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August 7, 2017

Letter to Editor: Bowling arm regulation revision

what do you think

I  applaud those who get out on the bowling green using a mechanical bowling arm. It’s a wonderful innovation that allows many people with disabilities to commence or continue in an outdoor sport, where, if the arm didn’t exist, they could be confined to being a sporting spectator, instead of a participant, for the remainder of their lives.

However, the bowling arm is unquestionably, “performance enhancing”. Their use is a definite advantage over the majority of able bodied bowlers, in always being able to find and deliver on the correct line required more frequently.

The arm provides the user with an almost certain ‘line’ delivery, particularly when the bowler uses the narrowest biased bowls available.

I’ve been watching mechanical-arm bowlers with great interest for years now, and in my view, nothing has happened to change my mind on this issue.

Ridiculous as it may sound, over a period of around 5 years, I have witnessed ‘arm’ bowlers deliver almost a 98% success rate on their line accuracy (of those experienced in their use) compared to the able-bodied line accuracy in the same matches, rating perhaps around 65%-70%. That’s a huge difference, and too big a gap just to be a coincidence over such a sustained period of time. It can no longer just be ignored.

So, it’s now time to introduce a regulation to bring the mechanical arm bowler back to an even playing field and take away this huge performance-enhancing advantage. It simply means their line delivery will need to be slightly wider to even up the contest which at present is around 20% biased in favour of the ‘arm’ user.

The fair way to deal with this, without unduly penalising the ‘arm’ bowler, is to increase the bias on the bowl that the mechanical-arm user chooses, which is currently mostly of the skinniest variety. Make it a regulation that if a mechanical-arm is being used, then the bowler cannot use a bowl with a bias narrower than say the old ‘Classic-2’ or ‘Maestro.

Certainly, they should no longer be allowed to use any narrow-bias-bowl they choose, which gives them this distinct advantage.

A limitation on the permitted (wider) bias needs to be introduced, in Australia and around the bowling world, ASAP.

For the administrators to do nothing would be negligent.
Geoff Mathers
MCC-Kew Sports Club Inc.

Editor: What do you think? The use of bowling arms has become more popular over the last few years, with many bowlers and clubs embracing their use. However, many bowlers think that arm bowlers have an advantage over others not using a bowling arm. Let me know what your thoughts are by contacting us through the contact page, or commenting below. 


  1. Mck Mitchell says:

    I agree with these comments. A great advantage but I am unsure if this rule change should apply. Just as there are competitions solely for arm bowlers,should there not be competitions that exclude the devices.
    I think it is great to see many bowlers being able to continue solely because of the assistance the arm offers

  2. Ray Douglas says:

    I really do not believe this could even be considered, I have been bowling for nearly 40 years and when I tried a mates bowling arm I was surprised at how difficult it was, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone with obvious physical problems that prevent them playing this great game without one.

    It is a shame that anyone should feel threatened by someone using a bowling arm, they should be rejoicing that these people are out there having a go.

    • OSAAT says:

      Thank you Ray. This post has generated some discussion on our Facebook page too, with varying opinions. Have a look here if you are interested in following it: We’ll also address this topic in our next issue.

    • Fair Game says:

      No one is denying the bowler the right to use an arm but we are upset and fed up with the 20% advantage that they have “NARROW Bowls should not be part of an arm bowlers kit”

      • OSAAT says:

        Is there really a 20% advantage? Has this been measured? Of course, if there is really a 20% advantage, then it’s not fair, but I’m interested to see the evidence of a 20% advantage.

    • Brian bacon says:

      Ray well said i have never bowled with my hand. I taugh myself to bowl with the arm 6 years ago and have never looked back, i roll the jack with my arm my gripe is when you can change from one to the other ie bowl with arm for some ends then change to your hand once you have a doctor’s report to use an aid you should stick to it.

      • OSAAT says:

        Absolutely Brian. It’s one or the other as far as I’m concerned. Either you need it or you don’t!

      • Barry Graham says:

        What I object to is arm bowlers increasing their bowls size.
        For example using a 3 then increasing to a 4 or 5 when they get an arm.
        If you can’t hold a larger bowl you shouldn’t be able to use one with an arm.
        I still use my size 2 Classic 2 Deluxe bowls with my arm.

    • Leon Bell says:

      The comments from Geoff Mathers above, about having armed bowlers having to use a wider bias bowl, does not take into account people like myself. I am a pensioner and could not afford to pay out for a new set of bowls! With the now cost of bowling arms @ $300 plus, it is bad enough having to fork out that amount to continue to play bowls, let alone a new set of bowls. I have had my arm for 5 years now, but I am now where near being a one grader because of it! I only skip 7-grade pennants. Why is it that with bowls declining as a sport, that people can not embrace that fact that without the bowling arm, a player like me would have to give the game away! Not so long ago it was “Those narrow Cheating Bowls” have an advantage, now it’s the bowling arm bowlers being restricted to wider bias bowls. Bring that in and watch us older disabled bowlers go out! The word is “Encourage, Not Discourage”! With the new rules coming in May, anyone can get an arm, without a doctors certificate or the need to register! Should all able-bodied athletes, be able to compete in the Paralympics?

