By Michael Burgess
When Bruce Kelly decided to enter a team for the Phoenix 7000 Easter Fours, he didn’t need to look too far.
The combination was decided around the dinner table, as Kelly (71) enlisted his wife Kerry (61), son Patrick (31) and granddaughter Tala (23) for the popular Otago tournament.
Bowls is notable as a family sport and the Kelly’s have provided some of the best bloodlines in the country.
“It’s always good playing with the kids,” says Bruce. “We are a pretty competitive sort of family - but it is special to play together.”
Patrick’s brother Andrew is a long time Blackjack – honoured as the 2020 Bowls New Zealand Male Player of the Year – and Bruce says the two boys showed a natural aptitude for the sport.
“They started when they were pretty young, 11 or 12,” says Bruce. “They took to it like ducks to water.”
Tala was also introduced to the sport by Bruce and Kerry, during a time when she was living with the Oamaru-based couple.
“It’s great that we can all share the same interest,” says Bruce. “And it’s a good excuse to get together as well, with the kids living in other cities now.”
The Kelly’s have played together at the Phoenix 7000 before – both sons lined up with their parents in 2020 and 2016 – and they wasn’t much need for pre-tournament planning.
“Everybody knows what they are doing,” laughs Bruce.
The family foursome didn’t have the ideal start – dropping their first game – but recovered to win the other three qualifying matches on the first day. On the second day they clicked into gear, winning all four games to finish top of their section in the 24-team field.
“We did it reasonably easy,” says Bruce, “so things were looking good.”
In the top eight section they progressed through the quarter final and semi-final stages, before a cliff-hanger in the final against the composite team of Trevor Robertson, Gail Douglas, Merv Roper and Ron Beattie.
“It was close, really close,” says Bruce. “A really good game.”
The Kelly’s only prevailed on the final end, holding shot with the very last bowl to win 12-11 and close out a memorable tournament.
“The team seemed to click,” says Bruce. “No one is perfect all the time, but I would play with either of my sons any time. With them it’s natural ability more than anything and Tala has had some good experience now.”
It was a simple celebration – “I had a couple of beers, my wife had a couple of whiskies” – before an early start the next morning, back to work training their racehorses, who race at the local trotting track.
“It’s a hobby,” says Bruce. “Something to do since I retired.”
Tournament organiser Prem Nath said the 10th edition of the event at the Oamaru Phoenix bowling club was a resounding success. As well as teams from all around the Otago region, players came from Christchurch, Ashburton, Dunedin and Invercargill.
Nath paid tribute to the club members and volunteers that helped with the event. The club was also grateful for the vital sponsorship provided by Oamaru club, Placemakers, Liquorland, Rycole Joinery and Bowls New Zealand.
By Michael Burgess