Like Christchurch with its Hagley Park and Nelson with its Saxton Field, Tauranga is lucky enough to boast a multi-purpose sports ground : the Tauranga and Wharepai Domains.
Located right next to the city centre, the Tauranga and Wharepai Domains provide a home for a multitude of sports clubs and sporting passions : tennis, croquet, rambling, athletics, cricket, rugby, touch, football, and the most important sport of all … lawn bowls.
The Tauranga Bowling Club has sat on the eastern side of this wonderful greenspace for the last 110 years, when the club moved from its 1906 foundation site between 3rd and 4th Avenues. Since then, the club has added a green (1937), renewed the pavilion (1969), and renewed the pavilion again (1982) after a pavilion-killing fire.
Like every lawn bowls club … and indeed every sports club … and in fact, every type of club, Tauranga Bowling Club has had its ups and downs. But right now the club is on an ‘up’ … lead by a couple of enthusiastic clubmasters : President Paul Hunt and Vice-President Steve Hughes.
“We’re going well,” says Paul. “We’ve got about 120 members who enjoy what people tell us are two of the best greens in the Bay of Plenty. We’re lucky to have an enthusiastic and professional greenkeeper in Dan Robb, who pampers the greens.”
“What’s more, it’s a fabulous setting in which to play bowls … with the backdrop of trees and a view out over the Waikareao Estuary to the Mount. It doesn’t get much better.”
But it has got better.
The club has recently installed floodlighting which will enable members to continue to play their favourite game well after the sun has said its daily sayonara.
“The climate’s so good in Tauranga that we’re open all year round,” explains Paul. “So the floodlighting allows us to get the most out of every day. We had to install 6 towers for the two greens. They came from China and were installed by the professionals. But a lot of the peripheral installation and commissioning work was done by volunteers from the club including making a few adjustments to get rid of a shadow in the corner of one green.”
The excellence of these on-green facilities has meant that the former ageing membership of the club has now been bolstered by a group of competitively motivated players : the likes of Steve Hughes, Gayle Melrose, Dan Dickison, Debbie White, Lance Tasker, Carolyn Tasker, Marilyn Constantine, Sue Hodges John O’Shea, Mary Campbell, Brendan Brill and more.
And although new to the club (since last year), President Paul Hunt is not one of those new guns!
“I only started playing last year a few years after my wife and I came down from Auckland to live,” laughs Paul. “Having said that, I knew a little about bowls. I was the first independent board member of Bowls New Zealand in 2008 for a couple of years. And the company I managed, Tower Insurance, had supported bowls since 2004.”
These days Paul has retired from his day job. But his deputy, Steve Hughes, still remains in charge of local earthmoving and cartage contractors, Page Earthworks.
Steve’s typical of the new genre of players who have been attracted to the club … weekend warriors who are still working, but keen to put their best bowl forward in the weekends.
“We didn’t want traditional club members to feel isolated by the new blood coming into the club,” says Steve. “and maybe thinking they couldn’t compete against these more competitive bowlers. So some years ago, we made the club fours championship box-drawn, so that everyone had a chance.”
“It worked well. So much so, that after a couple of years, the ‘oldies’ found they could more than hold their own against these new bowls ‘names’, and we dropped the draw.”
“Having said that, a club championship at Tauranga must still be one of the hardest club championships to win in New Zealand! We have the nucleus of the Bay of Plenty Centre team here at this club. Both the men and women won the Bay of Plenty Open Sevens. And we won the Bay of Plenty Bowls3Five comp as well.”
Despite this, both Paul and Steve are adamant that the new breed of competitive players are not the secret to the new success of the club. Nor are the excellent greens.
“It’s the volunteers we have at the club,” agree both Steve and Paul. “There’s always people at the club, both oldies and newbies, willing to put their hand up to do whatever needs to be done.”
“When Omanu Bowling Club closed, some of our members off their own bat went down and salvaged the sun shelters, painted them up and installed them here at Tauranga.”
“On a recent weekend, had a working bee at the club, to spruce it up after winter. Forty or so members turned out.”
‘That sort of attitude makes it pretty easy to run a successful club!”