There’s a simple way of telling you’re at the bowling club at Nightcaps, deep in the south of New Zealand in southwest Southland.
No. It’s not the smell of cheese rolls wafting from the oven in the kitchen. Nor the Speights being poured exclusively from the taps in the bar. Instead it’s the eagerly sought after first and second prize in the club raffle : half a tonne of coal.
We’re in coal country here. Nightcaps and the neighbouring settlement of Ohai may not be as synonymous with coalmining as the West Coast or Huntly, but each day a train pulls out of Ohai/Nightcaps and makes its way along the rickety branch railway line to eventually end up at Clandeboye, Timaru where it feeds the energy-hungry Fonterra plant.
Many of the 50 or so members of the Nightcaps Golf & Bowling Club rely, or have relied, on the local coal industry for their jobs. While others, as you would expect, hail from local farms (who’ve donated sides of mutton for third and fourth prize in the raffle).
It’s a club that’s just celebrated its 100th birthday.
“Back in 1918, they held a meeting in town to look at forming a bowling club,” says veteran club member and secretary Gordy Bennett. “and eventually the Nightcaps Bowling Club was incorporated in 1920. Although the first game wasn’t played until 1922.”
“The club was originally set up ‘down town’,” adds Gordy, “But in 1999 the decision was made to combine with the local golf club, so we moved up here and built a bigger full-size 37metre x 37metre green next to the golf club pavilion. We’ve combined as the Nightcaps Golf & Bowling Club ever since.”
“There’s been no ‘them and us’,” says Club President Kevin Harvey, “Nightcaps is a small place … we already knew each other before the amalgamation. Having said that, about 30 members exclusively play golf, about 17 exclusively play bowls, and 4 or 5 play both. It just depends how much time you’ve got on your hands.”
“There was some initial grumpiness about amalgamating,” recalls Gordy, “The usual objections … not wanting to change things. But now everyone soon realised we should have combined years ago.”
Today, you’d be forgiven for not recognising Nightcaps as a great playing power in lawn bowls. But the same cannot be said for its golfing prowess.
“The Cub holds the Laing Shield,” says Golf Club Captain, Stu Dobbie proudly. “It’s the ‘Ranfurly Shield’ of golf in Southland played for by 25 golf clubs. We’ve now held the Shield for 38 defences, since August 2016!”
Having said that, bowls at Nightcaps is not without its days in the sun.
“Gordy and Brian Barclay won a Centre Pairs title back in 1981/1982,” laughs Kevin. “But our greatest was probably Brian Harvey who won 15 Centre titles and a South Island Pairs title.”
Modest success doesn’t stop the club from enjoying its bowls though.
“When you’re in a small community like us,” says Kevin, “you just become part of the community. The social get-togethers almost become more important than the bowls or the golf. We had over 60 people intending to come for a roll-up and BBQ for our centenary celebrations, but we had to cancel at the last minute because of the Coronavirus lockdown. It was a shame. But we’ll plan a celebration again when things are back to normal.”
The Club gets great support from the local businesses in Ohai and Nightcaps … not that there’s many of them. “Places like Tony Philpott Contracting, the local Four Square, TSL, G J Gardner and others are really good to us. We appreciate it.”
Such support for each other is just the nature of living in Nightcaps. It’s a place that local residents aren’t even sure why it was so named.
“Best guess is that Nightcaps is named after the snow that falls on the peaks of the surrounding Takitimu Ranges,” explains Gordy, “Making them look like a row of those old-fashioned night caps.”
But an unofficial explanation may be that the name gives recognition to the wee dram supped before retiring for the night on a cold winter evening.
Not that members of the Nightcaps Golf and Bowling Club would endorse such practices!
Published with permission from Bowls NZ