Saturday, January 9, 2021

Saskatoon Short Mat Club joins the Family

Indoor lawn bowling type sport newest addition to Complex

By Darren Steinke
Gordie Howe Sports Complex

A Saskatoon Short Mat Club member releases a shot.
It didn’t take long for the Saskatoon Short Mat Club to get a liking for the Gordie Howe Sports Complex.

After years of conducting games in the basements of Saskatoon area churches, the Saskatoon Short Mat Club made a debut at an open house at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex on November 1, 2020. The organization was able to conduct games in the pitching lanes of the Indoor Training Centre until pandemic related Provincial Health Orders put a pause on those activities.

Still, Robert Hackett, who is the president of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said the organizations members were blown away with the good first impressions of their new surroundings.

“Everybody that I have talked to they love it,” said Hackett. “There is plenty of parking, which is something that at the church was something that we hardly ever had.

“You never have to worry about the parking, and it is close at hand. We have a storage unit there that everybody knows. It is locked up, and it is secured.

“All our equipment is there.”

Hackett noted another perk was fact the members of his club were allowed to roll up the mats they play their games on and leave them off to the side of the pitching tunnels, as the rolled up mats didn’t interfere with any other activities.

At church facilities, they often had to clear everything out of the areas their competitions were held in to allow for church functions to happen.

The debut of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club brought a sport of precision and skill to the Complex. When short mat games are taking place, it is easy for those passing by to get caught watching the shot making that was going on.

The short mat game itself comes from the sport of lawn bowling. Lawn bowling itself can be traced back to the 13th century. Of course in countries that have winter climates for an extended time, the time you can take part in lawn bowling is limited.

The short mat game requires precision and skill.
Short mat brings the game of lawn bowling inside. In Saskatchewan, Bowls Saskatchewan governs both the outdoor lawn bowling and the indoor short mat games for the province.

“The mechanics and everything are pretty well the same,” said Hackett. “They are little bit different.

“The difference is on short mat the mats are six-feet wide and 45-feet long. When you are lawn bowling, your rinks are eight-feet wide and they are 120-feet long. There is a difference between lawn bowling on grass as to be short mat on carpet.

“When you lawn bowl, the rink can change on you just by the bowls going down there and kind of making little grooves in the grass. It is not really all that different. It is a matter of the weight, really.”

Hackett said the local club has an easy way to explain their game to newcomers.

“Whenever we get new lawn bowlers out, one of the questions that we ask is have you curled before,” said Hackett. “If they have, then we say ‘OK then.’

“This is no different than curling only instead of ice you have grass. You have interns and outturns in curling, and we call it forehand and backhand. It really makes no difference.”

The scoring in the short mat game is like curling in that the team that has their balls closest to the jack scores points at the end of each end. Unlike curling there the button can’t move, the jack in lawn bowling and short mat games can be used.

The jacks used in short mat games are a little heavier than those used in lawn bowling due to the fact the rinks in short mat games are smaller than those in lawn bowling games. A board obstacle is also placed in the middle of the rink in short mat games to add an extra challenge.

Team sizes in short mat games can be singles, double, triples or foursomes. Games usually last 14 ends, but they can be 10 or 12 ends in length.

Strategy is discussed before a shot is made in a short mat game.
Janelle Phillips, who is the treasurer of the Saskatoon Short Mat Club, said that release point and the weight of your throw are key to both lawn bowling and short mat, but those skills have to be adjusted for each discipline.

“It just takes a lot of getting used to is the little bit of weight you need to release it,” said Phillips, who has completed in the short mat game for 15 years. “That is why a lot of people in doing short mat don’t take a step.

“When you are bowling outside, you usually take a step forward when you are releasing the ball just to get more of your body into it. With short mat, most people just keep their legs static and just release it with just using their hand, because it takes so much less pressure. I think that is the biggest difference is just getting used to the correct weight that you need to deliver it.”

Phillips said the line of your throw is important in each game and avoiding the board obstacle in the short mat game is a special challenge.

“The board in the middle is always a bit of a challenge to people too, who aren’t used to that,” said Phillips. “There is not really a lot of distance between the edge of the board and the edge of the mat.

“There is only probably three-feet there and not even, that you have to get your bowl around. You have to be pretty accurate with your line.”

Phillips said there has been a national governing body for the short mat game for about the last five years in the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association, which has allowed for national championships to be played. She believes the Saskatoon club itself has been around for about 20 years.

Competitors can even take part international competitions as well. About five years ago, Hackett and his wife, Carolyn Jones, accepted an invitation through the Canadian Short Mat Bowls Association to a world championship even in Manchester, England.

Hackett said the experience of that trip was an enjoyable one, and it was eye opening to see how well the short mat game was played elsewhere in the world.

A short mat rink set up in a pitching tunnel.
“We actually won one game over there,” said Hackett, who has taken part in short mat games for about 10 years. “The amazing part for us was that the quality of Short Mat bowlers.

“We thought we were good. Think again when you are going into a world championship.”

Overall, Phillips said the local club has enjoyed finding a new home at the Complex, and they can’t wait for the provincial government to allow competitions to resume.

“I think everyone has been pretty happy with it,” said Phillips. “We were pleased to find a space that we could spread out in.

“It was working out quite well. People were pleased with it.”