  3. Alan Dawson says:

    I was forced to move to a bowling arm due to debilitating back and neck injuries. How many arm bowlers play premier league, or first division. How many make it through the state and national championships. Only one in Victoria, if my memory is correct. If you are a proficient bowler, you can not put a bowl down any straighter with an arm, than you can with you hand. What you can’t do with an arm, is to feather a bowl out your fingers, step-out and round arm a delivery for a different trajectory, or vary your step greatly etc. There are Pros and Cons in everything we do. When someone starts telling me how easy it is with a bowling arm, I hand it to them and say “Show Me”. Guess what!

  4. Ian Rowan says:

    Great to see “balanced” comments about the use of Arms. Naturally, as a user of The Bionic Arm, I will be considered bias! But I am heartened always at Clubs when I hear top players at Club, District, State and National level, applauding bowlers who could not continue in the sport through impairment or injury, staying as active bowlers solely because of the Arm. Any reference to “cheating stick” or similar is usually made out of ignorance and resistance to change. I too, often challenge doubters to use the Arm for a couple of games, just to satisfy themselves it really does make it easier and gives you this alleged “advantage”! Interestingly, not one has come back to support their original comments as the physics of using the Arm hits home and they realise just how challenging it can be to use the Arm on different surfaces and variable weather. Also glossed over by detractors is the fact that many Arm bowlers were highly competent bowlers BEFORE they were forced to convert to the Arm and could this possibly be the reason that they continue to be good bowlers with the Arm? I sincerely hope Bowls Australia does not bend to the “squeeky wheels” and allows Arm bowlers to compete at all levels with their own bowls and Arms.

    • OSAAT says:

      Thank you Ian. Good points.

      Note from editor: Ian is ‘The Bionic Bowler’ columnist for Bowls Plus. There are varying opinions on the use of bowling arms, but one thing that remains clear is that arms allow people to continue bowling instead of sitting on the sidelines. We need more people who love bowling and arm bowlers might boost our club memberships. Still lots of discussion needed on this topic.

  5. […] Read the entire letter to the editor here. […]

  6. William Gay says:

    Hi guys, I have recently gone to a bowling arm after many years of suffering pain and many visits to chiropractors and etc. The bowling arm has given me a new lease in my bowls life and now back enjoying the game. However, the pain still goes on but not as bad.

    I have played bowls for 30 plus years and coached for many of those years. I find people have certain abilities some not so good, some fair with others playing at a higher level. The same applies to those who use a bowling arm. The bias of the bowl does not make the bowler any better or worse it really comes down to players skills.

    The idea that someone gets better with a bowling arm is more than debatable. Maybe the arm allows the bowler to get back to the player they always were. In my opinion the arm has an advantage when playing an upshot or drive but once again comes back to the skill factor.

    We should focus more on clarifying rules on the use of the bowling arm. I was playing in a tournament in NSW early this year where my opponent was able to bowl normally (by hand) when to my surprise he used a bowling arm to drive. I was not impressed but as there are no specific rules, I had wear it. I doubt if he had a licence licence to use it.

    Let’s face it bowling arms will be around for years to come so it’s important have regulations/rules so we know where we stand.

    One thing I have noticed with the arm that it’s difficult to judge weight because you cannot feel the bowl. On the other hand I can see the line easier. I know people will always have a negative view on those who gone to bowling arms but we need to let go and get on with it.

    Happy Bowling.

  7. Glen trevor says:

    Subject bowling arm . I have just started using a bowling arm I wish very much that I did not have to use it . As I have no feeling of the releasing of the bowl as for delicate draw shots , I’ve been told it’s takes up to about 12 months to become a reasonable bowler with it , with the arm it’s like starting bowls all over again . I don’t like using the bowling arm but I love the game of bowls . To those bowlers that complain about them be thankful you can still bowl with out one

  8. Anne-Marie Pearce says:

    Is there a time frame of the use of the arm.?
    Do you need to have a doctor’s certificate every 2 or 3 years?

  9. athur kendall says:

    I was afar better bowler with my hand. I have used the bowling arm for 7 years and am still nowhere as good as I was with my hand.
    I must admit some lesser bowlers with their arm have improved but in general good bowlers with their hand are not as good with the arm
    Like many others I would not be bowling now except for the bowling arm
    Lets be grateful that men and women can still enjoy a little better life in sport because of the arm and accept it gracefully

  10. Jack Canning says:

    Standing on the mat with a cross wind, the bowl swings side to side. This is a definite advantage to getting the correct line. I noticed how many top bowlers were using arms in the recent Vic open. None of our premier division bowlers use an arm, they think the advantage would be unfair against the other clubs. My experience with the knockers of the arm, are they have never used one. Let us hope these bowlers are too plug headed to use one when they need too, and leave the sport to the fair dinkum bowlers.

