A show in Hobbiton plays for the last time

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Murray Davis

Recently, the annual Matamata Combined Bowling Clubs Open Men’s Fours Tournament was played for the last time.

That wasn’t unusual in itself. Every year bowls tournaments come and go. What was unusual was that since its inception 57 years ago, the tournament had been recognised and endorsed on the ‘official’ bowls calendar. Yet it has always been organised by an ‘unofficial’ location-based affiliation outside the ‘official’ Clubs and Centres.

The Matamata Combined Bowling Clubs Open Men’s Fours Tournament was born in 1963. It was the hey-day of lawn bowls, and at the time you could throw a horse blanket over 5 clubs in the Matamata area: Hinuera; Matamata; Rewa; Waharoa; and Walton United.

“I had been roped in to the Rewa Fours Team to play in the Taranaki Men’s Open Fours Tournament in 1962,” recalls Tournament Co-founder and Patron Murray Davis. “and we such a great time, the late Tim Lynch and I said ‘why can’t we run a tournament like that here?’.”

In 1963, with £5 kicked in from each of the 5 clubs, Tim and Murray got the tournament off the ground. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Arnold Finch,” says Murray. “Arnold was the Secretary of the Waikato/Thames Valley Centre and he navigated the way through the bowls bureaucracy to get the recognition and endorsement we were after.”

The first tournament in 1963 hosted 60 teams at the (then) two-green Rewa Bowling Club in the Centre of Matamata. It was a huge success … the inaugural tournament being taken out by the Onehunga Bowling Club. “Like Taranaki, I think the participants were attracted by the camaraderie on and off the green,” says Murray. “I also think they also liked the idea of club teams only (no composites) and the 25-end format.”

The success of the tournament lead to other clubs in the State Highway 27 bowls nursery joining the Matamata Combined Bowling Clubs: Tirau in 1966; Matamata RSA & Citizens in 1972; and later Morrinsville; Morrinsville RSA; and Te Aroha. By 1976, the tournament was attracting 112 teams.

“We were lucky,” observes Murray modestly. “We got a reputation as a go-to tournament and teams came from all over … not just from the Matamata-Piako area as we originally planned.”

And the honours board of past winners attests to that: Onehunga; Ellerslie; Whakatane; Paritutu; Ruawai; Waimea; Pukekohe; and Avondale can be found peppering the winners from Matamata-Piako and the Waikato. The list of past-participants reads like a who’s who of bowls too: Bob McDonald; Phil Skoglund; Jack Somerville; Nick Unkovich; Mate Borich; Ron Buchan; and many more New Zealand representatives.

“The Settle family won the tournament 11 times,” adds Murray, “and John Settle himself only missed two of the tournaments in the 57 years.”

Murray only missed one tournament … in 1976 when he followed the World Outdoor Bowls Championship in Johannesburg in South Africa. Other than that, Murray’s been there since day one .. even winning his own tournament in 1984 with his Onehunga team. “I haven’t played since 2013,” confesses Murray, “but I still haven’t been able to stay away from the place every year.”

And he hasn’t been able to stay away from any bowling green! In fact, Murray may well be the longest-playing bowler in New Zealand, starting in 1951 when he joined the Rewa Bowling Club. Even Josh de Jong who at 99 years old is probably New Zealand’s oldest bowler, didn’t start playing until 1952!

All that bowls means that Murray is one of the few bowlers to collect two club life memberships – at both Rewa and Onehunga. “You could even argue I have 3 life memberships with Onehunga now becoming Royal Oak!” says Murray with a twinkle.

At the age of 92, that’s not a bad record! But that’s the nature of Murray Davis … a bloke that’s so busy living life, people 50 years his junior would be hard-pressed to keep up.

64 teams came to the final Matamata Combined Bowling Clubs Tournament this year to play in the wonderful event that Murray and Tim had created for the last time. The winning of the tournament was incidental (won). As President Bruce Milne observed: “It was enjoyed as a reunion of players who had played for and against each other in past tournaments.”

They were also there for a final celebratory lunch to pay homage to Murray Davis and the event he had been instrumental in creating.

“In the end,” commented attending Bowls New Zealand Chief Executive, Mark Cameron, “The success of bowls as a sport is about people like Murray Davis … people who don’t just talk about the sport, but make things happen. Murray and others at the Matamata Combined Bowling Clubs delivered a great tournament for more than half a century. And we thank them for it.”

-Rob Davis