Kerikeri Bowling Club : Bowling through COVID

From left to right : Jon Young and Paul Strong

Drive down the main street of Kerikeri in these COVID times, and you’d be forgiven for thinking ‘what COVID?’

The Bay of Islands township is alive with people getting on with the business of living their lives … quite the opposite of the picture the mainstream media has painted of Northland … and quite the opposite of Auckland’s dead and Detroit-like CBD.

Of course the demographics of affluent Kerikeri are hardly reflective of the Far North with its isolated rural communities, but the demographics are still reflective of a Far North community which enjoys their bowls … at wonderful clubs like Houhora; Kaitaia; Coopers Beach; Waitangi; Russell; Kawakawa; and more.

And of course Kerikeri.

The Kerikeri Bowling Club is going from strength to strength.  “We’re up to almost 130 playing members now,” says Vice-President Paul Strong. “Even with mandatory COVID vaccinations to enter the clubhouse and play in tournaments, we only lost one member.”

“Sure, there’s another 5 or 6 who are vaccinated, but avoid the clubhouse and only come for a roll-up, but they’re just being cautious with so much Omicron around.”

“As we’ve grown stronger, we like to think we’re now one of the clubs to beat in the Centre tournaments.  In fact, I’d go as far to say that we have the best women in the Centre.”

That’s saying something.  But it’s the strength of the women at Kerikeri that has meant that they are a genuinely gender-diverse club.

“We’ve given up having men’s-only tournaments,” says long-time Club Match Convenor, Jon Young.  “We still have a few women’s-only tournaments, but most of our tournaments are now mixed.  It’s been great to have a mix of members where we can do that.”

That mightn’t sound much, but try to think of any other sport where the predominance of tournaments is mixed.

“The members here enjoy the fact that the women compete alongside, with and against the men,” says Jon.  “Although I should say, such is the strength of the women, it’s great they allow the men to compete alongside, with and against them!”

But a community of active men and women players isn’t the only thing that makes Kerikeri strong.

“We get great support from the local businesses,” observes Paul.  “You only need to look around all the fences here to see all the local advertising.  And that’s continued during COVID, even though we’ve had a slight drop-off of players willing to come to the club for a roll-up.”

“We’ve also got a large retirement populace in the township.  There’s 6 retirement villages and another one on the way.  Despite all the attempts we’ve made to get younger players, retired people are still where our new membership comes from.  I think we’ve only got 5 members under 65.”

Ironically, the club is younger than all its members!  Kerikeri is one of those clubs born during the post-war boom of returning soldiers.  In 1954, in fact.

“The land was leased from the government, but all the buildings and improvements are our own,” says Paul.  “We just recently renewed the lease for another 25 years.  We only pay a peppercorn rental.”

“It works well for us.  Although some years ago, we did try and put lights in, but the council wouldn’t have a bar of it.  They probably didn’t want a lot of rowdiness and commotion from us oldies in the evening,” laughs Paul.

“We might not be able to play 24 hours a day, but we can play 365 days a year.  We never close.  The only difference is that in winter we play our tournaments in mufti rather than whites.”