After 112 years, Alexandra headquarters its first Nationals

February 25, 2021

For the first time ever, the Central Otago Centre is holding the Nationals : the Summerset National Fours and the Summerset National Mixed Pairs tournaments.

And headquarters for the tournaments is the Alexandra Bowling Club, located in the sports hub of Alexandra, Molyneux Park.  The round robin for the Fours sees entrants not only playing at Alexandra, but at nine other clubs in the area as well : Alexandra RSA, Bannockburn, Clyde, Hawea, Omakau, Patearoa, , Roxburgh and Waipiata … with the artificial greens at Arrowtown and Wanaka also being brought in for use for the Mixed Pairs because of the overwhelming numbers.

President and Greenkeeper of the Alexandra Bowling Club, John Lochhead, couldn’t be happier.  “It’s an honour to be headquartering the tournament,” he says. “It’s got to be the highlight of the club’s life.”

That’s saying something.  Because like many clubs around the former Central Otago goldfields, the Alexandra Bowling Club’s been around a pretty long time.  Since 1909 in fact.  “We did start off on a different site,” says John, “Where the Alexandra RSA is.  But when our membership outgrew the single green, we built two greens at Molyneux Park, and moved here in the 80’s.”

Like all the other sports centred at Molyneux Park : rugby (yes, the Highlanders beat the Hurricanes here only a few days ago 35-12);  cricket (there’s a first class cricket ground here); softball; netball; squash, BMX; Ice skating (and soon to be an extra indoor curling rink); swimming …. the Alexandra Bowling Club pays the local council a not-so-peppercorn rental.  But the club owns their own pavilion and facilities.

The immaculately-groomed twin cotula greens of the club have attracted some fine bowlers over the years … Bill Clements; Pat Houlihan; Linley O’Callaghan; Ruth Grant; Roger O’Brien … to name a few.  The club won the National Sevens title in 2014.  With a playing membership of just 85, John describes the club as ‘pretty competitive’.

“We get a lot of people who retire here in Alex,” he says.  “I’ve been a member here only since 2013.  I used to be a dairy farmer at the mouth of the Clutha River … we had a couple of hundred acres on Inch Clutha – a 5000 acre island situated in the middle of the mighty Clutha River between Balclutha and the Pacific Ocean.”

“Not many people realise that he Clutha River is the largest river by volume in New Zealand.  And we had some floods.  1957 and 1978 were big ones.  Another in the early 80’s.  And the flood was so bad in 1999, we had to send the cows away to be milked for 3 months.”

“Dairy farming gave me great experience with grass and chemicals, which provided background enough to learn the art of greenkeeping under the tutelage of local greenkeeping legend Tom Rutherford (who had in turn been mentored by his dad Don Rutherford).”

“I love it.”

John must be doing something right, because Bowls New Zealand greenkeeping supremo, Rob Gibson, gave the Alexandra Bowling Club the big tick to headquarter the Nationals.

“We have a big team of club volunteers here during the two tournaments.  We had nearly 30 club members here a couple of weeks ago all putting up their hand to help in some way.  I’ve got two guys mowing the greens every second day, another 4 guys doing the rolling, and another 4 guys mowing the verges and the carpark and looking after the gardens.”

“There’s a big team on bar duty.  And I know that Ruth (Grant) has got a team of men and women helping with the catering.”

“There’s only one problem : I’m playing in the Fours myself … at the RSA the first day of the round robins, and at Patearoa the second.  I’m lucky to have plenty of back-up.”

Like all tournament hosts, John is determined that these Nationals should be the ‘best ever’.

“We’re likely to have pretty settled weather here.  The greens are all top-class.  And the kitchen knows how to put on tummy-fillers.  Plus, Central Otago’s a great area to holiday in ... before or after the tournaments.”

Thanks for having us all, John.