Ruth Rika : New Zealand’s only woman greenkeeper?

Ngongotaha is a small settlement which shares the shores of Lake Rotorua with its much more celebrated big brother, Rotorua, just 10 kilometres to the south.

Until recently, it was pretty quiet in Ngongotaha.  But these days, commuters are busying back and forth on the road to Tauranga . And motorhomers are fumbling through the township looking for the new NZMCA park-up … now the 4th busiest in New Zealand.  Andy Burnett, Ngongotaha’s self-proclaimed former ‘mayor’ would be purring with pride.

He would also be cheerleading the Ngongotaha Bowling Club … which more and more is making its name in the lawn bowls world.

Ngongotaha is probably the most competitive club in the Rotorua region. a club to be reckoned with at the Bay of Plenty Centre championships.  As well, they are also probably the most ‘social’ club in the Rotorua region (take from that what you will).

They have been the home of the annual Aotearoa Maori National Bowls Tournament and are scheduled to be headquarters for the tournament again in 2026.

But probably the biggest surprise about Ngongotaha is that they have a woman greenkeeper … possibly the only woman in the country tending the greens at any of the 465+ clubs in New Zealand.

That’s special.

And greenkeeper Ruth Rika is a special person.

“I was born at Rotorua hospital but have lived in Ngongotaha virtually all my life,” says Ruth.  “I’m the second youngest of a big family … I’ve got 8 brothers and 7 sisters … so we learnt how to look after ourselves and look out for each other!”

“I went to Ngongotaha Primary School then onto McKillop College in Rotorua.  I used to catch the bus to McKillop but if I missed it, I had to run or hitch a ride to get there.  We weren’t allowed to wag!”

Ruth has always loved playing sport.

“I’ve always loved sport … netball and rugby in particular.  I played wing attack and centre in netball, and 1st five in rugby.  However, as I got older, I grew a tad bigger … and slower … so progressed to the position of ‘happy hooker’”.

“The after-match functions were always the best.  I loved reliving the game and socialising with friends.”

When the rugby club in Ngongotaha started using the bowling club facilities, that’s when Ruth came across the greenkeeping job.

“One evening when I was the club, I overheard Lill McGregor, the President of Ngongotaha Bowling Club, talking about how they needed a new greenkeeper.”

“What’s so hard about mowing a lawn?” I said to them. “Anyone can mow a lawn. I’ll do it!”

Ruth ended up becoming an apprentice greenkeeper under the stewardship of retiring greenkeeper Greg ‘Chook’ Chase.

“Of course, it was a lot more complicated than I imagined, And I’m still learning 15 months later.  The latest challenge is to get my spraying certification … Greg Gould from Rotorua (Gardens) has been helping us in the meantime.”

“She’s doing a great job,” says Club Green Superintendent, Mike Beckett. “We have a big tournament here at Easter and the two natural greens were looking fabulous for the occasion.  A big part of that’s due to Ruth’s efforts.”

“We never did any big maintenance work on the greens last year.  And because of the condition she keeps the greens in, we’ve no plans this year.  Why try to ‘fix’ something when it’s not broken!”

Mike should know.  He’s been around at the club a long time and was one of the key people to get the Ngongotaha Sports & Community Association involved in the club in 2009.

“We are fortunate to receive a grant from One Foundation, which helps the Club fund the greenkeeping for the club,” he says.

“We’ve identified a real gem in Ruth … she’s an amazing person.  Not only does she pamper the greens so they look and play their best, she also works at a community organisation making lunches for schools in the local area.”

“It’s not really any different from our generation who were provided free milk in schools.”

And Ruth love what she does.

“I love doing the lunches.  And I love the greenkeeping,” says Ruth.

“One thing I’ve quickly found though, is that there’s as many greenkeepers at the club as there are members … everyone seems to have an opinion about the state of the greens.”

You’re not wrong Ruth!