Drive around the southern suburbs of Christchurch, and there’s seemingly a bowling club on almost every corner. Such has been the historical enthusiasm for the game in New Zealand’s second city.
But competitive pressures on residents’ limited leisure time, coupled with the westward movement of the city post-quake, have brought challenges to these long-established clubs. And none more so than the Opawa Bowling Club.
“We’re down to 14 full-playing members,” observes Club President, Brian Smith. “We are still keeping our head above water financially, but we have been discussing whether it’s better to continue as is, or maybe amalgamate with one of the other clubs.”
“It’s a difficult decision. Opawa’s been going for over 100 years … since 1908. Many of our members have been here for years. It’s like a second home to them … a place when they can enjoy a casual roll-up and a bit of conviviality. The thought of abandoning their ‘own’ club, and becoming part of a larger amalgamated club doesn’t necessarily sit easy. Despite all the rational reasons for doing so.”
No one understands that emotional attachment more than Brian.
Before he retired, Brian was a hotel manager - at the West Melton Hotel, the Methven Hotel, and the Lancaster Hotel in the days when Lancaster Park was home to Canterbury rugby and cricket. His very job was to make the hotel his patron’s favourite watering hole … to create an emotional bond which was far more than a stool at the bar with a 5 ounce beer.
“It’s the same with the club,” he says, “It’s far more than just a bowling green and a pavilion. It’s a place where members have enjoyed each other’s company for years. And that’s not something you easily give up. Besides, it’s nice being in control of your own destiny.”
Members in times gone by.
It’s a destiny could’ve been taken out of their hands by the 2011 earthquake, like a few other clubs in Christchurch. But it wasn’t. The Opawa Bowling Club is one of those odd oases you hear about in the city which was virtually untouched, despite being surrounded by a sea of damage.
“We had a bit of liquefaction on the green,” recalls Brian, “We just filled it in, and carried on playing bowls as if nothing had happened. The clubhouse was largely undamaged. The floor needed a little bit of re-levelling, but EQC handled that.”
“The only on-going issue is that we have to keep dumping barrowloads of soil where the liquefaction occurred. There must be a big hole underground that’s just eating it up!”
Should the Opawa Bowling Club decide to amalgamate, then it will provide a huge financial fillip for any amalgamated entity.
“Opawa owns its own land, both the green and the carpark. Plus the buildings as well. Although because of their age they probably have more heritage value than financial value.”
It’s a club rationalisation strategy that is becoming increasingly common throughout New Zealand, headed by the signature amalgamations of the likes of Naenae and Royal Oak. The result can be that the amalgamated club is able to provide the membership with far better facilities than before.
“We’re in no hurry to make a decision either way,” says Brian. “The bowling green works. And the bar works. So we can still enjoy our roll-ups and socialising.”
Good on you, Opawa. All the best for the future.