1Scottish historical, rare Any of various games in which players throw or bowl a (typically heavy) ball over a relatively great distance, as ninepins, etc.; specifically one in which players compete to see who can throw a heavy ball or shot the furthest, or cover a specified distance in the fewest throws.
2 figurative, historical, rare The exchange of artillery fire at a considerable distance, especially between ships. Especially in "(to play) at long bowls". Compare "long ball".
Frequently as part of an extended metaphor.
Late 15th century. From long + bowl.