Eric Allison only became a greenkeeper after a chance conversation with a couple of mates – now he has been recognised as the best in the country.
The Christchurch-based Allison was thrilled to be honoured as the Summerset Bowls New Zealand 2021 Greenkeeper of the Year, an award that gave him an opportunity to reflect on his journey.
After starting from scratch 13 years ago, Allison has carved a niche as one of the best operators in the nation, even if his introduction to the trade was far from orthodox.
It began in 2008. He had just sold his retail business and was catching up with some bowls friends over coffee. “They asked me what I was going to do next and I said I might get into greenkeeping, as a bit of a joke,” said Allison.
It was a fateful comment.
His audience that day happened to be two of New Zealand’s most respected Greenkeepers, the late Ken Preb- ble and Ron Sabin, and they were encouraging.
“I didn’t know much about greenkeeping but they told me ‘We will teach you the lot’ ”.
Allison couldn’t have wished for better tutors, as Prebble and Sabin were both former New Zealand Green- keeper of the year award winners.
“I was so lucky,” agrees Allison.
He got his first position at Elmwood bowling club soon afterwards and spent a decade there. He has since worked at five other clubs around the Christchurch area, either as the main greenkeeper or a consultant.
“It’s been a really good choice – a great part of my life,” said Allison. “It’s not always easy and can be quite demanding, as something comes up and you have to work through it.”
Allison has an impressive CV. He has been president of the Canterbury Greenkeepers Association since 2015 and has not missed a South Island Green keepers conference since he began in the industry, as well as attending some North Island ones. Allison has also served seven years on the New Zealand green keepers association.
His greens have been used for national inter centre, local representative fixtures, centre events and the nation- al chartered clubs’ tournaments.
He helped Sabin prepare greens during the last World Bowls in Christchurch in 2016, when several internation- al teams used the Belfast club as a practice venue.
“They said it was as good as any they were playing on for the tournament,” said Allison.
Apart from Elmwoods, he has worked for Belfast, Redcliffs, Sumner, Canterbury (2017) and Morrison Avenue Bowling clubs and his greens have all consistently achieved a rating of 55 out of 60.
The latest accolade came earlier in 2021, when Allison was recognised as the Bowls Canterbury Greenkeeper of the year.
An example of Allison’s above and beyond dedication came in June 2019, when he received a distress call from the Kaikoura bowling club.
“They phoned and said their green was turning yellow,” recalled Allison.
It had been sprayed incorrectly – and couldn’t be saved – but he drove up the next weekend to oversee the painstaking resurfacing job.
By November 2019 they were back playing on it.
“It’s probably the best in Marlborough now,” said Allison.
He is also passionate about the profession. Allison has trained up two greenkeepers over the last few years and currently has his son Alan under his wing.
“It’s good to bring on new people,” says Allison, who has succession plans in place at his current clubs. Allison has a strong instinct for his craft. He has been an active bowler since the early 1990s, representing Canterbury for many years, including in the inter centre 7s.
“I guess I know what makes a good green – what it should look like and how it should play,” says Allison. And there is no doubting his strong sense of professional pride.
“I don’t care if it is for a Monday morning roll up or a national fixture,” says Allison. “I want to have the same standard of green.”
The 70-year-old has made a massive contribution to the industry, on and off the green, but has loved every minute. There have been some difficult times, especially with the occasional acts of vandalism, problems with vegetation or dealing with ‘dumpers’ (“they are every greenkeeper’s nightmare”, he laughs) but he feels blessed.
“There’s always a bit of banter and a lot of job satisfaction,” says Allison. “The feeling when you cut, roll and mark the green ready for play and you think ‘boy, that is looking good’.”
“I’ve done a few different things in my life but this is the best job I have ever had. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and even when I retire I will still be involved, helping young ones, giving advice.”