By bowling club standards, Waikanae Bowling Club is still a youngster. Just 64 in fact.
It was founded back in 1955 when the Beatles probably hadn’t thought of sending a valentine or a birthday greetings bottle of wine (and presumably hadn’t even thought of being ‘Beatles’).
The land cost £2,300, and co-opted muscle (including school kids on their PE break) flattened and groomed the area to create the first green.
“We got hold of an old army hut to use as a clubhouse,” recalls Club President and former builder Graham Fairburn, “and we added some lockers inside – they had to be big enough to take three flagons. The toilets were the trees at the back!”
Things have certainly changed.
Today the clubhouse is an enviable facility. Even though it was built by Graham’s company at ‘mates’ rates’ back in 1993, it still remains a drawcard on the Kapiti Coast 26 years later. “It’s actually the fourth clubhouse,” observes Graham. “The original army hut was replaced in 1957. And when we bought the adjoining land in the 60s for another green, that came with a house as well, which was used by the club.”
It’s also the fourth green.
“The original green was grass,” says Graham, “which was replanted in cotula. We then put down an astro green which was replaced by a Dales artificial surface in 2010.”
The greens are known as the fastest greens on the Kapiti Coast. “Some players find them challenging,” says Club Vice President, Graeme Yeoman. “My response is that good tennis players have to get used to playing on different surfaces : clay, grass, artificial, indoors, so why should bowls be any different?”
“What’s great about the greens is we can play 24/7/365. We have the floodlights, and the excellent draining means that even if it pours with rain. we can be playing again 5 or 10 minutes later.”
The club now also has a flash sealed carpark. “Our former Patron, Stan Jepson, left a legacy to the club which really added the finishing touches to the whole club.”
But the real secret that Waikanae is hiding is out the back.
In keeping with the ‘Gardens’ neighbourhood of Waikanae, the clubhouse opens out at the rear to a beautiful leafy dell. It’s an exceptional ‘extra’ for a bowling club. “It means that we occasionally have weddings here,” says Graeme, “and we’re also asked to be the headquarters once a year for the local garden trail. The historic homestead and gardens ‘Leybourne’ is next door.”
It’s not surprising that all these facilities have attracted a full playing membership of 128. “We also have 600 social members,” says Graeme, “400 of those are from the Waikanae Football Club who play just down the road.” That could sound overwhelming for a club, but it simply gives some insight into just how copious the clubhouse is. And how clubs can diversify and spread their resources to maximise their income streams.”
Despite this, the club still has big plans, and is not happy to rest on its laurels. “A few development ideas are going to be put to the upcoming AGM,” says Graeme.
And why not? The club is driven by its own high expectations. Former Cabinet Minister and UK High Commissioner, Sir Thomas MacDonald was their first Patron from 1955 to 1980. He was followed by former Prime Minister Sir John Marshall from 1981 to 1984.
However, a National Bowls Title still eludes the club, “We’ve had members in the final twice,” says Graham. “but haven’t yet brought back gold.” With so much going on in the club, it’s probably just a matter of time.
The club hosts four big tournaments every year : the ANZAC Cup in April, the Rosebowl in May, the Winter Cup in August and the Spring Festival in September … so members are getting plenty of potential competition time.
And even if competitive bowls isn’t their cup of tea, there’s plenty of other attractions on offer at the club. Cards, darts, and mahjong are played regularly.
Just the other day, the Southward Car Museum (a couple of k’s down the road) displayed a classic McLaren beside the green to distract the bowlers from their game.
Nice touch, guys!
Published with permission from Bowls New Zealand