By Michael Burgess
At the start of the 2021 Taranaki Men’s Open, David Nightingale’s message to his Glendowie team was simple.
His four – made up of enthusiastic but mostly infrequent players from the east Auckland club – were about to compete in one of the most prestigious and longest running tournaments in the country.
There were a staggering 164 teams at the start of qualifying, with combinations from almost every area of the North Island and three who had made the trip from the South Island.
Nightingale’s four was a scratch combination, after the Auckland real estate agent decided to enter the event he had last played 15 years earlier.
He had found some clubmates who were keen – “nice like-minded people, who were able to spend a week down there” and they looked forward to an enjoyable trip, with few expectations.
“I told them we have got nothing to lose,” said Nightingale. “We are a club team, and we don’t even enter the centre championships. We wanted to do our best but also enjoy the experience.”
Nightingale’s team made the most of their stay in New Plymouth, renting a house beside the beach and enjoying the “exceptional” hospitality of the various local clubs that hosted the event.
“They made everyone feel so welcome,” said Nightingale. “And among all the teams there was a bowling fellowship that you don’t really see in Auckland.”
As a bonus, Nightingale’s team also sparkled on the greens. They were one of the surprise teams to advance from the cutthroat qualifying format, winning six of their first seven matches.
“We had some club members texting us, happy that we qualified,” said Nightingale. “We were flying the flag for Glendowie.”
But the adventure still had a few more chapters.
“You know the good teams are going to come at you, but we thought we would push them as hard as we could,” said Nightingale. “That’s all we could do.”
In the round of 32 they faced Paul Matheson’s combination, who had reached the semi finals in 2020, and prevailed 24-17, in a considerable upset.
More was to come, as they took on the defending champions – skipped by Bruce Phillips – in the round of 16.
“We had to fight to stay in it, but somehow we kept drawing the shot,” said Nightingale.
The Glendowie combination won 20-14, to book a place in the last eight.
Their opponents were the Tauranga four headed by Dan Dickison.
Nightingale’s team of Peter Wagner, Ted Morris and Errol Lee again threatened a major shock when they took an early 10-2 lead, but Dickison’s four – who would go on to win the tournament, beating Victoria’s Raymond Martin in the final – came back to end their giant killing run.
“At the start of the week I thought winning a few games and then maybe qualifying would really be a great achievement,” said Nightingale. “We were out of our depth, but we did well and had a wonderful time.”
For Taranaki Bowls chairman Grant Hassell, it had been another highly successful event, the 116th edition of the popular tournament.
“We had rain on the first four days, so we had to move things around a bit,” said Hassell. “But we have a tried-and-true model, and everything went really well. The feedback we have had has been overwhelmingly positive.”
By Michael Burgess