By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For Don Rosenbaum, lawn bowling is not merely a recreational hobby, it is a steadfast athletic pursuit that stokes his competitive fire.
The 86-year-old from the Alphabet Streets is a member of the Holmby Park Lawn Bowling Club, which was started in 1927 and like Rosenbaum is still going strong after all these years.
“We’re presently recruiting new members and offer free lessons to any adult who might have an interest in joining our club,” Rosenbaum says. “We bowl every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at Holmby, which is an easy 25-minute drive east on Sunset Blvd. The club is almost 100 now and we’re like a family.”
Rosenbaum’s passion for lawn bowling is fueled by his desire to excel at whatever activity he engages in and the game keeps him looking, acting and feeling like a man 35 years younger.
“It’s a great sport for retired people,” he explains. “It requires the ability to walk, to think and to control your body. It’s healthy because we’re outside in the fresh air and we ewalk over 500 yards to complete a game, so it takes a certain degree of stamina. We pay the City of LA a fee to use that part of the park for our club and they maintain the grounds. They have an interest because of the longevity of our group. Membership is primarily from age 60 to even older than I am. It keeps me active.”
Rosenbaum used to play basketball and tennis at the Palisades Recreation Center. A resident for nearly 22 years and he and his wife Bette moved to the Palisades from Tarzana in 2000. First they lived in a townhouse in the Highlands but last October they moved to Albright, a block or two from the Village. Their son Gary, a lawyer married with two adult children, lives on Jacon Way and their daughter Lisa (Wishengrad) lives in the condos across from Gelson’s, works in real estate and also has two adult children. Rosembaum went to North Carolina State and one of his fraternity brothers said he had a a friend Don would like and gave him her number. It turned out to be his future wife.
“I was a good high school basketball player and thought I’d be a pro player,” Rosenbaum recalls. “I was only 5-foot-5 as a high school senior and I weighed 120 pounds. I realized fairly quickly I wasn’t big enough or good enough to be a pro. I played tennis for my fraternity and then after college, I loved the competitive nature and I had a good spin serve. I became a runner also and when we lived in the Valley I used to run three miles on the track at Pierce College. One day a guy asked if he could run with me and he pushed me much faster than I usually go. I found out he was a triathlete who just won the Iron Man in Hawaii. That was a good memory!”
A stickler for detail who is meticulous about his technique and studies the science of the game, Rosenbaum has fast become one of the best lawn bowlers at the club despite being relatively new to the sport.
“I started lawn bowling a year before the pandemic.” Rosenbaum recalls. “For the last 10 years or so I’ve taken courses for senior citizens at UCLA—a meditation class, a Spanish class, a current events class and about two and a half years ago I saw in the catalogue an introduction to lawn bowling class. I’m a competitive guy. I lived in Brooklyn, New York until I was 10 and there were bocce courts there, similar to lawn bowling. So when I saw lawn bowling in the brochure I decided to sign up for it the next semester and I fell in love with it.”
Rosenbaum loves the atmosphere at Holmby Park and has made many new friends: “It’s a nice diverse group of people, primarily retired people. Being on the Westside it’s a lot of ex-lawyers, doctors and membership is 60-65 percent men and the rest women. We bowl co-ed and there are typically two to four players on a team and at times we even have singles tournaments, though that’s unusual. Players are selected to a team at random based on ability (levels are Skip, Lead and Vice). Every time you bowl you pull a number out of the basket. I’m usually one of the Skips. I’ve won trophies in tournaments we’ve had. I try to give everyone a hint as to how to do it right. I’m the club’s co-chair for recruiting but if they need me to train someone new I’ll do that too.”
Not one to make excuses if he loses or to gloat if he wins, Rosenbaum is always analyzing what he does right and wrong. It is one of the secret to his success.
“In basketball, when you take a foul shot you set your feet the same way every time… well, this is the same thing,” Rosenbaum explains. “The key to me is understanding basic things and to roll the ball from the same spot every time. There’s this rubber mat 18-20 inches wide by 28 inches long and you have to have one foot on the mat. I’ve found if I plant both feet I have better control of my body. The ball is in my right hand so my two fingers are in the middle if the base of the ball. I bring the ball back so my arm’s parallel to the ground, only 30 or 40 percent. The key is being able to control the distance your ball is going to go. The ball (called a bowl) will not go perfectly straight. The bowls curve as they roll toward the ‘jack’ and each bowl is heavier on one side—they’re manufactured with a built-in ‘bias.’ An elegantly curving bowl reaching its target is one of the most exciting and satisfying sights! It’ll curve from right to left or left to right based on how much bias there is. It also depends on if the grass is wet (which slows the ball down) or if it’s solid and dry (which speeds the ball up). You have to be aware of all these factors and that’s one reason I became a better bowler.”
For an annual membership fee of $100, Rosenbaum can bowl two times per week for 45 weeks (90 times) while also participating in tournaments at other facilities, like San Diego and Santa Barbara. One of 28 clubs in Southern California, Holmby Park consists of 130 members from 17 different countries, all of whom live within a 20-mile radius of Holmby Park.
Temporarily sidelined after hip replacement surgery, Rosenbaum is anxious to be back in action in a month or so. He is quick to point out that lawn bowling is quite different than indoor bowling, which he has only tried a few times.
“What could be more aesthetically pleasing than Holmby Park,” he asks. “The setting is magnificent. Nothing about it is negative to me. I bring my lunch and afterwards we sit at the table and relax and talk.”
The club is having an Open House at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 24. Anyone interested in playing or seeing a demonstration is invited and equipment is provided for free. Visit the club’s website at www.losangeleslawnbowling.com or call 310-550-6116. The club is located at 646 Comstock Avenue in Los Angeles.
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