Burnside Bowling Club: Christchurch’s powerhouse

Club News, News

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Unlike the Kardashians, the Burnside Bowling Club isn’t just famous for being famous.

The club’s got substance. It’s famous for all the facilities, the events and the members it’s had over the years … and still continues to have today. No one disputes that it’s the number one club in Christchurch. Even Mother Nature gave it a swerve in 2010 and 2011, and left the club undamaged after the earthquakes.

You would think that such a club would have some Trumpian braggard as President. After all, they’ve got a lot to tweet about.

But instead Burnside is headed by the unassuming Philippa Johnston – former nurse, former Ashburton farmer and great-grandmother. Having said that, Philippa is an unabashed cheerleader for the club. She’s justifiably very proud of Burnside, and doesn’t need to fake the news about it.

“We have all the facilities that enable us to pitch for major events,” she says. “Three greens, a large clubhouse, ample off-street and on-street carparking, and more. We even installed a hydraulic lift in the clubhouse last year to access the second floor social area.”

“But that’s not what enables us to hold the big events … we have a great group of volunteers here,” she says. “and that allows us to cope with the myriad of stuff that needs doing at these tournaments. We have no paid staff … other than the greenkeeper.”

The result has been that Burnside has hosted signature tournaments more than most over recent years: the International Deaf Bowls Championship in 2019; the New Zealand Blind Nationals in 2018; the Nationals in 2016 and 2008; the World Bowls Championships in 2016 and 2008; to name a few. They all take volunteers. Heaps of them.

Yet the Burnside Bowling Club was only opened relatively recently in 1964. It was at a time when the northwest of Christchurch was booming – the new airport had been opened at Harewood in 1959, the newly constructed Memorial Avenue laid a garden trail into the city, and what became New Zealand’s largest secondary school – Burnside High School – was opened in 1960, Canterbury University had started moving its campus to Ilam.

At the time though, Burnside Bowling Club was right on the edge of Christchurch. These days, housing development has enveloped the club … particularly after the earthquakes. And the club has 230 or so members, 190 of whom who are full-playing.

Among that membership are some big names: Stewart Buttar, Tayla Bruce, Tessa Lee, Cait Bassett, Jo Edwards, Mandy Boyd, Angela Boyd, and Richard Hocking. Although Burnside is very friendly and very social, it is also very competitive.

Top greenkeeper, Glen Miller, keeps the 3 cotulla greens in great shape for this bowling talent. “We’ve no plans to put a cover on any of the greens,” says Philippa, “Or even an artificial surface. Glen does a great job, and in winter those that want to continue to play just pop over to Riccarton Racecourse Winter Bowls.”

The result is a thriving club, and a club that is regarded as the powerhouse in Christchurch. Of course there are other clubs trying to knock Burnside off their ‘pedestal’.

But that may be difficult, given Burnside has no thought to being on a pedestal in the first place. Just a club held up by volunteers.


-Rob Davis