Whangamata : A bowls paradise on the Paradise Coast

November 1, 2021

Like Aussies, Kiwis have always been keen to ascribe unique superlatives to our beautiful coastline.

Queensland may have its Gold Coast and its Sunshine Coast, but here in New Zealand we have our Hibiscus Coast, (Whangaparaoa), our Pohutukawa Coast (Firth of Thames), and our Kowhai Coast (north of Auckland).  We also have our ‘Paradise Coast’ – the eastern coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula between Whitianga in the north and Waihi Beach in the south.

As its name suggests, the coastline is a string of beautiful beaches … Cooks Beach, Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Hot Water Beach, Tairua, Pauanui, Opoutere, Onemana, Whiritoa and Waihi Beach.  And right in the middle of ‘Paradise’, you’ll find Whangamata – a spectacular beach with a spectacular bowling club : the Whangamata Bowling Club.

Yet it’s a paradise which much of the populace has adopted.

“There’s not a lot of born and bred locals here at Whangamata,” observes Immediate Past-President, Keith Miles, “Instead, they tend to be imports like me.  They’ve holidayed with their families at Whangamata, fell in love with the place, and decided to retire here.”

It’s a paradise which has only enjoyed a bowling club since 1951.  That’s quite ‘young’ in bowling club terms, where the clubscape boasts many centenarians.  But then Whangamata is a ‘young’ place – it was just a collection of a few Kiwi baches back then.

“Land was bestowed by the Williamson family to the Whangamata community to create a sports hub,” explains Keith, “and a croquet, tennis, squash and bowls club were able to be established.”

The club started with a single grass green and a modest clubhouse.  In 1983, a second green was added and a more substantial clubhouse (the current one) was built.  Five or so years ago, the clubhouse was modernised.

But it hasn’t stopped there.

“We want to become the centre of bowls on the Paradise Coast,” says Keith, “and we’ve planned a development programme to make sure that becomes a reality.”

“Currently, we’re converting one of the greens into an artificial,” says Cub Greenkeeper, Peter Burgess.  “A few weekends ago, we had over 20 volunteers out helping to pour the concrete surrounds for the green,  Next job is to prepare the base for the green.  We’re aiming to have the new TigerTurf ready by Christmas.”

That wont be too soon.  Taking a green out of action for a few months causes issues for the 100+ member club … there’s always popular tournaments demanding green time.

“Our signature tournament, the Open Optional 3 Day Classic is in November,” says Peter, “The teams play singles, pairs, triples and fours.  And this year, we’re also going to have the annual Whangamata Beach Hop around the same time … it was re-scheduled to this later time of year because of COVID.”

But the club has many other occasions dotted throughout the season which attract the bowlers and put pressure on the greens.

“The Fish and Chip Challenges are a favourite,” says Keith.  “We usually get 80+ people paying $20 for a meals of fish’n chips, an hour of bowls, a live band and quizzes.  The Crackajack Bowls in February are another popular roll-up.  They’re teams of 3 and there can only be one bowler in each team … the other two must be non-bowlers.”

“The RSA Welfare Paddy’s Day Tournament in March is also a great drawcard,” says Keith.  “Half the teams come from our club and half from the RSA.  Everyone dresses up in something stupid and green as a nod to St Patrick’s Day, and all the proceeds from the day go the RSA Welfare League.  The local New World provides the lunch … we’re lucky as a club to have such great sponsors.”

One of the more unusual formats played at Whangamata is the Open Optional One Day Classic.  “Drawn teams of 4 plays 7 games over the day.  They’re just 50 minutes each.  Three games of fours, two games of pairs, and a game of triples and singles.  Every year we fill two greens.”

“But it was the Women’s Two-Day Classic that always attracted much interest,” recalls Peter.  “The men would always put on a dinner the first night.  And club member and ex-All Black Bob Scott would always bake a cake for the winner.  He expected a kiss when he presented it!  Unfortunately, Bob is no longer with us.”

Unfortunately, that tournament is no longer run, despite the fact there’s been a big surge in women’s membership.

That’s the great thing about the new artificial – it will cope with any membership surge and will allow the Whangamata Bowling Club to enjoy bowls all year round … and add even more fixtures to its programme.

“We’ll be the only club in the area with an artificial, so we’re anticipating attracting a lot of winter bowlers from around about.”

It’s an investment which the members of the club have largely funded themselves.  “We raised $105,000 in debentures from club members,” says Peter, “and another $33,000 in donations from members.  That provided the lion’s share of the funds for the new green, which’ll last for 20 to 25 years if we look after it.”

But it’s unlikely Whangamata will sit still once the artificial’s down.

“There’ll always be more to do,” agree Peter and Keith.  “We’re not going to become the go-to club on the Paradise Coast just sitting on our laurels.”