Forbury Park Bowling Club member Oliver Mason won all Centre Open events this last season.
We’re not talking about tournaments in a centre where there are less entrants than guest royals on the jubilee balcony ... we’re talking about the Dunedin Centre with 28 clubs!
Oliver won the Centre Open Singles, the Centre Open Pairs, the Centre Open Triples and the Centre Open Fours. Although he’s quick to acknowledge, it wasn’t a solo effort. As the Beatles once remarked, he had ‘a little help from his friends’ in the pairs, triples and fours.
It was the first time that anyone had ever achieved the feat in the Dunedin Centre. And probably in any lawn bowls centre in New Zealand for that matter.
“Funnily enough,” laughs Oliver, “I didn’t win any Club titles at the club in this same season. It’s a very competitive club, and I wasn’t good enough on any of the championship days.”
That competitiveness is one of the reasons he moved to Forbury Park in the first place in his early bowling days.
“I started off playing in 2008 as a 14-year old at St Kilda. My grandad, my dad, my uncle and my twin brother Elliot all played there. But a couple of years later, we moved to Forbury Park.”
‘I found the environment at Forbury Park suited Elliot and me much better, It had a membership of about 65, but there were younger players. Not as young as Elliot and me … but ‘young’ because a lot of them still worked full time. Even the retirees were young retirees. There wasn’t a big age gap between us and other members as there might have been at some other clubs.”
Forbury Park also provided the competition that Oliver was looking for.
“I was still at school … at Otago Boys’ High … and I was determined to play really well. Elliot and I won the Dunedin Secondary Schools Competition in both 2010 and 2011. And we won the plate event at the Nationals.”
“After leaving school, I joined the Centre City New World. I worked on the checkout, stacked shelves, did ordering and looked after suppliers. It was a good job and I was learning a lot. But I had to work a day in the weekend. That meant I couldn’t commit to playing tournaments in the weekends without taking annual leave.”
“Work was getting in the way of my bowls!”
“So I joined the purchasing department of the Southern District Health Board working five days a week Monday to Friday. That not only freed me up for more tournament play, but allowed me to see my partner (Julie Russell) down south in Edendale more easily.”
“Fortunately, she’s a bowler too. And a good one. She won the Mixed Pairs in the Southland Centre this season. When she isn’t playing, she is always there supporting me.”
His new job has also enabled Oliver to start realising his ambition to play bowls at the elite level. He’s determined to get better and better.
“I practise a lot. Some people just turn up for a tournament and get their bowls out of the bag. I need to practise and prepare. I train at least twice a week. I have my work-ons, and I do them repeatedly.”
“In fact you learn far more losing at bowls. I had one trot there where I won 29 games in a row. It’s hard to practise then … there seems to be nothing to work on, so you can become quite complacent.”
Oliver practises all year round. Despite the fact the outdoor green at Forbury Park is closed for the winter like nearly all other Dunedin clubs. Instead he practises on the wonderful indoor blue greens at the Dunedin Bowls Stadium. “They’re not quite the same as grass, but they still do the job.”
Oliver believes that putting in the practice will get him to where he wants to be. “You can get lucky and win a game of bowls,” he says, “but you can’t win a tournament with luck. It takes hard work.”
And the hard work has seen Oliver increasingly rewarded at Centre events. “I only really started playing Centre events more competitively 4 years ago. I didn’t win a title the first year, but next season (2019-2020) I won 2 titles in the Triples and Fours. In 2020-2021, I won the Fours, and this last season of course, I won the Singles, Pairs, Triples and Fours.”
There’s no doubt that Oliver will also be increasingly seen and heard at National tournaments. Perhaps becoming one of a ‘brat pack’ (or ‘frat pack’ or ‘rat pack’! of the likes of Bagrie-Howley, Kelly, and Curtin.
“I want to be a Blackjack one day,” he says. “And I’m prepared to put in the work to get there.”
You would have to bet that he makes it.