Central Cambridge : Enjoying ‘unreal’ membership growth

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The beautiful township of Cambridge is thriving.

That’s despite the fact that a few years ago, the Waikato Expressway bypassing Cambridge to the north was completed, and the township no longer became a coffee and antiques stop for State Highway 1 traffic.

Whether it’s simply Aucklanders seeking house price relief, ageing baby boomers retiring to this leafy paradise a Winston-kindled racing industry or a burgeoning cycling and rowing centre of excellence, Cambridge’s outskirts are bulging with housing construction and the central retail precinct is energized with vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  Cambridge even has traffic lights now.

And the Central Cambridge Bowling Club located next to the CBD is thriving as well.

The two-green club (one natural, one artificial) boasts more than 150 members.  And membership is growing.  Fueled by an incoming populace who want to enjoy the beautiful game.

Central Cambridge was not the first club in Cambridge.  In fact it wasn’t even the second.   The town already had two bowling clubs – Cambridge and Leamington – but when a row developed at Leamington over Sunday play, a group of members walked out and negotiated the purchase of a block of land across the road from Victoria Square.

“The land was bought privately from landowners that Included the Campin family,” says Past-President Alison Winter, “H W Campin himself became one of the founding 70 members of the new club in 1945.  His daughter, Dawn Britton, still lives next door, and at the age of 91 still does the club gardens, runs the vacuum cleaner around the clubrooms, and keeps an eye on the place.”

The clubscape remains much as it did in 1945.

“We put a carpet green down 12 or so years ago,” says Alison, “and extended the clubhouse with an outdoor sitting area.  Of course, the clubhouse has been flossied up a number of times.  But basically the club will be very much like it was originally when we have our 75th jubilee celebrations soon.”

What’s more, the progressive attitude which saw the club pioneer Sunday bowls in Cambridge 75 years ago, still exists in the bowls programme today.  And the members seem to take on any ideas to bring more fun to the game.

“We have a lot of ‘fun days’ which are always full,” says Alison.  “Recently we held a Melbourne Cup Day where the women dressed up for the occasion, even wearing fascinators in the kitchen!  The men played a 2-4-2, then we opened the bar, drew the sweepstakes, and watched the race live on TV.”

“We also run an open optional triples tournament in October for breast and prostate cancer.  Everyone dresses up in pink and blue … we run raffles and take a bucket around … and we end up giving $500 or so to breast and prostate cancer charities.”

“We also make the most of St Patrick’s Day here in March.  We play an open mixed triples in fancy dress.  There’s prizes for the best-dressed.”

But the most unusual ‘fun’ tournaments happened a number of years ago.

“We have a number of Guinness World Records,” says Alison.  “Four years ago, we had a six-member team play bowls continuously for an ‘officially amazing’ 172 hours.  And two years ago, we got the singles world record of 27 hours 59 minutes.”

“We also had the indoor bowls record at one stage (52 hours).  But I think someone’s now beaten us.”

Despite all this fun, the Central Cambridge Club takes its bowls seriously too.

The club’s membership has included 4 national title-holders (Gib James, June Crow, Jessie Russell and Alison Winter herself) and a winning (1970) Taranaki Open team (Bill Powell, Tom Blackstock, Tom Turnbull and Clarrie Top).

At Centre level, Central Cambridge has more than its fair share of reps.

“At club level we hold the Women’s 2-day Sistaz Classic is a sell-out every December,” says Alison.  “it’s a 2-day open fours capped at 32 teams.  We have players coming from as far away as Hastings, Ohope, New Plymouth and Auckland.  And the men at the club do all the running around and make sure the women have a great time.”

“The Open Optional Fours Two-day Classic in April also draws a crowd,” adds Alison.  “Although we had to cancel it this year because of COVID.”

Even Twilight Bowls at the club seems to attract the crowds.

“We run twilight bowls for 6 weeks before December and 6 weeks after January,” explains Alison.  “we pretty much have a full house every Wednesday evening.  We play for an hour at 6:00pm, and put on a sausage sizzle and a wheelbarrow raffle.  We have plenty of takers.”

All this activity seems to be powered by one thing : a large and increasing membership.  As Alison observes, membership growth has ‘gone unreal’.

Great work guys.

Rob Davis