Arawa : Playing bowls in the Sulphur City

October 14, 2021

You’d be forgiven for never having driven past Rotorua’s Arawa Bowling Club.

It’s anonymously located within the irregular trapezoid of land between ‘motel alley’ (Fenton Street) and State Highway 5 (Old Taupo Road) … an area that was originally infilled with housing last century as the city reached towards Whakarewarewa from the CBD.

And that housing growth was the reason for its opening in 1951.  The city had grown sufficiently to warrant more than just the one lawn bowls club located centrally in the Government Gardens.

“A block of land was leased from the Rotorua Council,” says Past President Alan McCaulay, “It was enough for the Arawa Men’s Bowling Club to create a clubhouse and two greens, and for the Arawa Women’s Bowling Club to build their own clubhouse and green at the rear in 1953.  Although on the same site, they were quite separate clubs until amalgamation in 1998.”

That amalgamation was quite late compared to other amalgamations around the country.  It had been very contentious at Arawa.  “However, by the time amalgamation came,” says Alan, “All the fighting had been done, and it was approved quite quietly and smoothly on the day.”

Today, Arawa still looks like much as did in former decades.  The clubhouse is still the same.  The three greens are still ‘natural’.  And residential neighbours still abut the club on all three sides … with an able-to-be-peeked-over fenced frontage onto Lytton Street.

It’s probably not a ‘pretty’ club …  It doesn’t have the view of Bluff Hill or the treescape of Temuka … but it’s an immaculately kept club.  There’s not a blade of grass or leaf of a shrub out of place.  In fact, it’s probably more immaculately kept today than it ever has been over the last 70 years.

The secret is the team of volunteers that come down to the club every morning … to primp and groom not only the greens and the gardens, but to ensure that the ageing clubhouse and other out-buildings are maintained in tip top condition.

“We have a great team of dedicated people who are passionate about making sure the club is spic and span,” explains Alan.  “Come down to the club any morning and you’ll see Works Manager Errol Lowe, Greenkeeper John Wood, Past President Tom McKenzie, Life Member Dave Menefy and Green Superintendent Les Woods grouped around a table, discussing what needs to be done.”

It’s a team that knows they can confidently call on any of the 70 full-playing members to help with any working bee.  Even some of the 90 odd non-playing members.  It’s a resource that’s at the heart of Arawa’s strength.  It enables the club to keep going and going and going.

It also enables the club to keep producing its share of competitive bowlers.

“The club had days in the sun in the past with the likes of Sid Giddy, Kevin Asplin, Evelyn Baker and Kath Campbell.  And although our men haven’t won a national title since 1993, an Arawa team of Jan McLeay, Shona Hay, Margaret Griffin and Suzanne Meek won the National Club Championships Women’s Fours in 2015.”

“When it comes to Centre tournaments, our women do particularly well.”

“But Arawa’s competitiveness is only part of what it’s about,” says Alan.  “People love playing here.  We have some of the best, if not the best, greens in the centre.  We recently hosted the centre pairs, and people remarked how great our facilities were.”

“We also have bowlers coming back year after year for our signature tournament : The Speights.  It was started by our 100 year-old member Oscar Grant back in 1976.  He’s still playing the game, and still participates in the tournament every February.”

“After 50 years, we still have more takers for this optional fours tournament than the maximum of 24 teams we can accommodate.”

The demand for business house bowls at the club is much the same. “We typically have over 20 teams playing every week,” Alan says, “and that’s on top of the 300 or so casual bowlers who have played at the club over the past year, and the 750+ people who used the club facilities for community-based activities”.

“I reckon we have the two key ingredients that keep a club in good health : A great playing surface, and a match committee that is willing to give the players the type of bowls they want.”

“Bowls has changed in the last 20 years … members are enjoying much more informal ways of playing bowls … a lot of our members play ‘hot shots’.  If we stay with what they want, Arawa will be around for another 70 years.”