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From left: Chris Howard, Wayne Coley, Jessica Looms, Stuart Hart, Bill Bain

For most people, Picton’s synonymous with the inter island ferry – a small port town at the top of the South Island which comes to life for 15 minutes every 4 hours every day, as cars stream on and off the latest ferry arrival.

Picton’s also the gateway to the Marlborough Sounds – 4,000 square kilometres of ocean playground, nearly 2,000 kilometres of pristine coastline, and over 100 islands waiting to be discovered.  The Sounds are a haven for New Zealand’s endangered wildlife, birdlife and marine life.  There are more conservancies here than anywhere else in New Zealand.  It’s nature’s paradise in the heart of New Zealand.

Picton’s also where you’ll find the Picton Bowling Club.

It’s been around since 1906 when a former Wairau Bowling Club member, Charles Dixon Stuart, called a meeting of the townspeople to set up a club in his newly adopted town.  On the 20th December, Mrs Philpott, wife of the first President of the Club and former Mayor of Picton, Thomas Philpott, threw down the first jack to formally open the club.

It was located where it is today … on the old council-owned Barracks Reserve.  On opening day 114 years ago, the club sported a new green and pavilion constructed with voluntary working bees. 

Thirty Eight foundation members paid a sub of 5 shillings.  A few years later, in 1909, members may even have been involved in helping rescue passengers from the steamship Penguin which foundered just out of the Sounds on a trip to Wellington.  75 lives were lost in New Zealand’s 5th worst maritime disaster.

Today, the Picton Bowling Club boasts a membership of 54 (34 men and 20 women), as well as 7 social members.  It’s still the only lawn bowls show in town.  There’s still only one cotula-maniototo green.  And vestiges of the original pavilion still cuddle the green, although there have been many expansions and refurbishments since 1906.

President Chris Howard is proud of the club.  “We’re both a great competitive and social club,” he says. “We’re always there or thereabouts in the centre tournaments.  Our juniors have won the Nicholas Cup, the junior interclub trophy, the last two years running.”

“We’ve even got a national title,” adds club member Jessica Looms.  “Sandra Bunt (previously Robertson) won the National Pairs with Jenny Fleming in 2001/2002.  And was runner-up in the Champion of Champion SIngles in 1999/2000.  She still plays here.”

But it’s the current Vice-President, Henry Ulaula, who is flying the flag for Picton these days.  “He’s a big Pasifika bloke.” says Treasurer Wayne Coley.  “The bugger beat me on the last end in the Club Singles.  I’ve gotta say, I couldn’t have lost to a nicer guy.”

The club’s signature competition is the Crow Triples.  Created by the licensee of the nearby Crow Tavern, Roy Johnson 44 years ago, it’s a dual women’s triples (2 days in the first week of March) and men’s triples (3 days in the third week of March).  “We get teams from all around,“ says former President Stuart Hart. “The West Coast, Nelson, Bulls, Marton, Wainuiomata … we have to use greens in Blenheim as well.  There’s a prize pot of $2,220 for the women and $3,600 for the men … it’s good money, but we don’t want to make it too rich.  We don’t want the pot hunters.”

“Our other popular tournament is the pre-Christmas Turkey Fours,” says Stuart.  “We will often have 16 teams competing for cash prizes, eight large turkeys and four very large chooks.”

Like other clubs. Picton also runs a great business house competition on Thursday nights in November and December.  “I’m also keen on nurturing school bowls,” says President Chris. “We may lose them once they leave school, but they’ve had a taste of bowls ... there’s a better chance they’ll come back later in life.  We had a physics class here earlier in the year.  I mentioned to the teacher what better way to demonstrate physics in action than bowls!  Unfortunately, the COVID lockdown meant that this year’s on-going school days were canned.”

Life Member John Smith reckons that clubs don’t come better than Picton … despite the fact that his grandfather got the pip over some misplaced shoes and walked out of the club years ago.  “We have a great mix of people here,” he says.  “Even Alex Wylie’s moved here from Woodend.  Dave Pescini used to bowl here too … I think he played of the Junior All Blacks.”

Clearly Picton is looking to the future.

“We have the opportunity to have gender equality and gender integration in lawn bowls,” says President Chris.  “It’s my personal vision that I would like to see us always playing mixed … there’s no need to have men’s bowls and women’s bowls.  Our unique sport allows women to compete equally with men, and we should recognise that in the opportunities we provide and the rewards we dispense.”

At least now, men and women can contribute equally to ‘the wrong bias jar’ - it’s a big preserving jar which capitalises on this embarrassing bowls misdeed.

“We give $150+ to the local hospice every year,” says club member Bill Bain, “We even had a member who paid in advance before she played.  She knew she’s would always toss one bad one down the green!”

~Rob Davis