It’s a bright future for Plimmerton Bowling Club

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Rohan Cuff

When Transmission Gully opens (who knows when!), the trip into Wellington will by-pass many of the capital’s dormitory suburbs, and the likes of Paekakariki, Pukerua Bay, Mana, Paremata and Plimmerton may change forever.

“I think things will change for the better,” says the Treasurer of the Plimmerton Bowling Club, Rohan Cuff, a club located in a side street just off busy State Highway 1. “Plimmerton will become a much more desirable community.  And hopefully a more attractive community for lawn bowlers and budding members of the Plimmerton Bowling Club!”

Not that the Plimmerton Bowling Club needs the private-public partnership to stop their bickering and move the state highway.

“Over the last few years, we’ve been growing as a club,” says Cuff.  “We’ve now got 80 full-playing members, including 30 women.  There’s a further ‘limited membership’ players (including 12 women) and 10 or so students and associates.”

That’s great for any bowling club, let alone a one-green club.  “If it continues this way,” says Cuff with a twinkle in his eye, “We may have to starting balloting roll-ups or set up a waiting list for membership.  It’s a great potential problem to have!”

So what’s happened at Plimmerton that has seen them growing … which hasn’t happened for many of the other 500 clubs around New Zealand?

“The most obvious thing has been the replacement of our grass green with an artificial green late last year,” reckons Cuff. “It’s attracted new people to the game,  As well as attracting bowlers from other clubs taking up a dual membership so they can plays bowls here in winter, as well as at their own club in summer.”

The new carpet certainly looks spectacular.  It’s like luxuriating in a newly carpeted house : it’s smooth, flat, unwrinkled, unblemished … something which even makes you afraid to walk on.  But getting to this point hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“Last December, we had a heavy rainstorm, and the excess water made the ground below the green ‘hump’ in a couple of places.  We had plenty of drainage underneath, but it just couldn’t cope with the water fast enough.  It poured off the hill at the back.  And because we’re low-lying and near the sea, the high tide meant we already had a high groundwater level.”

The club installed extra pumps to get rid of more water, quicker.

But the carpet is still going to need to be taken up and relaid, so the ground underneath can be remediated.  “We’ve still been able to play bowls,” says Cuff. “It only affected a couple of rinks,  But when you’ve shelled out something north of $300k, it needs to be right.”

Fortunately, APEX Insurance through the Bowls New Zealand insurance scheme, is coming to the party.

And that will be great news to the club’s debenture holders who substantially funded the artificial surface.

“We got some grant money for the carpet,” says Cuff, “But the bank wouldn’t look at it … even though we have our own mortgage-free property.  So we offered club members debentures with an interest rate half a percent above the market.  We raised $280k.”

“It’s a win-win situation.  They’re getting a great interest rate.  They’ve got the security of knowing the club has a freehold mortgage-free property if by chance everything goes pear-shaped.  For the club, we’re saving the costs of maintaining a grass green ... which for us was $15k-20k per year.  The savings are greater than the interest we’re paying to the debenture holders!”

“And by the time the carpet needs replacing in 15 or so years, we’ll also have repaid the debenture holders.”

But Cuff doesn’t just attribute the membership growth to the new green.

‘We’ve got a good mix of men and women in the club,” he observes.  “They’re not only happy with each other’s company, but the men are happy there’s plenty of other men to socialise with, and the women are happy there’s plenty of other women to socialise with.  Just having that diversity can help build the club.  Otherwise groups can sometimes just end up deserting a club.”

“It’s the same with younger people.  We did have Seamus Curtin, Finbar McGuigan and Bradley Down all at the club.  But when they left, it sort of put a dampener on getting and retaining younger people.  We need to build that momentum again.”

Two competitions are a nursery for the club’s membership growth : the Twilight and Bowls3Five programmes.

The Twilight comp starts in Late October with 7 rounds, then there’s a further 7 or 8 rounds at the end of January.  “The comp is chocka thorough the summer,” says Cuff.

The Bowls3Five attracts similar casual interest.  “We feed and water them in both competitions,” says Cuff, “so everyone has a great time and keeps coming back.”

With the club on a roll like it is, Cuff finds it strange talking about the amalgamation strategy that was investigated some years ago.

“The thought was that Whitby, Titahi Bay and ourselves would amalgamate together in a new super sports centre to be built at Ngati Toa Domain  just around the corner.  A bit like Naenae, but even bigger.  But the Porirua City Council pulled the plug on the development.”

“We’re happy with the way things turned out.  Sure it would be nice to have another green.  But we’ve been able to make a success with what we’ve got.  The future looks great.”