The World Bowls Championships take place in Norfolk during January.
Steve Penny met former world champion Greg Harlow to find out why the sport appeals to all ages.
The world’s biggest bowls event takes place just up the road from us and there is lots of local interest, as well as a global audience tuning in to see who will walk away with the £55,000 of prize money.
The Just Retirement World Indoor Bowls Championships will attract the world’s top players to Potters Resort at Hopton on the Norfolk coast and one man has seen it all before.
Greg Harlow reached the semi-finals of both the singles and pairs events in 2015 and is a double world champion, winning the singles in 2010 and the pairs in 2014.
“The championships are the highlight of the bowls calendar,” said Greg. “It’s the 18th year that Potters has held the championships and the Potter family has invested more in the sport than anyone else. Their commitment, in terms of facilities and investment, is second to none.”
Greg said the atmosphere of playing in front of large crowds and, for the final week, with millions more watching on BBC TV is unique.
“It’s the biggest audience we get in any bowls championships. Once you get into the competition and the later stages, the audience gets more involved and you realise what’s at stake.
“There’s so much excitement, anticipation and theatre involved. On every shot you hear the whole audience hold its breath to see what will happen.
“As a player, it’s great to be on TV, which is wonderful for the profile of the players.”
“Honestly though, I tend to not take any notice of the cameras as I’m just concentrating on my game.”
Greg’s bowls career started at the age of 11 when his parents, Barbara and Roy, got him involved. “They played at a high local level and won numerous county titles,” he said.
“They ferried me about for years before I could drive.
“I played in my first Junior International when I was 20 for England against Wales and my breakthrough came in 1992 when my sister Joanne and I won the National Mixed Pairs.
“I won an u25s national singles in 1992 and in 1993 I was selected to play for my first national cap and have played for England ever since.
“I loved and played all sports as a youngster, enjoying all sport equally and playing everything.
“I was better at bowls than others and slowly dropped the others. It’s just a sport that is fun and that anyone can do.”
And even now, Greg still plays for fun.
“If I didn’t get pleasure out of bowling then I would pack it up. I do still play in domestic leagues at my club and in club competitions just so I can play.”
Despite a general media view of bowls being for older people, Greg said that is out of date.
“You only have to look at bowls club and major bowls sporting events to see that the age of players can be in the 20s, 30s and 40s.
As for the secret of what makes a good bowls player, Greg said: “If I could bottle that I would be rich.
“You have to have natural talent but also be committed to practice and be dedicated and determined to do well.”
Anyone can play bowls, with many local clubs offering free taster sessions. Once the basics are mastered, it is possible to progress at a rapid rate.
“You can advance from beginner to club standard in a short time,” said Greg.
“But the jump to club level and county players takes time to progress, as like most sports.
“Clubs have bowls and shoes to hire, so it can take a few weeks to get started. Once you’ve decided you like it, bowls and shoes can be bought for somewhere between £200-£300 but can last a lifetime.”
East Anglia is a fertile area for top players with Greg, Mervyn King, Mark Royal and Nick Brett all from the region – four out of England’s top six.
“There is a hotbed of bowl talent in the area but I have no idea why,” agreed Greg, who said he is pleased to see that conveyor belt of talent continuing.
“It’s always great to see the next generation coming through. Stowmarket’s Katherine Rednall is doing really well and Rebecca Field, from Norwich, is too.”
And anyone can win at Potters, on those same greens as seen on TV. Greg said: “Tournaments are held for guests staying on midweek breaks at Potters Resort. There are 30 separate four-night breaks featuring these free tournaments and around 500 bowlers take part.
“They are competitive but friendly tournaments and are open to all levels and abilities.
“It’s fantastic seeing people having a go and enjoying themselves.”
This feature first appeared in Take One newspaper