When I began this game – I was in my late 40s and Dong Kingman ruled the Central Park Green – at the time well-kept and bowl-able. His approach to the game had an elegance and a ferocity. He usually won. A couple of decades ago, I was playing against him during a club singles tournament – and I was winning. Like many beginning bowlers, I thought I knew what I was doing and felt I had figured the game out. An hour before Mr. Kingman had gotten quiet and a bit dark and then after I won one more end, I heard him mutter to himself, “That’s enough of that.” I did not win another end.
As a lead, playing with Dong wasn’t easy; Dong wanted to win. If you did not fulfill his skipping orders – he let you know it. Though he knew how to complete a particular shot – and as a beginner, I did not – and, in part, it was his disappointment that pushed me to figure out the game.
Dong was a master of the game who showed me its possibilities. At his best he played with intensity and knowledge of how this game works at a granular level. Watching Dong play one could discover the potential of our magnificent and complex game—when played well on a manicured, fast surface. Dong’s hands were small, and to me seemed cunning. He played with ones or twos, and he consistently found paths into the head that I, as a neophyte, had not imagined possible.
How many times did I see what I thought was a winning head be lost as Dong’s bowl, being light and smaller, would kiss off a wood lying on an angle to the side of the head, gently reoriented its track, and finish its arch inches from the target. I did not know how he did it; in fact, I did not even imagine such a shot was possible. He would smile quietly, and I would learn.
Dong loved bowling. I am sure he had other loves – art – but it was bowling that we shared. Early on, I would finish my work and bike over to the green on a late summer afternoon to practice my jack toss or delivery style or weighted shot or whatever, and Dong was there or would show up -- “Alan. Do you want to play?” During those quiet roll-ups, I had Dong all to myself. I felt privileged with a certain joy during those moments. Our talk was light as we both just wanted to bowl – to enjoy the late afternoon light and the smell of the park--to be alive and able to perform well. This is how I became a better bowler.
As Dong got older, his body did not - could not - make the precise adjustments he knew were possible, he continued to play. And as the green got coarser and slower, through the Park’s inattention, Dong could not play his precise game. At one point his arm was injured and he learned to bowl with his left hand and arm – something that I did not think, at the time, was possible. We would continue our afternoon roll-ups but to even out the contest, we invented the two-left, two-right pairs game. And I learned another lesson about the game - it did not have to be one-sided - possibly the future of the game for younger and inventive bowlers.
Dong was on his beloved green this summer for a club contest bearing his name. He was brought a chair, and he sat on the green. As he sat, watching the games, someone handed him a bowl. He smiled and handled it knowingly with his once strong hands, and handed it back. I sat on the green next to him, and we talked about the club and the game. It was probably the last time he was on the green. The last time I bowled with Dong. He had not played in a long while. A weekend club game was going on, but I decided I ‘d rather play with my friend who was not up to a full-on 16-end game - and I knew he wanted to. We took a rink towards the clubhouse going north-south. And that day the green was kind – giving us the nice bias we both love on a short-jack. I was sent back - so many years before - when I was privileged to play in those late, magical, summer afternoons with the bowler I most respected - surprised, again, that he wanted to play with me.
Alan Winson, 2022
FINAL NOTE: Dong Kingman was a longtime member and leader of the New York Lawn Bowling Club. His leaving us embodies not only the loss of a wonderful friend and bowler but summons up remembrances of wonderful chapters of club history - "But if the while I think of thee, dear friend, All losses are restor'd and sorrows end."
Dong Kingman, Jr. - In Memoriam
Alan Winson pays tribute to Dong Kingman, Jr., past New York Lawn Bowling Club president, devoted bowler, lover of Central Park and beloved friend now missed by all.
On a splendid - "magical" in Alan Winson's words above - late May day Dong's family and friends in the New York Lawn Bowling Club offered their respects and tributes in his memory. The day was warm and clear - of a kind Dong would have so enjoyed playing the game that brought him a lifetime of joy in the park he so loved. Beginning with a number of generous remembrances and heartfelt tributes the Club planted a memorial azalea rink-side - a path along which Dong had passed throughout the decades - followed by a "club game", the game Dong had always skippered.
The azalea will faithfully and heartily welcome all to the green, as would have Dong.