Don Carter, Greenkeeper.
Perhaps New Zealand’s longest-serving club greenkeeper will be retiring at the end of next season.
Don Carter has been greenkeeper at the Stoke Bowling Club in Nelson since the early 70s. In fact he’s probably the only club member at Stoke who’s known another greenkeeper at the club – as far as the other members are concerned, Don’s always been there looking after the two 1,296 square metre squares of cotula.
But even when he became greenkeeper, Don had already been at the club for over 10 years, joining in 1960 when he was 24 (that could also make him the longest-serving club member in New Zealand).
“I can remember volunteering to help with the greens about 1966,” says Don. “They threw me in the deep end – my first job was to spray the green.”
Don’s hometown was Motueka. He left school and worked in an orchard, until the opportunity came up to manage Bob Wadsworth’s orchard in Stoke (the Ernest Rutherford Retirement Village now sits on the same site).
“The first time I played bowls was when Bob dragged me into the Fruitgrowers’ Tournament in December of 1959/1960. Afterwards, Bob bought me bowls and a bag for 12 pounds, threw them at me, and said ‘here’s your Christmas present’!”
“I joined Stoke, and loved bowls. Despite the fact that older members reckoned a young bloke like me should be playing cricket rather than bowls!”
Don didn’t retire from the orchard until 16 years ago. But even then, he was not only minding Stokes’ greens, but looking after the two greens at the Nelson Bowling Club and the Richmond Bowling Club.
There weren’t too many people around the country who knew more about greenkeeping than Don, and all the clubs in Marlborough, Nelson and Golden Bay enjoyed the benefit of his wisdom and experience.
“Raffie Muollo and I would travel off somewhere for the day every Wednesday,” he recalls. “”it could be down to Wakefield and Murchison. Over to Mapua, Motueka and Riwaka. Or going around the clubs in Blenheim.”
It was great for novice greenkeepers or green superintendents to be able to rely on Don and Raffie.
But at the age of 83, Don is ‘starting to feel it’. “It’s time for someone else to take over,” he says.
So when April 2021 comes around, and Don hangs up his lawnmower and roller, what are 5 things he has to say about bowling greens in New Zealand?
“I hate artificial,” Don insists. “But I know I’m probably in the minority these days. They’re getting better and better all the time, and one day only grumpy old greenkeepers like me will be bemoaning what used to be.”
For those clubs that retain a natural green, Don makes his second point.
“If you’ve still got a natural green, the best surface is Cotula Dioica. It’s a harder weed, so it’s not so susceptible to bruising. And it stands up to play. Maniototo is quicker if that’s what you want. When we used to have a lot of Brown Top greens, they played real quick, but we ended up with bare ends at the finish of each season.”
And when it comes to the size of the green?
“Clubs are much better off with a full-size 36 metre x 36 metre green,” Don says. “when you’re playing on a 33 metre green, no one ever wants to play on the end rinks. It’s probably more a psychological hurdle - your mind insists you can’t take so much green. Having said that, greens can often slope away at the edges so there can be a genuine handicap to playing at the ends.”
“I often see tournaments on 33 metre greens where they’re only playing 7 rinks.”
The fourth point is that Don believes there is tons of help for greenkeepers these days … they no longer just have to ‘learn on the job’.
“The Turf Institute is great,” says Don. “And the field days that move around the bowling clubs are excellent as well. Novice greenkeepers or green superintendents can be provided with a recommended programme of care for their green, which if they follow, will keep them in good with the club all season.”
And finally, what about the game of bowls itself?
“Even though I’m an old fella, we need to play a quick form of the game like Bowls3Five to attract younger players. I can remember when I started, we only played fours … yet I had a bag with four bowls in it. I couldn’t understand why we never used two bowls!”
“I guess cricket has the same problem … with purists wanting to play test cricket only, and leaving the One-day and Twenty20 formats to the people who don’t take the game seriously. We don’t need to be like that in bowls.”
Having said that, Don has not played the game for 14 years, and has no plans to take it up when he retires.
“When I did play, some people used to whisper that I had set up the green for myself to win,” laughs Don. “My response to them was ‘if I could, I would’!”
Thanks for all your great work, Don.