. There were a couple forces at work that made it so.

Lawn Bowling Outside the Coliseum

John Lodwick and Sunshine City Sports

You may have never heard of him, but John Lodwick was a behind-the-scenes master of marketing that deserves an immense amount of respect and attention for putting St. Pete on the map from the late 1910s and through the 1940s. A marketing genius, Lodwick began taking club sports like horseshoes, checkers, an outdoor billiard-ish twist on croquet called “roque” and yes, even lawn bowling, to the next level. He advertised “World Championship of (fill in the blank)” in Northern newspapers. People started coming in droves to compete or watch these now fading sports. This caused huge increases in membership numbers, the building of formal facilities, and of course notoriety and tourism in the Sunshine City. It also helped St. Pete remain a destination through the difficult times of the Great Depression.

Seriously. And I Mean VERY Seriously.

As the sports grew in popularity and the city’s tournaments did well, formalization of the clubs led to professional facilities being built by the city in partnership with the groups. Lawn bowling, as seen above, was originally played outside the Coliseum, but within a few years moved to Mirror Lake where the club still resides in it’s historic and seasonally utilized building near the Shuffleboard Club. Roque also had a home here but that is a game that seems to have faded into history. And formalization meant the games got serious. Just look at these guys, coping without a video review.

You Can Just Feel the Drama

We are the Champions

Ok. I admit this may be my very favorite picture of people in the early days of St. Pete, and rightly so. Here we have a crack group of lawn bowlers at the club who’ve just won a big tournament, probably in the early 30s. It is almost as if the characters in the game of Clue came together to solve the mystery of Lawn Bowling. Mrs. Peacock, that is a VERY fine trophy!

They Came. They Bowled. They Conquered.

If you were wondering how these sports were advertised in the 1920s, here are some pages from one of the early pamphlets that promoted the alternate sports.

Still Going Strong

It goes without saying that some of these once-popular early sports have faded a bit from their lofty perch, and there are now a myriad of diversions that can entertain one in St. Pete. But whether you love Shuffleboard, Lawn Bowling or similar games, you can probably still find them here. These sports from the early days add to the rich history and fabric of our city, so why not give them a try? You can find out more on the Lawn Bowling Club Website or if shuffleboard is more your thing you can visit the Shuffleboard Club Website as well, including rules, events, and venues.

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