SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — It did not take Arnie Mortenson long to find an enjoyable activity after he retired from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power in 1975.
"I retired on a Friday, and Monday I was lawn bowling," Mortenson said. "I've been at it ever since."
Mortenson, who lives in Arcadia, developed into an excellent lawn bowler and won several national championships in the mid-1980s. At 75, he is an active member of the Santa Anita Bowling Green Club, one of four San Gabriel Valley-area lawn bowling organizations enjoying growing memberships.
The Santa Anita club, which Mortenson said was started in 1937, has about 200 members ranging in age from 35 to 86.
Clubs in Pasadena, Alhambra and Pomona draw athletes seeking an atmosphere that is highly competitive, but also friendly and fun.
"It's not only (a game) for older people," said Peggy Foot, president of the 800-member Pomona club, which began in 1958. "We have a lot of younger people who come out on weekends. We have so many members who say belonging to the club has really kept them going."
Lawn bowling, which in various forms dates back to the time of Julius Caesar, is played on a 120-foot-square green that can accommodate eight rinks. Ideally, the grass is a dried greenish-brown, which gives the surface the consistency of a pool table's felt.
Each player has four matching bowls that can be as small as 4 3/4 inches in diameter and as large as 5 1/8. The bowls, manufactured in Australia, England and Scotland, are made of hard plastic and are weighted off-center to make them curve when rolled.
Points are awarded for bunching the most bowls nearest the jack--a small white ball that serves as a target. Players must become skilled at knocking an opponent's bowl away from the target because points are scored for each bowl that is placed inside an opponent's nearest bowl.
Games are generally played to 18 or 21 points, and disputes are settled by tape measure.
All four clubs offer novices instruction in the rules of the sport and techniques for rolling the draw, curving the yard and unleashing the drive--the three basic shots of the game.
"Once you play it, you're hooked," said Betty Barnett of Alhambra, who rolled her first bowl four years ago at the age of 56 and is now the president of the Alhambra club. "I used to enjoy going bowling at bowling alleys, but there was too much smoke indoors. That's one of the reasons I enjoy lawn bowling. It's exciting to be out in the fresh air.
"This game is challenging because of the skill involved. And the camaraderie is just wonderful."
The four San Gabriel Valley lawn bowling clubs are active in inter-club competitions, league play, tournaments, and local and international visitations. The Santa Anita club, for example, will play host to a group from Wales on Saturday.
This month, the Alhambra club expects to receive an Australian-manufactured artificial surface that will be installed in one of its greens in April.
Mortenson expects more and more people seeking a recreational activity to find their way to lawn bowling.
"We're gaining more popularity out here," he said. "There's something going on with the clubs all the time.
"It's definitely what we call a fun deal."
For more information on lawn bowling clubs, contact:
* Alhambra Lawn Bowling Club, 800 S. Almansor, Alhambra. Phone: (818) 576-2299.
* Pasadena Lawn Bowling Club, 275 Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Phone: (818) 578-9165.
* Pomona Lawn Bowling Club, 451 E. Arrow Highway, Pomona. Phone: (714) 625-5532.
* Santa Anita Bowling Green Club, Arcadia County Park, Arcadia. Phone: (818) 445-8538.