On a winding country road in Holly River State Park, a competition takes place every Columbus Day weekend. A chalk line drawn across the road as a starting point, throwers attempt to hurl a custom-made iron ball and compete in the odd sport that is Irish Road Bowling.
For those not familiar with the game, these iron cannonballs are thrown down scenic country roads for distance, but then scored like golf. Irish Road Bowling has been played in the Irish Countryside since the 1600s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Webster County officially held its first tournament, The Fall Challenge. “The first year we had about 7 teams and 25 to 30 participants. The largest turnout was in 2014 when we had 60 teams and about 225 participants,” said Marsha Jordan, Holly River State Park Official and two-time winner of the Irish Road Bowling North American Region Finals Ladies Long Shot.
Originally from Hacker Valley, Marsha has been competing in Irish Road Bowling tournaments for nearly thirteen years. “I work at Holly River State Park, planned the Fall Challenge event here and I had to check out the sport beforehand to see what it was all about and I was hooked after the first event,” she said.
How long have you participated in the sport of Irish Road Bowling?
Marsha: 13 years
How long has the Irish Road Bowling Fall Challenge been occurring?
Marsha: Since 2003
Who and what got the event started?
Marsha: Former Holly River State Park Foundation member, Randall McCartney, saw the event which was held in Ireland, WV, and spoke with one of the West Virginia Irish Road Bowling Association founders, David Powell, and suggested that he get in touch with the Foundation president, Stanley “Judd” Anderson to see if we could get an event started at Holly River State Park. David Powell really liked the idea of bringing the event to Holly River because his 1969 high school reunion had been held at Holly River State Park and he had fond memories of the park.
Why do you choose this time of year to have the event?
Marsha: We chose Columbus Day weekend in 2003 because it was a 3-day holiday weekend and also is around the time of peak leaf color at Holly River.
How has the event grown since it started?
Marsha: The first year we had about 7 teams about 25 to 30 participants. The largest turnout was in 2014 when we had 60 teams and about 225 participants.
How do participants sign up?
Marsha: Registration begins at noon and you choose a team name and a team of 3 to 4 bowlers. The only fee would be $5.00 to purchase the road bowl. This $5.00 will be returned if you turn in the road bowl at the end of the event.
Why do you enjoy Irish Road Bowling?
Marsha: The course is typically 1 ½ miles and you are outside playing on country roads with beautiful surroundings. Everyone cheers and encourages each other and it is fun for all ages and physical abilities. You get to travel all over the State of West Virginia to different State Parks and several county festivals. I have also traveled to Boston and New York to compete in the North American Region Finals.