  11. Dave Moate says:

    I believe the biggest advantage for arm bowlers is for the ladies, who can go from a 00 to a size 5. Perhaps there should be a ruling that you can only use the size bowl that is the correct fit for your hand.
    Yes there may be an advantage for line but as we know line and length go hand in hand, I do not believe you can replace that feel of touch out of the hand when you are adding 12 to 24 inches to a shot. You simply do not get that sense of feel with a bowling arm.
    All the moaning about bowling arms could be stopped very easily by withdrawing the requirement for a Doctors certificate. If you want to use one then it’s up to you and everyone is on a level playing field and has the same opportunity.
    Doctors notes for arm approval are very easy to get, the doctor does not even have to state what is wrong with you, simply stating that you have a medical condition that would be helped with a bowling arm is all that is required. So honestly, what is the point.
    The really good arm bowlers were in most cases very good bowlers before they ever started using an arm.
    When you talk about line advantage it is no different to someone using classic twos against someone using Aero Turbo Pros, the turbos take very little grass and the margin of error is much greater for the bowler with the classic twos. Of course it is not the fault of the turbo user, we have Bowls Australia to thank for that, for allowing such narrow bias bowls into our game. Will the person with the classic twos now go out and upgrade to turbo pros, probably not, they may well upgrade but will most likely settle for an XG or something with a similar line. Just like if able bodied bowlers were allowed to use arms in the vast majority of cases they would continue to bowl from their own hand.
    In many cases bowlers complaining about arm bowlers have most likely been soundly beaten by an arm bowler, and probably simply because they were the better player.

  12. Brian Gay says:

    Well said David, many things you suggest are quite true. I have been bowling with an arm for about 18 months now and when I run in to old foes they say to me “we will never beat you now that you have a cheater stick” of course I take it as it’s meant, a joke, and treat it accordingly.

    The bowling arm does not eliminate the pain you play with but makes it easier to play the day out and like many of us we manage. I do, however, note bowlers using an arm with great flexibility and find myself wondering if they are truly genuine. Is the doctors certificate too easy to get?

    Hopefully we never see the day there is no need to get a doctors certificate that would open the doors to absolute mayhem. The manufacturers would be happy.

    Thank for your comments David.

    Brian Gay

    • chris says:

      I disagree with your comment regarding ladies being able to play with a heavier bowl being one myself ,there is no way I can play with a 4 or 5 its to heavy for me

  13. Robert Ashworth says:

    my name is Robert Ashworth. I was told recently, that as of 1/5/19 anyone can use a bowlers arm and do not need a doctors certificate is this correct

  14. Colin Griffin says:

    Yes Robert Ashworth you are correct. And now a new argument has started by armed bowlers who enjoyed their elite status (being approved)

