There can’t be too many bowling clubs in New Zealand where members can take a ‘designated road’ to the club along the beach.
But bowlers living on the Horowhenua Coast anywhere between the mouth of the Manawatu River in the south (at Foxton) and the Rangitikei River in the north (at Tangimoana) have the unusual option of zipping along the beach in their 4WD’s (even their 2WD’s or 1WD’s) to the Foxton & Beach Bowling Club for a roll-up.
However, it doesn’t mean they can over-imbibe at the club bar – the 20 kilometre stretch of beach is still a ‘legal road’ where New Zealand road laws apply. DIC is still DIC. And no Burt Munros are allowed – a 30km per hour speed limit was recently imposed on the beach.
“The club basically sits in a sandpit,” says Match Convenor, Clinton Gunn. “But despite that, when we put the artificial green down a couple of years ago, we had to excavate the green and import sand from inland – the salt content of ours was way too high.”
It was just one of the impediments which the club faced when they made the decision to replace one of their two grass greens with a carpet.
“I remember we got a bloke down from Tauranga years ago,” says ex-President Colin Dunn. “He was very excited about the prospect of selling and installing a carpet. But when he stood on the green at high tide, and he found it was a little squishy, he ran a mile. We’re only 6 feet above sea level!”
That put things on hold for a bit. The club had to solve a drainage problem before they would contemplate a carpet.
But they were lucky. There was a tooth fairy in the wings – they found out about something called the Foxton Beach Freeholding Account.
“Believe it or not, there used to be a Foxton Harbour Board responsible for the wharf at the mouth of the Manawatu River,” explains Clinton. “They also owned a lot of the land along the beach which was leased to bachowners. When the harbour board was disbanded in 1956 (the last ship had visited in 1942), bachowners were given the option to freehold their land. And the funds went into this ‘freeholding account’. It built up to be quite a lot over the years.”
“Funds could be accessed for ‘community developments’ at Foxton. So we managed to get funding for half the new carpet … and we were away.”
The club is very proud of their new international-sized green.
“We reckon it’s the best green in the Manawatu,” says Immediate Past-President Alan Shannon. “I’ve heard people even say it’s the best in the southern half of the North Island.”
“I can even coax club member Ross Ellery (Manawatu Singles Champion) to say it’s the best in New Zealand,” he laughs.
Despite the hyperbole, the Manawatu Centre obviously agrees, and Foxton is now getting its share of centre events in competition against an understandably city-centric tendency to position events at the clubs of Palmerston North.
“As a club, we’re also getting more competitive,” observes Vice-President Chris Avery. “We’ve got 55 full-playing members now, and a further 200+ social members. We have a number of exciting juniors who have joined the club, who are getting Foxton’s name out there.”
Foxton & Beach Bowling Club’s increasingly healthy membership and competitiveness is also backed up by robust finances.
“The Foxton Beach Bowling Club (at the beach) amalgamated with the Foxton Bowling Club (in town) to become the Foxton & Beach Bowling Club back in 2006,” says Vice-President Neil Price. “We were both struggling. We both had freehold sites, but the decision was made to combine here because we had two greens. Once the town bowling club was sold, we were able to put money in the bank as well.”
One of those greens has since been mothballed.
But the Horowhenua District Council has big plans for the development of the surrounding area (Holben Park), and that presents a great opportunity for the club to synchronise further developments itself.
“That may even mean a cover over the green … or maybe even a café to service the visitors to the new wetland pathways they’re envisaging.” says Clinton. “The first priority is to get our new caterer up and running next month so that we can serve meals again at the club …they were a great attraction - not only for club members, but for visitors from the campground next door, holidaying bachowners, and for anyone at Foxton Beach who wanted a great value meal for $15 or so.”
The club’s certainly not scared of the future. And when people talk about Foxton in years to come, they may not just talk about the town with a windmill signalling the presence of Dutch settlers; the plant on the outskirts of town that is the home of Turk’s corn-fed chicken; or the swish new bridge over the Manawatu River a couple of k south of town.
They may also be talking about the Foxton & Beach Bowling Club, whose members roll well above their weight on the green.