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Champion Lawn Bowler Just Keeps Rolling Along at 58

May 29, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

At a time when other people his age have little more than dusty trophies, a handful of old newspaper clippings and faded memories reminding them of their athletic careers, 58-year-old Neil McInnes is still making his mark in his sport--lawn bowling.

Even after nearly 30 years, eight U. S. championships and thousands of practice rounds since he rolled his first bowl, McInnes, one of the nation's best, is still surprising himself.

Against some of the best bowlers in the state at the Southwest Division Open in Riverside in April, the sleek, 6-0, 170-pound Glendale resident did something he had never done before: McInnes captured the singles, pairs and triples tournament crowns.

"That's quite unusual. I've been here 22 years and I've never known anyone to do such a thing," said McInnes. "I must have been pretty lucky."

Eye on 3rd Title

McInnes hopes that luck stays with him until June when he tries for his third U. S. singles championship. He won his last U. S. singles title in 1982.

McInnes has a schedule.

He believes another singles championship will qualify him for the 1988 World Bowls Championships in New Zealand.

McInnes, who won a silver medal in the pairs event in 1976 in Johannesburg, South Africa, also competed in the quadrennial event in 1984 (Aberdeen, Scotland) and 1980 (Frankston, Australia).

Now he wants another chance at the gold.

"I want to win the U. S. singles this year because that will push me to the top again," said McInnes, who was born and raised in Scotland. "My goal is to get to the World Bowls in 1988. That will probably be my last chance because I'm getting up there. I'll be 60 years old."

Foreign Players Younger

While 60 might be the prime age for lawn bowlers in America, where the sport is generally dominated by the elderly, it is not the case in other areas of the world.

McInnes might be one of the youngest players at the Pasadena Lawn Bowling Club, where he usually competes against players 20 years his senior, but in world-class events he tends to be one of the oldest bowlers.

"Most people in America don't know about lawn bowling," McInnes said. "In this country it's mostly played by the old and rich, but it you go to Scotland, England, Australia and New Zealand you'll find all the top bowlers are young, working-class guys."

Lawn bowling is one of the world's oldest games. Balls dating to 5,200 BC have been discovered by archeologists in Egypt.

Armada Had to Wait

A historic tale places Sir Frances Drake in the midst of a match in 1588 when he was told of the approach of the powerful Spanish Armada threatening the coast of Cornwall. Drake supposedly replied, "Let us finish our bowls, then let us finish the Spanish."

Lawn bowling is played on a 120-foot-square green that can accommodate eight rinks. Each player has four matching bowls (balls).

Points are awarded for bunching the most bowls nearest the jack, a small white ball used as the target, and for each bowl inside an opponent's nearest bowl. A tape measurer settles disputes. Games generally are to 21 points.

The bowls are made of a hard plastic composition, the material in indoor bowling balls. Slightly larger than a softball, they weigh 3.5 pounds and are weighted off-center to make them curve when they roll. The virtually indestructible bowls are imported from England and Australia and cost about $80 for a set of four.

It takes more than luck to be a world-class lawn bowler, McInnes believes.

'Harder Than It Looks'

"It's 85% skill," McInnes said. "You have to know all the shots and execute them. It's a lot harder than it looks."

McInnes took up the sport in 1958 when he moved to Australia from Scotland, where he was a cyclist. He has been a competitive bowler since.

"This guy in Australia introduced me to lawn bowling and it was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said.

Unlike Sir Frances Drake, McInnes did stop stop his game to race home and check on his family after hearing his house had burned down after he moved back to Scotland in 1962. No one was injured, but the fire forced his family to move to the United States in 1964.

Once here, McInnes tried alley bowling, but he quickly returned to the neatly manicured lawns after a high game of 269.

'Too Much Drinking'

"There was too much drinking, so I gave it up," McInnes said.

Soon after gaining American citizenship, McInnes began winning U. S. lawn bowling titles. In 1972 he won his first U. S. singles and pairs titles, for Americans only. Ironically, the rules were changed a year later, scheduling the events concurrently, making him the last player to complete the feat.

Since then he has added five pairs titles (1974-75, 1980-81, 1985) and another singles title in 1982. He has also won the National Open singles title in 1977 and pairs title in 1971.

McInnes credits his success to hard work. He usually practices 20 hours a week.

"I practice an awful lot," said McInnes, a carpenter. "I think I give myself more of an edge with practice.

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