Tainui Bowling Club : the end of an era

May 31, 2022

Sadly, the Tainui Bowling Club in Dunedin is finally closing in October this year. It’s particularly sad because it’s a club verging on its 100th birthday.

The Tainui Bowling Club was established as part of the Tainui Sports Society in the Depression years of 1930, when land set aside for sports and recreation in Dunedin by the Ocean Beach Public Domain Act 1892 was earmarked for use for a bowling club, a croquet green and tennis courts.

“The lawn bowlers, the tennis players and the croquet players all belonged to the one incorporated society … the Tainui Sports Society,” recalls veteran bowler, Patron and member for 55 years, Rex Sim. “It was a way of sharing costs amongst a number of sports by having common clubrooms and facilities.”

It’s a model that a number of bowling clubs throughout New Zealand, particularly in smaller communities, have moved to … or are contemplating. It’s also a model that Councils are encouraging … the set-up of ‘sports hubs’. And that grant funders are preferring … where club facilities can be used by many organisations in the community.

“Tennis courts were built, a croquet green was laid down, and a 33 x 33 bowling grass bowling green was created,” says Rex. “from an initial temporary pavilion, there was a permanent structure by the end of the decade ... which was extended in both the 70s and the 80s.”

“The society thrived, albeit there was the occasional disagreement as to the distribution of maintenance costs between tennis, croquet and bowls.”

In the 2001-2002 season the bowling club had more than 75 full-playing men (and an additional 10 social) and 50 full-playing women (and an additional dozen social members). There were also nearly 40 members who also played indoor bowls. It was a very strong club.

“There were just over 40 croquet members in the society at the time, and an additional 6 or so social croquet members,” adds veteran member Ron Jefferies, “Bowls held sway in the society, and occasionally the croquet members were a little disgruntled by the way funds were deployed.”

By then, the tennis membership had disappeared.

“When the Hopes Dunedin Lawn Bowls Stadium was built next door in 1996,” says Club President Jack Gibbs, “Tennis was no longer part of the society. And they built the stadium on the old tennis courts.”

Unfortunately, membership of the bowling club also collapsed in the new century.

“We were unable to replace the members who were dying,” observes Jack. “A lot of that was to do with the fact that there were so many other bowling clubs in the area …. all within a stone’s throw of Tainui : St Clair, Forbury Park, St Kilda and Andersons Bay. They all had a surrounding catchment of residential housing, whereas we were effectively on the outskirts by the beach.”

“We didn’t do ourselves any favours surrounding the green with trees and a 6 foot fence. It was difficult for passers-by to even know there was a bowling club here.”

Left to right : Jack McGill; Rex Sim; Ron Jefferies; Jack Gibbs

Membership shrunk to the point that the Croquet Club decided that they were better without bowls than with them. “Their membership became larger than ours, and in the end they voted to boot us out!”

That was in 2018.

“Fortunately, we were able to relocate next door to the Lawn Bowls Stadium,” explains Jack. “But it wasn’t quite the same. It wasn’t our ‘own’ space. We were playing on artificial rather than grass. And for many members, the club they knew and loved effectively no longer existed.”

“It became time for use to close,” says Jack. “And it will formally be done by this October.”

It’s a shame for a once great club.

“I can remember us having a closed membership of 120 men in the mid-90s,” says Rex. “We were winning Centre titles, and had done well at the National many times … often finishing in the top 8.”

“We were famous for our Christmas function,” he adds “The members put on a show every year, with musical skits. We all practised hard … it was taken very seriously.”

“And we also had some great members … the likes of Ian Roche, also once Patron of the club, who received a QSM in 2013 for his services to lawn bowls. Unfortunately, he passed away 6 or 7 years ago.”

“It’s a real shame for it all to change. But I guess change is inevitable after so many years …”

“Some of the remaining members will join other clubs in the locality. And some will simply stopped playing.”

Thanks for everything, Tainui.