It may be one the smallest bowling clubs in the country, and certainly has that place among North Harbour Bowls’ 22 clubs, but Stanley ranks among the top echelon for pride, achievement, friendliness and its picture post-card setting.
Player membership varies between 20 and 30 and currently with just 22 - 14 men and eight women – the club nestled on the Devonport peninsula between Stanley and Ngataringa Bays looks a midget compared with Orewa’s 270 bowlers, expected to reach 500 within five years. But hospitality tops Stanley’s list of strengths and social membership is a relatively high 54.
“We pride ourselves on being a very friendly club,” says eight-year member and president since 2016 Sheila Stevens. “We encourage visitors and sometimes the atmosphere is like an old English pub down here. We have a superb position on Ngataringa Bay with stunning views over the greens and the water, as well as a clubhouse which has been rebuilt and expanded, while preserving the architecture of an original Devonport villa.”
But the sport of bowling is Stanley Bowling Club's reason for being, and over the years club members have developed a playing regime which best suits its size.
Sheila says the club does not tend to play in Bowls New Zealand or Bowls North Harbour tournaments. However, some members do play in outside tournaments as individuals. "Many find the travelling time too much of a hassle and are happy staying here to do their own thing,” she says.
“We have no separate men’s or women’s competitions - we have such small numbers it would be silly for eight women or 14 men to play each other all the time.” Instead, players’ names are drawn from a hat to select teams for club games, regardless of sex, giving everyone a chance to win.
However, Stanley does stage annual men versus women events and both have scored wins over the years.
Back in 1908, a group of locals got the use of the land on which the club now stands. Stanley’s popularity grew and it gained full club status in 1920. It continued successfully until the mid-nineties when it faced financial collapse due to falling membership numbers. Voluntary closure was seriously debated but a small committee worked hard to raise the money needed to save it. Local residents also helped by joining the club - not to play bowls, but to rescue their little suburban treasure.
A petanque terrain has been built, adding 10 new members, and in 2012 the club was re-registered as the Stanley Bowling and Petanque Club.
“Small membership means small income,” Sheila says, “and our costs such as green maintenance and license fees are the same as for major clubs. Our biggest earners are functions but we are constantly financially challenged and all we can do is struggle.”
But Stanley’s members are fiercely independent with a common aim to win and have fun. They are fine goals – even for a little guy.