Lawn bowls is becoming embedded in retirement village life

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Ron and Wendy resplendent in their Summerset bowling uniform

More and more, Kiwis are being introduced to the game of lawn bowls not through one of the 450 or so clubs throughout New Zealand, but through moving in to one of the nearly 400 or so retirement villages up and down the country.

It’s not that retirement villages are deliberately recruiting bowling ranks … more that they have realised that the beautiful game is extremely popular with their residents …. and that therefore there’s plenty of demand for both indoor and outdoor amenities within the village.

Until recently, one or two-rink greens at villages have been common.  But that’s only satiated residents’ appetites for a place to have a practice roll-up … not to compete with each other.

Retirement village Summerset in the Sun has recognised that there’s a greater demand, and this large new village in Stoke on the outskirts of Nelson has installed an 8-rink artificial green as part of its amenities offering.

“It’s fabulous,” says resident couple Wendy and Ron Gabites. “We play organised games a couple of times a week, and often go for a practice roll-up as well.”

Wendy and Ron are typical of the 400 or so residents at Summerset in the Sun.

Ron had been a Chartered Accountant in Ashburton for many years, with a thriving practice working out of ‘Dr Connor’s House’ – a well-known Ashburton icon built in 1915.

“I was determined to retire when I was 50,” says Ron. “I’d always been a yachtie, so dreamt of the idea of a house in Picton with the Marlborough Sounds on our doorstep.”

“We ended up building a house overlooking Waikawa Bay.  We could see our 35-footer sitting at the marina, and watch out for the weather to take it out.”

That retirement dream lasted for over 25 years.  “It was sort of semi-retirement,” laughs Ron.  “I got raked into being commodore of the local yacht club as well as the “Save the Picton Hospital’ campaign which morphed into the development of a small retirement village and rest home.  Wendy and I became busy retiring!”

Five years ago, they made the decision that the house, the garden and the yacht were getting too much for them.  “I was looking at my 80th birthday,” says Ron.  “We were still fit and active, but eighties fit and active!”

They went and looked at retirement villages in Nelson.

“We turned up at Summerset in the Sun.  It was just being developed.  I remember a resident came running out to us in his shorts and jandals.  He was my sort of guy.  The saleswoman threw Wendy and I a pair of gumboots each, and told us to put them on and come and have a look what they have planned for their old orchard area.”

It fired Wendy and Ron’s imaginations.

They signed up there and then.  The build was going to take two years, but that would give Wendy and Ron time to fulfil their yachting ambitions in the Sounds.

“The two years came around very quickly,” says Wendy.  “But we were happy to move in.  It was a great move … we love it … we’ve never regretted it.”

It didn’t take long for newly-acquired friends at the village to press them in to giving bowls a go.

“We had never played lawn bowls” says Wendy. “But we’d always been give-it-a-go people, so we did!  They had some spare bowls in the cupboard.  Ron and I both found we loved it.  Ron’s accountant genes even allowed him to splash out $60 on second-hand sets of bowls.”

They joined 50 or so other residents at the village, most of whom had never played bowls.  And were it not for Summerset’s provision of a lawn bowls facility, almost certainly would never have got into bowls at a club.

“I think only two of our residents are members of an ‘official’ bowling club,” says Wendy.  “Yet we regularly get over 30 people at the organised games twice a week.”

Those organised affairs include challenging other local retirement villages, as well as the Stoke and Wakefield Bowling Clubs just down the road.

“The greens are a few metres shorter here than regulation greens,” says Ron.  “It helps that us old fellas (Ron is ‘84 and three quarters’) don’t have to push it so far up the green.  The Stoke guys are amused when we place a short mat or roll a short jack. They’re not sure how to take the weight off the bowl so much.  But they enjoy it.”

“It works both ways.  When we go to Stoke, we have difficulty seeing the head at the end,” laughs Ron.

Like other residents in the village, Wendy and Ron appreciate that Summerset hasn’t just provided a green and forgotten about it.

“Summerset are so good,” says Wendy.  “They do all the maintenance on the green .. they roll it .. spray it … and do whatever else is required.  They even gave all us sharp-looking red Summerset-branded t-shirts to play in.  We certainly look the part when we’re playing other villages or clubs.”

“I know we don’t pay any affiliation fees, so we cant play in any ‘official’ bowls tournaments.” says Wendy.  “But we’re more than happy playing bowls just for leisure as we do.”

And why not.  Playing bowls wherever, whenever and with whatever has to be as Kiwi as playing backyard cricket or beach touch.

There’s plenty of room for the formal sport.  But also plenty of room for those who take the pastime a little less seriously like Wendy and Ron.