Bill Brown : A typical new bowler

73-year old Bill Brown is typical of the way bowlers take up playing bowls … and typical of the way bowlers join a bowling club.

So typical in fact, that it’s a wonder the route Bill took to playing bowls, and to club membership, hasn’t been chiselled in stone by bowling clubs around New Zealand – as a pestilent reminder as to how to get new bowlers, and new members.

Bill and his wife Margaret have been Picton residents for 14 years. They have, and continue to be, busy people.

Margaret has just written and published a 700 recipe encyclopaedia of cooking : ‘The Real McHugh’, and she and Bill are now in the thick of promoting and distributing the culinary tome around the country (see Every Sunday morning they cook, stock and drive their food truck down the road to the Marlborough Farmers Market in Blenheim. And every day their boutique luxury bed & breakfast ‘Kippilaw House’ (see must be cleaned and tidied for the next guests.

That’s not to mention the catering they provide for cruisers on the Marlborough Sounds or picnickers in the Marlborough vineyards.

Their ‘busi-ness’ would exhaust youngsters, let alone people who now in their 70’s should be ‘retired’. Bill, more than many prospective bowlers, could say ‘he hasn’t got time for bowls’.

But it’s the old story : if you want something done, ask a busy person.

“I’ve got to say that over the years, I’ve had a lot of pressure from my wife and peers to take up bowls.” says Bill. “Eventually, I caved in, and was dragged down to the (Picton Bowling) club under duress. I wasn’t expecting to go back.”

“I’ve got to say I was made very welcome. Several club members came up to me and made a point of involving me. I had a roll-up … I hadn’t played bowls before, but I at least knew which way the bias worked. And then joined them in the clubhouse for a drink afterwards.”

“I surprised myself … I had a great time. It was a lot of fun.”

But Bill’s coercer still had a job to do … he made sure that despite Bill’s apparent happiness with his first bowls foray, he was booked for the next. And a few days later, picked up Bill for another visit to the club. And another game or two. And another beer or two.

That was enough for Bill to come under the spell of the bowling gods. And the following week, he had joined the Picton Bowling Club.

“I went on to TradeMe to look for a set of bowls, says Bill. “I’d spotted a set for $150, but then I realised they were red and black. Being a former Aucklander, I needed blue and whites!”

(Even fellow club member, Grizz Wylie, could put up with a JAFA joining the club for the sake of increasing membership. Just.)

Six months later, Bill looks, talks and behaves like a ‘regular’.

“We have roll-ups at the club Wednesday and Saturday,” says Bill. “I don’t play in tournaments though, because the Farmers Market still stops me from entering two-dayers over the weekend. I think I’ve played away once in a mid-week tournament, but it wasn’t something I’d be quick to do again – we played 4 games, and it was a really hot day. I’d had it by the end of the day.”

During that six months, Bill has also had COVID.

“No idea how I got it,” he says. “I was knocked out for 4 or 5 days … sweating and feeling crook .. but a week later, it was all but gone.”

“Surprisingly. Margaret didn’t get it.”

Probably COVID was too scared of Margaret!!! Those that know Margaret (she goes by her maiden name McHugh) know her as a formidable, yet kind and generous woman. She’s been Deputy Mayor of the Queenstown Lakes District Council in the past, and pain in the a*** to the current Marlborough District Council. She’s renowned for her big hair, big lipstick, big diamonds and a big gin in her hand.

Bill and Margaret’s home in Waikawa Road, Kippilaw House, is like a railway station. There’s people coming and going all day. And always taking away some of Margaret’s baking or cooking.

“Margaret’s been very supportive of my new bowling career,” says Bill. “Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean she’s reduced her ‘to do’ list for me!”

But Bill wouldn’t have it any other way. He can still have his cake and eat it at home. And now have his bowls and play them at the club.

Getting new members at a glance

1. Nag your mates to take up bowls. Nag them again. And again. And again. We all take up doing anything new reluctantly. We all have to be coerced!

2. Escort your coercee to the bowling green. Don’t leave it to them to come along. They won’t. Grab them and stuff them in the car. And drag them to the club.

3. Make sure the club welcomes them. Reeaaalllly welcome them. New members are like hen’s teeth. They’re special. Make sure the coercee feels the love!

4. Team them up for a game with your most conversational members. Not some lugubrious bores.

5. Have a beer or three with them in the clubhouse afterwards. Fellowship has to be nurtured.

6. Make sure they’re committed to coming again. And escort them back again. They’re still capable of going off the bowls rails!