If you’re a bowler, one of the potential attractions of holidaying on the Coromandel is the 7 welcoming bowling clubs dotted about the Peninsula: at Coromandel township itself, Te Puru, Thames, Pauanui, Whitianga, and Whangamata.
None are more welcoming than the Mercury Bay Bowling Club at Whitianga. If there was such a thing as a ‘friendliometer’ to measure friendliness, then Club President Trevor Knight reckons they would be right up there with the friendliest. “That’s what makes the club stand out,” confirms Trevor.
It’s difficult to argue with. Particularly when the club kitchen crew plies Bowls New Zealand correspondents with delicious complimentary toasted sandwiches (thanks Colleen and Chrissie!).
Of course the other 490 odd bowling clubs throughout New Zealand might have something to say about Trevor’s claim to the friendliness crown. That wouldn’t be a problem … Trevor could still hang the club’s hat on plenty of other claims to fame.
Like the fact that Mercury Bay has two greens – a grass and astro which allow the club to play bowls all year round. As well as the fact the greens are the full 38.1 metre square enchilada – the only internationally-sized greens on the Peninsula.
He could’ve mentioned the club’s famous 2-day Seafood Tournament held every year in August which attracts a full house of 32 Fours. “That mightn’t sound a big deal,” Says Trevor, “but when you realise all the teams are ‘outsiders’ from as far away as Christchurch and Australia (the club isn’t permitted to enter teams, only ‘ring-ins’), then it is something special.”
And even more special when you hear that the club keeps the participants sated with over 2,000 steamed mussels and pipis throughout the playing day. “In addition,” continues Trevor, “each day is topped off with an all-you-can-eat seafood dinner: crumbed fish, battered fish, raw fish, fish pie, mussel fritters and more. All thanks to the sponsorship for the last 26 years of OPC Moana Fisheries.”
But the list of claims to fame goes on.
Trevor could’ve mentioned the biannual bowls derby with the Coromandel Bowling Club 32 kilometres over the hill. Where else in New Zealand is there a regularly contested summer and winter bowls ‘Ranfurly Shield’ challenge? He could’ve cited Club Patron and Life Member Peter Sheehan who at the age of 95 is still playing bowls, and still helping with the greenkeeping.
And he could almost certainly have blown the club’s trumpet about the club’s artworks: The signage outdoors as well as the visitor book stand indoors created by the recently deceased ‘Whitianga Whittler’ Irene Thompson. Irene’s works at the bowling club, the fire station, the library and elsewhere have become synonymous with Whitianga.
Trevor could’ve talked about Blackjack Taylor Horn, who as a student at school started and developed his game at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club. Or the great work of Ngaire Chaney who has introduced a group of special needs kids to lawn bowls.
Or the Whitianga Bridge Club; the Boars Rugby League Club; the Peninsula Penultimates; the local Embroidery Club who have all made their home at the Mercury Bay Bowling Club.
In other words, on top of ‘friendliness’, Mercury Bay still has plenty of other claims to fame.
“In the end,” explains Trevor, “a lot of those things have come about because of our friendliness. The members love getting together … they love looking after visitors … and they love looking after the community. As a result, the community loves looking after the club … it’s an important hub of Whitianga.”
And with a bellyful of on-the-house toasted sandwich, who is this correspondent to disagree?