Dennis Breckon (left) and Margaret Wildbore
We’ve all heard of Coopers Beach. And we know it’s some winterless Shangri-La way, way up north. But that’s about it.
It’s not Cooper’s Beach (with apostrophe) … there was no pioneering bloke called ‘Cooper’ who tagged this beautiful stretch of Doubtless Bay. Instead, it’s named for the coopers who back in the day constructed and repaired the barrels used to store water, whale oil and other provisions.
The village of Taipa lies to the west – complete with its swish new state highway bridge. And the historic settlement of Mangonui lies to the east with its not-to-be-missed fish’n chip shop. But with retirees discovering the area, Coopers Beach, Taipa and Mangonui have to all intents and purposes merged into one.
And the Coopers Beach Bowling & Social Club has found itself at the centre of that growth.
“We’ve been going since 1961,” says Club President Dennis Breckon. “Apparently the founders of the club raffled off a car to buy the land. It gave us room for the two greens, the pavilion, the carpark and a bit left over.”
“Today we’re the biggest bowling club in the Far North … we’ve over 80 full-playing members with a 50/50 split of men and women. And more than 200 social members on top of that.”
“A few years ago, we made the decision to become much more than a bowling club … but a club providing a facility for the whole community. That’s working a treat. We’ve now got very strong pool, darts and fishing groups within the club. Some of them may play bowls. And even if they don’t, they’re at least being exposed to the game and so effectively have one foot on the green.”
On top of the bowls, and on top of the darts, pool and fishermen and women, the club is used for housie, and used by the likes of the Red Hats, the local Diabetic Association, Lions, the gardening club and more.
It’s also used for used for hospitality. Meals are served every Friday and Sunday evening.
“For $20, you can get a roast of the day, and a menu of other options,” explains Club Manager Pete Smith. “We have an ex-Navy chef, Chantal Nichols, who does a terrific job. We sometimes get 100 people here for dinner. She also provides a more limited menu on Tuesday evenings.”
“Overall, the club’s going really well,” says Dennis proudly. “We were national runner-up ‘Bowling club of the year’ in 2019. And last year Jim Naylor was national ‘Club person of the year’.”
With a flourishing membership and a flourishing bank balance, it’s meant that the club has been able to contemplate an on-going development programme.
“We’ve just renewed the AstroTurf on one of the greens,” says Dennis (both greens are artificial). “And in the past couple of years, we’ve done a number of refurbishments to the clubrooms. Currently we’re investigating putting solar power on the roof of the pavilion, as well as concreting the carpark.”
Having such a well-oiled development machine means that the business of lawn bowls can continue smoothly.
“We get a lot of casuals here,” says Life Member, Treasurer and Match Convenor Margaret Wildbore. “Particularly over the summer when the holiday homes are filled.”
“Our big tournament in March, the Doubtless Bay Fours, is also popular with out-of-towners who enjoy mixing some more serious bowls with the chance to have a holiday in the north. We get up to 32 teams for the three-dayer - from as far away as Tauranga and Palmerston North.”
And as you would expect at such a healthy club, the regular bowls programme gets the bowlers out on the green as well.
“We get 16 or so teams for twilight triples,” adds Margaret, “and there’ll be 30-40 every Thursday for a roll-up.”
“I wouldn’t call us a highly-competitive club ... we got a lot of second places in the Centre championships this year. But I can tell you that doesn’t stop us from really loving our bowls here.”
“We reckon we have something pretty special at Coopers Beach.”