The game can be traced all the way back to ancient Egypt, but it really became popular in Roman times. The Roman Legions spread it all over the then known world. Local variations turned into Bocce in Italy, La Boules and Petanque in France, Bochas in Spain, and Nine Pins in the Low Countries. Lawn Bowling as we know it developed in England and became very popular in the 11th Century.
Some familiar names who played the game include Robert Burns, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Francis Drake, and most British monarchs including Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.
Today it is very popular in most Commonwealth countries. Britain today has some 4,000 clubs and over 200,000 bowlers. In the USA there are about 350 clubs with 20,000 bowlers and growing - mostly in the South and West where it can be played year around.
The game was first played in colonial Jameston. Many early American cities had bowling greens. Before the Revolutionary War it was popular and even George Washington had a green at Mt. Vernon. But it was considered to be a Royalist activity and quickly died out. Seven states have cities or towns name Bowling Green.
Famous Americans who played were George Washington, Thomas Paine, George Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, William Jennings Bryan, and more recently, Walt Disney.