Personal Best: Couple finds its competitive spirit through lawn bowling 

As a kid in the 1950s, Al Minvielle would stop with his dad on the way to the carousel to take in the action at the lawn bowling greens in Golden Gate Park.

Where he once was a young spectator, Minvielle is now an active competitor.

Al and wife Cheryl, high school sweethearts from George Washington High’s class of 1965, joined the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club in 2008. After retiring from their more than 35-year careers, Al with UCSF and Cheryl with United Airlines, the couple sought activities that they could enjoy together.

Lawn bowling fit the bill.

“It relies less on strength, and more on finesse and analytical ability,” Cheryl said.

“We see it as a transitional process; we’re finding things that will last for the rest of our lives,” Al added.

Although Cheryl claims that it is Al who was the quick study and impressed the veteran bowlers at the club, it is she who has brought home the spoils. Cheryl’s name appears prominently on the wall of the Bowling Green Drive Clubhouse among the other 2009 trophy winners, as she captured the Women’s Handicap Pairs with partner Sarah Howald. And, at last month’s Bill Ryan Five’s tournament, Cheryl again was on the winning team.

“I’m becoming more competitive here than I’ve ever been in my life,” Cheryl said. “It’s fun, but I’ve also felt pretty beaten up sometimes.”

Al, the more competitive of the two, interjects with a forlorn smile, “the best I’ve ever come is second in a novice tournament and third in a handicap tournament.”

A passionate gardener, Cheryl has organized a monthly volunteer day.

“The grounds were getting very neglected. I was looking at all of the weeds, and the beds were dead,” she states as the couple proudly show off their landscaping efforts, including the newly planted shrubs and recently pruned “SFLBC” hedges.

“Being a part of this is more than just a game,” said Al, who grew up in the Richmond district and settled with his family in the Inner Sunset. “It’s our neighborhood, our park, our clubhouse and our sporting community.”

It’s also a bargain. For about 100 bucks a year, a SFLBC member has a key to the clubhouse and open access to the three bowling greens.


San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club


What: The oldest public club in the country and first municipal lawn bowling green in the U.S.

History: John McLaren, the iconic Golden Gate Park superintendent, designated the lawn bowling greens and served as the club’s first vice-president

The game: It’s like curling without the ice and the brooms; the Minvielles also compare lawn bowling to “golf’s short game”

Uniforms: Only required at tournaments

Contact: (415) 487-8787;

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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