New Zealand’s best bowls facility may not be where you expect

- Rob Davis
Club News, Featured, News

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Naenae is hardly famous for being famous. So when you hear that the Naenae Bowling Club is the best bowls facility in the country, it invites about as much scepticism as telling someone that Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy are all real.

Fred Ferris : A non-bowler who finds himself running New Zealand’s best bowls facility

But Naenae Bowling Club Manager, Fred Ferris, is used to that. He’s the man tasked with ensuring that this spectacular new $6.25 million regional bowls centre, opened just 6 months ago and which recently hosted the Australasian Bowls Professional League tournament aired on Sky Television, pays its way.

“Naenae is actually a multi-club facility,” explains Ferris. “I’m here to manage the overall facility. I’m not a bowls person per se. I guess you can say that the Naenae Bowling Club is offering activities and entertainment to build an inclusive environment for both bowlers and non-bowlers.”

Like many clubs are doing throughout New Zealand, the Naenae Bowling Club has morphed into more than just a bowling club – into a generic sports and community centre for the Hutt Valley. This is Walter Nash country, so clubs have traditionally flourished here. Even Naenae is sandwiched between the Upper Hutt Cosmopolitan Club and the Petone Workingmen’s Club.

The Aussie BPL teams felt right at home at Naenae. Even the weather did its bit

“The original Naenae Bowling Club was on council land a few kilometres away,” says Ferris. “Where we’re standing now was the old Park Avenue Bowls Club. The Hutt City Council and the local Community Facilities Trust offered to build this hub for the two clubs, which also became the clubrooms for the Naenae and Taita RSA’s, as well as the local petanque and darts clubs.”

That has meant that the membership texture of the Naenae Bowling Club has changed dramatically from a bowls-centric club of 120 playing members and 50 social members, to a total membership now of 750 made up of various membership types.

“We of course still have our bowls-playing ‘full’ members,” says Ferris, “who pay $220 a year. But we also have an annual associate membership for $55, a social membership for $30 and a student membership for $25. This allows a whole lot more people to take advantage of a fantastic club facility without necessarily being avid bowlers. It makes the financials work for everyone.”

BPL07 was broadcast live from Naenae on SKYTV

And that’s Ferris’s job - to make sure the club is providing an attractive and desirable offering so that it continues to create a viable and sustainable facility for the community and investors.  Hutt City Council, a key investor of $4.25m expects to offset its contribution by the sale of bowls reserve land that is now surplus to requirements.  Other third parties have invested $2m, including a very significant contribution from the wider bowls community.

That job’s a little easier when you start to appreciate Naenae’s facilities which at the recent BPL07 even had the professional bowlers from Australia covetously purring about.

“We’ve got the international size undercover bowling green,” says Ferris, “as well as 3 outdoor greens. There’s also a pentaque terrain. The facilities inside include a large bar, TAB area, pokies, full-sized snooker tables and ‘Chrissy’s Bistro’.”

The bistro is open for lunch 6 days a week, and dinner on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “The mains are all around $14,” says Ferris, “whether you want a roast, fish’n chips, curry, schnitzel or pork chops. We just ask a bit more for a scotch fillet or stuffed chicken breast. We even did a $10 roast-of-the-day during the BPL, which included a free ice cream sundae.”

A vocalist/guitarist delivering a passionate ‘Delilah’ to the appreciative commemorators on ANZAC Day typifies the live entertainment that comes to the club. It’s all the sort of stuff that Kiwis love about the cossie, RSL and surf clubs in Australia.

Now it’s right here in New Zealand. “We love to host visitors,” says Ferris. “Particularly if you’re the sort of visitor that carries a set of bowls around in your boot. More than likely you can just front up and have a roll-up on the indoor carpet.”

And shortly, there’ll even be an on-line booking system available for the indoor rinks. “The centre is going to be running a bowls winter league,” says Ferris, “and we want to maximize and encourage the use of the rinks by members, corporate groups, schools and the bowling public.”