Image: Busy greens at the Mount Ablert Bowling Club during the twilight competition.
When you talk to Peter Hay, it’s pretty easy to imagine there could be a club stalwart standing at a leaner at the Mt Albert Bowling Club, nursing a 5 ounce beer, and wondering what is happening to the bowls man cave he joined years ago.
Because change is happening at Mt Albert Bowling Club. And Chair Peter Hay’s firmly of the belief that if the club doesn’t change, then it wont be here for anyone to enjoy … stalwarts included. “If the club (and bowls for that matter) is to survive,” says Hay, “we need to change. And to this end, the board is putting the traditionally prescribed way of doing everything at the bowling club under scrutiny. You could say we’re ‘going against the system’!”
It’s a debate going on at many bowling clubs around New Zealand : should the current bowling club lifestyle be preserved for the enjoyment of the current membership – risking a gradual decline in to oblivion, or should a new ‘bowls brand’ be created which is attractive to a new breed of prospective members – and secures a more robust future for clubs?
At Mt Albert the changes have started at the top. “The board used to be bogged down with 11 sub-committees,” says Hay. “We’ve now cut that to three : Operations; Finance & Compliance; and Promotion. They’re all given their own budgets, so the traditional toing and froing that went on to get anything done has been eliminated.”
With the exception of one, all the current board members have day jobs. That’s not implying anything ageist, but it does mean that the board is focused on getting things done in the limited time they can afford to give to the club. “It’s been a good thing. We don’t have to shanghai members onto the board, anymore,” laughs Hay. “People actually want to be on the board. We actually need to have a vote at the AGM now!”
The board has also been questioning the rule book around the club facilities. “Many clubs zealously and jealously guard their ‘number one’ green – and they’d rather see it sitting vacant like a look-but-don’t-touch trophy, than being used ‘inappropriately’. My challenge to members is ‘what are we saving it for?’.” But it’s not just the greens (and the greenkeeper’s workload!) that’s being challenged. “We need to be sure that whatever we’re doing fits with the club future, rather than just continuing to do what we’ve always done. Why for instance, do we have to have tap beer?”
But it’s on the green where Hay and the board see the future.
“Through our business house bowls programme, we’re promoting a short form of the game : 6 ends in 45 minutes. The reason for that is simple … if you’re getting hammered, you only have to put up with it for 6 ends, and you can then look forward to a new game, with a new result!”
“On the other hand, the statistics show that in the long form of the game, 87% of eventual winners are in fact winning after just 10 ends. So the loser (and the winner for that matter) still have to put up with another 10 to 15 ends going through the motions of a contest until 21 or 25 ends are done. All to merely to confirm a result that was pre-decided at the front of the game.”
Hay sees those short form business house bowls programme as a major entrée for new bowlers and new members.
“We’re interested in net new bowls membership,” says Hay, “not just pinching bowlers off other bowling clubs. That doesn’t help the game. But new bowlers. We encourage teams of three just to rock up on Thursdays in November and February to have a bowl, have a beer and have a banter … without getting hung up on membership formalities and accreditation fees.”
“That’s creating the future for our club.”
As if to reinforce that, Mt Albert aims to get the most out of its two greens. “If casual social bowlers or even competitive social bowlers are playing on the green next to a tournament on the number one green, then so be it. Tournaments don’t need to be run in a protective bubble, and having a tournament running at the club doesn’t mean we need to quarantine the whole club just to cater for a more formal occasion.”
“We’re keen on encouraging both types of bowler : The social bowler who might just turn up for a roll-up, as well as the competitive bowler who will raise the Mt Albert Bowling Club flag at centre and national tournaments.”
“Having said that, we don’t pretend to know everything about the way forward,” says Hay. “So one of our strategies is to establish alliances with other clubs, to share knowledge, facilities, and opportunities. We’re already working closely with the Epsom Bowling Club. And there’s more alliances to follow.”