President Barry Pryor and Club Stalwart Merv Hornall show off the Les Hart Mural
If you get in behind the main streets of central Hamilton, you’ll discover the Claudelands Bowling Club tucked away in the leafy side streets nearby the large greenspace of Claudelands Park.
The club was founded back in 1924, when land that had been used as a sandpit quarry for the railways (just a hundred metres away), was gifted for the formation of a lawn bowls and croquet club. The disused groundwater-filled quarry and surrounding trees had become home to an abundance of kingfishers, inspiring the founders to incorporate the bird into the new Claudelands Bowling Club emblem.
“People wonder why,” says Club President Barry Pryor, “Since you’d be lucky to see a kingfisher around here these days now that the quarry lake’s been filled by the club greens.”
But that’s still not the most frequent question that’s asked of Barry …. It’s more likely to be something like ‘Are you really dry?’.
Yes. The Claudelands Bowling Club is one of the few ‘dry’ bowling clubs in New Zealand. It’s neither licensed to serve alcohol, nor runs a ‘locker system’ which many clubs operated in the pre-licensing era.
“The club was originally set up with church-based values,” says Pryor, “and while the links to the church have been lost over time, the members have continued to enjoy the fact that the club is alcohol-free. Having said that, we’re not zealots or wowsers about it. Members and visitors can pop a beer in with their lunch on tournament days.”
That of course begs anther question that may be even more frequently-asked … ‘How does the club survive without a bar?’.
“Membership-wise, it’s no problem,” chips in club stalwart Merv Hornell, “The bowlers who come to our club enjoy playing bowls in a safe and respectful environment free from any potential issues with alcohol.”
“Finance-wise, we also manage fine,” adds Pryor, a former bank manager. “We own our own land, and some years ago we were able to do up the club pavilion with a generous legacy from the Seabrook Family.” The newly-named ‘Seabrook Pavilion’ gratefully acknowledges that bequest.
However, the downside of a dry club is that the Centre is reluctant to use the club for major tournaments. “I understand that,” says Pryor, “They require certain standards and facilities for a tournament, one of which we’ve chosen not to meet.”
“It’s a shame, because we have fabulous greens.”
And they have. The club sports two immaculately tended starweed maniototo greens, and a third green used for casual roll-ups, school bowls, and any other overflow requirements.
They need that greenspace. There’s 120+ members, including 100 full-playing members with a 70/30 men/women split all wanting to enjoy roll-ups and tournaments.
Their ‘signature’ tournament is surprising. It’s a tournament for retirement village representative triples teams held twice a year in November and March. The biannual tournament fills 16 rinks each time.
Club Kitchen Ninja, Yvonne Smale, may be one of the reasons they keep coming back. “Yvonne’s baking is to die for,” drools Hornell, “particularly her cheese rolls and chocolate puffs.”
Another reason may be the opportunity to play next to a mural created by Waikato’s ‘Banksie’, Les Hart. Back in 1993, club member Hart created a wonderful mural of the Waikato River on the walls surrounding two sides of number one green. It’s a spectacular tribute to Hamutana (Hamilton).
“We don’t see retirement villages as ‘competition’ as many other clubs do,” says Pryor. “Many of our members are village residents at villages where they have their own roll-up rinks. We believe it just encourages them to enjoy the on-green and off-green participation at the club even more.”
That simpatico with retirement villages is undoubtedly also caused by the friendliness of the club. No stranger can wander onto the club grounds (even journalists from Bowls New Zealand!) without being spotted and welcomed effusively by any member of the club. It is a powerful ‘tool’ for securing membership.
‘That makes it sound a little contrived,” says Pryor. “It’s not like that. We have people here who are simply happy to welcome and enjoy the company of other bowlers.”
It’s a friendliness that permeates the club and everything it does, For instance, teams are drawn for virtually all roll-ups and tournaments.
But Claudelands still has an eye on the future. The club is investigating whether to convert its main green from natural turf to artificial. “Members tend to sit on one side or the other,” says Hornell, “but at a recent meeting, the consensus is moving towards an artificial. We’re just quietly working through the pros and cons and what’s best for the club.”
Drop by next time you’re in Hamilton.