(from left) Phil Welch and Malcolm Young
There’s no doubt that the Blenheim area has a lot going for it (particularly now that the intimidatingly narrow bridge on the northern approach has been replaced by one that doesn’t eat wing mirrors).
It’s pretty much at the geographical centre of New Zealand … although Nelsonians claim their 147 metre high Botanical Hill marks the middle of Aotearoa.
It’s pretty much the sunniest place in New Zealand … although heliophiles from Whakatane, Nelson, and Hawkes Bay all claim the sun looks most kindly on them.
It’s pretty much the centre of the wine production in New Zealand … although the viticulturalists at the likes of Gibbston Valley sniff at the industrial production of sav blanc in Marlborough.
In 1973, it was pretty much the centre of rugby in New Zealand, when the mighty Red Devils swooped down to Lancaster Park and willie-awayed the Ranfurly Shield.
And today, it’s pretty much the centre of the most concentrated lawn bowls following in New Zealand … with 5 bowling clubs (Riverside, Springlands, Renwick, Blenheim and Whitehead Park) indulging a population of just 28,000 or so.
Blenheim Bowling Club is one of those 5 clubs in Blenheim, and the first club to be established in the town - in 1892.
However, the club hasn’t always been where it is located now, at Weld Street.
“We shifted from our original site at the intersection of Kinross and Scott Streets in town in 1901,” says Club President, Phil Welch. “There’s now a boutique hotel on the original site. The club spent the next 70 years at the intersection of Walter and Stephenson Streets, before the club shifted to Weld Street in 1972.”
Visiting today’s Weld Street site, it’s easy to appreciate why they made the move almost 50 years ago.
The club has two magnificent full-sized natural greens (meticulously manicured by the redoubtable Maurice Symes) that provide ample playing space for the 150+ members. A cavernous pavilion provides ample spectating and fellowship space. And a sweeping apron at the rear provides more off-street parking than a whole Wellington suburb!
“We’re proud of what we have here,” says Phil, “And apart from our many varied club and centre events, we’re particularly proud of our signature tournament we run every year over ANZAC weekend.”
“It was started in 2010 after one of our Presidents, Kevin Gallop, passed away from leukaemia. His brother Lloyd, supported by the extended Gallop family, were the drivers behind the tournament to raise funds for the Leukaemia Foundation … we raise $5,000-$6,000 every tournament.”
“We fill the two greens every year with 26-28 mixed fours teams … most are locals, but some come year after year from other centres including Nelson, Wellington and Christchurch. This year we were also privileged to have the two Marks playing : Mark Cameron and Mark O’Connor.”
Highlight of the tournament is a dinner at the Waterside Bar & Grill, where there’s a lively and animated auction of goods that have been donated for the leukaemia cause.
“Gina Fergusson, Sponsorship & Fundraising Manager for the Leukaemia Foundation, has been thrilled with the outcome of the event.”
Outside the ANZAC tournament, it’s business-as-usual at the Blenheim Bowling Club.
“We’re a ‘peoples club’,” says Club Secretary, Malcolm Young to explain their modest, unassuming egalitarian outlook. “I wouldn’t say we’re the top club in Marlborough, but we get our share of centre titles. We’re certainly the biggest, and we regularly get 40 plus people at mid-week roll-ups.”
“Having said that, we’ve had and still have members who have done very well at the top level. Most notably, Maurice Symes, who skipped a composite Four to a recent win in the Summerset National Men’s Fours in Alexandra.”
“Lloyd Gallop’s also won a National Fours. His son, Matt Gallop, is a former New Zealand representative, and his wife Jan Gallop won six titles this season.”
“Harry Todd has been runner-up in the National Singles. Peter Webb won a Champion of Champion Singles and became a New Zealand Selector. John Mears also won a Champion of Champion Singles.”
“However, our most titled player would have to be Grace Solomon. She was a member from 1957 to 2014, and became President of Bowls New Zealand. She won numerous club, centre and national titles.”
Despite this, Blenheim Bowling Club is a club that also focuses on the community rather than its lawn bowls successes.
“The pavilion gets used by all sorts of groups in Blenheim,” says Phil. “From charities to sports groups to business functions to private milestone celebrations. The Kaikoura earthquake in 2016 didn’t even interrupt things … we were very fortunate we had no liquefaction - a few parts of the green needed to be levelled, and a couple of dozen bottles of beer fell off the shelf. That’s all.”
And they’re happy with the way things are (of course, any club wants more members!)
“We’ve no plans to put an artificial green down … the local Whitehead Park Bowling Club provides a carpet so all of Marlborough can play bowls in winter … although I hear their new carpet was stuck in the Suez behind the ‘Ever Given’!”
Keep up the great work, Blenheim.