  15. Phillip Gude says:

    Let’s get a few facts first then you decide .
    1.The Bowling arm was first manufactured by the late Trevor Harker about 40 years ago , he constructed it from Oak and fiddleback fence material for his mate Alan Cameron from Coleraine . Alan could no longer bend sufficiently to deliver by hand and like many of us was intending stopping playing . I thank Trevor every time I go out to play .
    2. Bowls Australia introduced the medical certificate requirement to give independent authenticity to use the device about 10 years ago
    3. Bowling Arm development commenced at grass roots by we the players forming groups , committees and in most States now Associations of Arm Players . We created events and we created what is now a National Championship for Arm Players.
    4. Bowls Victoria is the only Bowls Australia State affiliate to fully embrace and support Arm Bowlers . Every other State Body refuses to offer support other than having to register players to comply with the BA Policy of the day
    5. The new policy means these States will no longer need to get medical certification or register arm players so is it any wonder when presented with their dream of not having this duty they ALL ( except Victoria) voted to end medical certificates
    6. Victoria has the second largest number of registered bowlers in Australia but it has more than half of all Arm players . 13.000 Nationally 8,500 of whom are in Victoria . Why ? Because we have fostered Arm Bowling as an inclusive opportunity to retain membership and create an opportunity for people to continue in the sport they love. We created arm Events thanks to Club support from over 20 clubs for several years now. We created an Arm Coaching Group made up of State Arm players to help newcomers and those struggling to come to grips with their arm devices. And we have been the driving force in getting a National Championship going now with every State represented so this cohort of players had an opportunity to try out against the best arm players just like we have man National Championships for able Body players , juniors, seniors and exceptionally challenged disability players .
    There are many “ straw men thought bubbles” exposed by Bowls Australia and those who oppose the arm device So let me deal with a few :-
    * Doctors Certificates are too easy to obtain ? Why was this not raised by Bowls Australia when it discussed Arm Policy with the State Players from every State in 2018 and 2019? Why have Bowls Australia not held discussions with the AMA to see how Certification might be tightened if they believe it’s too open? They have protocols for Disability Bowlers why not for Arm players all it takes is effort?
    Doctors certificates help deflect the “ Cheat Stick “ snide remarks .
    * why not let everyone get access ? It is clearly discriminatory to allow an able Body player to access a device created specifically to help a person with say arthritic hands, knees , feet or hips who has pain and difficulty in grasping even an artificial device. Or a person that has balance issues from a Stroke or peripheral neuropathy and these are but examples of need.
    * bowls Administrators who voted for this new open no certificate approach say it is an onerous task . Why then is not onerous in Victoria where we have more that half of Australia’s arm players registered . Are these other States both lax and lazy?
    * bowling Arms give an unfair advantage . Even Bowls Australia’s Advisory Body NOAG do not agree this is the case as clearly it is not and many of your correspondents have given their take on this. It’s simply not easy to transfer to an arm device especially when you have a medical issue which was the point of Authorisation .
    * why would a fully fit able Body person take up an arm device ? The answer is simple – to gain a perceived advantage or edge over competitors . The device has been created and designed to help players with medical difficulties not for able bodied players to get temporary advantage . Bowls Australia have moved at the request of arm players to outlaw selective use of an arm device . Now a player that picks up an Arm Device say to Drive must finish the game with the arm device. This might help !
    We say one able body person using an arm creates “ discrimination” over those restricted Body players who need to use an Arm Device and that should be unacceptable to sports administrators in Australia in 2019 . We like to say we are an anti discriminatory inclusive society but to also Walk the Walk we must NOT allow this negative offensive Policy to be implemented .
    Please lend your voice in opposition to this ill conceived Bowls Australia Policy.
    Phillip Gude
    Recently retired Coordinator of Arm Bowling in Victoria .

  16. Barry Atkins says:

    I agree with Arthur, I too was a far better bowler before using a Bowling Arm, the issue with Narrow Bias Bowls is absolute rubbish.
    The difference between the use of a Bowling Armand the normal bowling action is Bowling Arm users is they use 5 movements and normal bowlers use 6 movements.
    Also I believe the use of a Bowling Arm by normal bowlers will give them a distinct advantage against the level field it is now.

  17. Barry Atkins says:

    I agree with Arthur, I too was a far better bowler before using a Bowling Arm, the issue with Narrow Bias Bowls is absolute rubbish.
    The difference between the use of a Bowling Armand the normal bowling action is Bowling Arm users is they use 5 movements and normal bowlers use 6 movements.
    Also I believe the use of a Bowling Arm by normal bowlers will give them a distinct advantage against the level field it is now.

  18. Pamela Stephanis says:

    I disagree that the Bowling Arm is performance enhancing. If this were the case then wouldn’t we be seeing many more Bowling Arm players competing at much higher levels. If you were a good player prior to picking up an Arm then you will probably master the art of using it and continue to play well. I have only been playing bowls for 3 years and it is because of the Bowling Arm that I can even play. With neck, shoulder and knee injuries it is impossible for me to bowl naturally. I am so thankful for the invention of the Bowling Arm. Like every other bowler I am learning line and weight. Bowls is a game of skill and everyone has to learn those skills and obviously some learn quicker than others. I can guarantee that not every shot I play is the correct line so I believe that line is a skill learnt by practise not by picking up and using the bowling arm. Weight is also a skill and when using the Bowling Arm it is not easy to judge how much weight is being used in the swing. Then don’t forget you have to be able to release the bowl at the exact right time. I think a lot of assumptions are being made by able bodied players regarding the choice and size of bowls we are using. I have played against bowlers who have more than one set of bowls and they choose which set to use depending upon the playing surface. The “Cheat Stick” remarks are not in the spirit of the game and usually voiced after a good/winning shot. I agree that you either need an Arm or you don’t. If you have one then it should be used at all times. To start a game without an Arm then pick it up during the game will only give ammunition to those who have problems with Bowling Arm players. I want to be included in this ‘frustrating’ sport and enjoy the company of all the wonderful people I have met and have yet to meet.

  19. Barry Atkins says:

    Phil is absolutely correct in every way.
    Bowls Australia need to do everything Phil has raised in his statement.
    I have been privileged to run Clinics throughout Victoria with the assistance of other Coaches and State Rep. Just to assist those who are forced to use a Bowling Arm through medical and or health problems allow them to start or continue in the game.
    After attending the Championship in Adelaide this week, I have had very heated discussions with Rodney Eggs from South Australia who is going out of his way to support Bowls Australia’s latest stupid decision.

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