Most of us think of New Zealand as a land of two islands … imaginatively named the North Island and the South Island. But there are nearly 30 more islands of 10 square kilometres or more that also dot the coastline and New Zealand’s sub-Antarctic territorial seas. More than enough for a bowling green or two.
Yet only two of those islands have ever leveled a measly 1600 square metres of their surface to create a bowling green. And no Kiwi lawn bowler can claim they’ve been-there-done-that until they’ve played at one of those two clubs.
One of those island clubs is pretty remote. Stewart Island is New Zealand’s third largest island, and despite being a beautiful location chock full of flora and fauna, is somewhere most New Zealanders will unfortunately never visit. And a much lesser number will ever visit the Stewart Island Bowling Club in the ‘capital’ of Oban.
On the other hand, many more Kiwis will get to New Zealand’s far more proximate, 11th largest and most populous island over their lifetime – Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. And many will find themselves at the newly branded ‘Club Waiheke’, formerly known as the Waiheke Bowling Club, at Surfdale.
Club President Ken Edwards and Treasurer Graeme Griggs are pretty conscious of the fact that a visit (or many) to Waiheke Island has become a rite of passage for all budding metrosexuals, boat-shoed yachties, wine aficionados, disgorging cruiseship passengers, and Auckland spendthrifts.
“We weren’t going to attract many of them as the ‘Waiheke Bowling Club’”, observes Ken, “But members at a general meeting felt that giving ourselves a new modern name (‘Club Waiheke’), sprucing up the place, and relocating bowls central on the lower level adjacent to the green, that we could present ourselves as a ‘community club’ for everyone – permanent residents and visitors included.
The strategy has clearly worked.
Club Waiheke has gone from 320 members to 500 members in the last 18 months. 700 members looks easily achievable now. “It’s a long way from the struggling membership of less than 240 some years ago,” remarks Graeme.
But it all hasn’t happened without some thought. Ken and his team have deployed a number of secret weapons.
Taking on the thinking behind selling a house, Club Waiheke has pimped out the entrance to the club with a welcoming boardwalk. As well as adding a large el fresco socialising deck.
They have re-imaged the top level of the two-level clubhouse, so that visitors don’t feel they’re intruding in a bowling club. Visitors can enjoy a drink, share a non-Ponsonby-priced meal, and banter .. all in a buzzy environment with a magnificent view overlooking Surfdale. The bowls honours boards, the bowls silverware (Yes, the club has a few trophies!) and much of the other bowls memorabilia has all been moved downstairs where bowlers can be bowlers.
But the secret weapons are not just all this relatively inexpensive refurbishment.
“We also have a couple of Knights as members,” winks Ken. “It helps with membership being able to rub shoulders with people who are a little more well-known than Graeme and I.”
“Even Lorde was here with a group recently. Maybe we’re getting a reputation for being on the celebrity circuit!” laughs Ken.
Ken and Graeme seen to understand ‘influencer marketing’ just as well as today’s 14 year-old social mediaphiles. But they also understand money.
Whilst many treasurers around bowling clubs in New Zealand present permanently furrowed brows, Club Waiheke Treasurer Graeme is purring. “We bought the land for $800 back in the 1940s,” explains Graeme, “and today it’s worth well over $2million. And we now have a membership that ensures the on-going viability of the club.”
“We find that the large social membership breeds new bowling members,” says Ken. “We had 12 new bowlers last year.”
No wonder. Even the visitors from Herne Bay and Parnell must think that this isn’t too bad a place to be seen to be playing bowls.
- Rob Davis