Hauraki Bowling Club : a hidden taonga

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From left to right : Ruth Hitchcock, Frank Finlay, Barry O’Neil & Pen Koch

Aucklanders escaping to the Bay of Plenty over a long weekend may be surprised to find they drive right by the Hauraki Bowling Club.

It’s located very close to the intersection of Highways 2 and 27 at Mangatarata. But such can be the frustration of queuing in the endless procession of cars exiting Auckland, few of us probably notice this small lawn bowls outpost on the Hauraki Plains.

Yet this little lawn bowls oasis has sat adjacent to the Hauraki Golf Club since 1946.

The Hauraki Bowling Club was originally founded as a gathering place for the Mangatarata community, almost incidentally offering lawns bowls as a leisurely respite from the physically demanding work of farming.

By 1952, women (presumably hardworking and respite-needing!) had also set up their own club. And the current community hall/clubhouse was built in 1953 to provide a home for both men’s and women’s clubs.

Like all clubs around New Zealand, post-1996 the two clubs amalgamated.

The amalgamated club may not be fancied as a lawn bowls powerhouse today. But for those in-the-know, Hauraki has a character which warrants adding it to the bucket list of bowling clubs that itinerant bowlers should visit at least once in their travels throughout New Zealand.

The club’s signature tournament is the Peter Barker Memorial tournament, an annual fours tournament which was started way back in 1981 – and has continued every year since on the first weekend of March. “There’s a waiting list for the one-green tournament every year,” says Club President and Life Member Pene Koch, “Many of the same teams come back year after year.”

Pene and her club executive also have a secret weapon which attracts a full house : Val’s Cream Horns.

Val Finlay, wife of club stalwart Frank Finlay, became renowned for her freshly baked cream horns before she passed away 11 years ago. Her recipe has survived until this day. And along with other sweet and savoury treats of yesteryear – lamingtons, cheese rolls, asparagus rolls, club sandwiches and more – continue to attract returning players to the Peter Barker, as well as to other club tournaments and roll-ups.

“The baking makes the hospitality pretty special here at Hauraki,” smiles Pene. “We love treating our guests.”

Something else that also make the bowls pretty special at the club are the ‘Hauraki Rules’ for each and every tournament.

“We’ve always believed that tournaments should be won on the bowling green,” says Club Treasurer Barry O’Neil. “Rather than get into the complicated process of a countback when the number of ends won is drawn, we always have a ‘super end’ to decide the winner. The drawn teams have a one-bowl play-off. Closest to the jack wins the tournament. It saves a lot of fuss with scorecards.”

Sounds a great system. Much better than breaking a draw by counting back the number of boundaries that were hit in a World Cup Cricket Final!

Sorry, too soon!

‘Hauraki Rules’ can’t have hurt the likes of Jos de Jongh who played at the club for years, and continues to play bowls today even after celebrating his recent 100th birthday.

And ‘Hauraki Rules’ can’t have hurt the game of the late Hall of Famer Irene Foote. Irene became Hauraki’s most famous daughter … winning Gold in the Triples at the World Champs in Wellington in 1973 (with Noeleen Scott and Cis Winstanley); Gold in the Fours at the same tournament (along with Verna Devlin); and the team Gold. She also won a Bronze at the 1977 World Championships at Worthing, as well as five National Champion of Champion Singles titles.

“Even though that was a while ago, we’ve still got 34 members who continue to love and support this club,” says club secretary Ruth Hitchcock.

“We’re proud of what we do here, and how we do it. Our greenkeeper Colin Demler drives all the way from Thames two or three times a week to look after our green. And when he needs them, he has no trouble getting volunteers to help … that’s the way we do things here.”

In many ways, Hauraki’s like a celebration of the way things were done in New Zealand before we all became ‘time poor’… where they nurture a game that is as fulfilling to play as it was 50 years ago; where there’s the satisfaction of participating in a working bee for the greater community good; where there’s no guilt enjoying wonderfully indulgent cuisine straight out of the Edmonds book; where an enduring fellowship develops between people enjoying each other’s company …

In other words, where everyone looks out for everyone.

When mental health takes centre stage as it does today, you’ve got to wonder whether a therapeutic formula is right in front of our noses at the likes of the Hauraki Bowling Club.

Thanks for being you, Hauraki.

by Rob Davis