The Burton Trophy: A special tournament in a special place

It wasn’t too long ago that the Burton Cup held in Gisborne at Easter was almost talked about as much as the Taranaki Fours on the other side of the island.

My in-laws wouldn’t miss it.  Every Easter, Sid (Corbett) and his Arawa team would journey from Rotorua to Gisborne to play in the not-to-be-missed tournament, while Sylvie and the girls played golf in the first-to-see-the-sun city.  It was second only to the week of beer and bowls in New Plymouth in January.

But somewhere along the line, the wheels fell off the tournament.

The Burton went from a tournament first played in 1910 … to a tournament which in its zenith in the 70s and 80s attracted over 70 teams … yet for a multiplicity of reasons fell off to such an extent that it was not even played in 2017.

Fortunately the Burton is back on the Tairawhiti calendar again, and this year 12 teams lined up for the tournament on the greens of the original club (Gisborne Bowling Club) at the original time of year (Easter).

And whilst the bowling gods continued to rain on the bowls season (the tournament had already been postponed from February because of Gabrielle), the organisers and sponge rollers managed to complete an abbreviated tournament.

This year’s Burton was remarkable for two reasons.

Firstly, it was the first time ever a husband (Geoff Pinn), wife (Karen Pinn) and son (Liam Pinn) had all been in the winning team … along with their club colleague Paddy Stewart (Karen replaced Glenys Whiteman on the second day).

Secondly, at the age of 12, Liam was the youngest player ever to be in a winning Burton Cup team … taking the title from 15 year old Paige Richter who was in the winning team in 2019.

“Liam has been bowling since he was 8 years old,” say Karen. “His twin brother Kyle also plays bowls, but he decided to stay on the sideline for the tournament.  Even I’ve only been playing for four years.  Kyle and Liam were the ones who got me into the sport and these days we all enjoy bowls together as a family.”

Clearly, they’ve been eating their weet-bix or beef rendang or something (Karen is Malaysian-born).  The team went through the tournament unbeaten, amassing 60 points over 10 games, and finishing well ahead of the runner-up with 49 points.

“We were thrilled,” says Karen, “You don’t expect to ever get your name on a trophy like the Burton Cup … there are so many notable inscriptions on the trophy over its more than 100 year history.”

And they’re grateful for the help they’ve had from another well-known Gisborne bowls family.

“Adam McIlroy (Shannon’s brother) and Boon McIlroy (Shannon’s dad) have been mentoring Liam and Kyle ever since they started playing bowls,” says Karen.  “They’ve actively encouraged the boys to enter both senior and open tournaments.  They’ve even won a few club championships.”

One thing for certain, is that the Pinn family will be already planning for the Burton in 2024.

And if the weather gods have finished sending down their ‘100 year weather events’ every decade, we may even get an interruption-free tournament next year.

Put it in your diaries now … Gisborne is not only a special place to play bowls, but a special place to enjoy the way a less frantic New Zealand used to be.

– Rob Davis