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Gerry Mulligan (left) and Neville Franks

Quite a number of bowling clubs throughout New Zealand have combined with other clubs … either other bowling clubs, other sports clubs, other RSAs, or other chartered clubs.

What is unusual though, is for a bowling club to simply morph into another type of club.

But that’s exactly what happened back in 2002, when the members of the Mangawhai Bowling Club voted to set up the umbrella ‘Mangawhai Club’.

“The rationale for it was simple,” explains Bowling Club President Gerry Mulligan.  “A chartered club would attract locals and out-of-towners who more generally enjoyed socialising within the Mangawhai community, but who didn’t necessarily appreciate bowls.”

“The thinking was that being around the game, they might then decide to give bowls a go themselves.”

So a chartered club, the Mangawhai Club, was formed.  And Mangawhai Bowling Club members became members automatically of both clubs.  The Mangawhai Club (‘the Club’) started looking after all the affairs of the club, leaving the bowling club to simply look after bowls.

“We retained a majority on ‘the Club’ committee,” says Mulligan, “So we could continue to retain ultimate control the affairs of ‘the Club’.”

The strategy seems to have worked a treat.

Membership of ‘the Club’ is now 1,500.  To cope with the membership influx, the clubhouse was extended back in 2002, and again in 2008.  There is demand for food and beverages almost daily.  And members can amuse themselves not only with lawn bowls, but petanque, golf (next door), pool and darts … as well as mah jong, euchre, 500, poker and cribbage.  There’s a TAB and 9 pokie machines.

The bowling club is also flourishing.

“We’ve got 150 members,” says club stalwart Neville Franks, grandson of the late Walter Franks – the first bowler to win two titles at one nationals. “They’re all full-playing members because the social members now just belong to the chartered club.”

“We’ve got three greens … two starweed, which are described as the best in the Northland centre, and one carpet green put down in 2015.  We’re open all year round, although we only tend to play on the artificial in the winter.”

150 members and three greens makes Mangawhai the biggest club in the centre, and even one of the bigger ones around New Zealand.  Not bad for a town with a permanent population of just 1,000.

There’s a lot of bowling clubs who would be envious of such a set-up.

It’s a set-up that’s not wasted.  Drop by the club, and almost every day you’ll see someone practising, others having a roll-up, or teams competing in the regular club programme.

“On Tuesday evenings in the summer we have three full greens playing business house triples,” says Mulligan.

The club is also renowned for its December Women’s Invitation Classic, attracting women from Northland and Auckland.  “In the 16 years it’s been running, It’s always been fully subscribed - with a waiting list for the two greens.”

Perhaps it’s the opportunity to play against club member, Sue Wightman, National Singles Winner in 2009. Or it may simply be the generosity of the prize table.

“When we run the Christmas Hams and Lambs tournament here,” says Mulligan, “it looks like a butchery in the clubhouse.  The winners and runners-up of the fours on each green get a ham.  That’s each player I’m talking about.   But that’s not all.  Third, fourth and fifth get legs of lamb.  Plus there’s lucky hams and legs of lamb drawn on the day.  20 hams and 28 legs of lamb in total!”

It seems like bowls paradise at Mangawhai … and not just for carnivores.

“We have everything we want here,” says Franks.  “We’ve never even talked about putting a cover on a green ... the weather’s so mild up here in the north.  Besides, we have very deep shelters around the carpet green … they’re as good as a cover anyway!”