The Ohope Bowling Club recently turned 70.
That’s not old in bowling club terms … after all, many bowling clubs throughout New Zealand have already celebrated their centenaries.
But what’s special about the Ohope Bowling Club is that it started life as a private bowling green.
The original green was created by one Mr Andy Millar in 1939, who after planting a fulsome vegetable garden, decided to add a two-rink green on his property in Pohutukawa Avenue so he could practise the sport he had recently taken up. Andy obviously got very keen, because he extended it to a full-sized 8-rink green.
The Ohope Bowling Club was more formally established in 1949. Still privately owned, but by its 26 full members and overseen by a group of trustees, using the green leased from Andy for £120 per annum. It wasn’t until 1957, that the Club purchased the green and the amenities for £1,600. Men’s subs were set at £6 6/- and Women’s subs £3 3/-. That sounds cheap, but it wasn’t. £6 6/- is worth $625 in today’s money!
By 1992, emboldened by the growth of membership to over 80 full-playing men and women, the club formed a committee to investigate the development of the club facilities either on the existing Andy Millar site, or to move elsewhere in Ohope.
Consensus opted for a move to another site, but consent delays meant it took until 1995 for an SGM to be able to approve the move to the current site at Harbour Road. The first roll-up to held at the new twin internationally-sized artificial green facility was in October 1996.
It was a superb new facility, probably the best in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. It also afforded a great time for the men’s and women’s clubs in Ohope to amalgamate …as was happening at may clubs around New Zealand at the time.
Today, the Ohope Bowling Club ranks right up there with the best.
“We’re open all year round,” says Club President, Jock Stewart, “and we get 40 or more people at mid-week roll-ups all year round. In fact, it may even be more in winter. It gets pretty hot out here in the sun over January/February, so some of us prefer to wile away the days at the best beach in New Zealand rather than playing bowls!”
Jock puts the popularity of the club down to its friendliness. Of course, that’s a truism for every club in the bowling world … they wouldn’t survive unless members enjoyed each other’s company on the green or in the clubrooms.
Club Patron Tom Woodham reinforces Jock’s assessment. “Our members love the club … look at the crowd we have here at today’s roll-up. And visitors love it just as much … they keep coming back over and over again.”
‘Newby’ Sarah Williams backs that up. She’s only been a member since February this year, but has already waited 20 years to use the clubrooms to celebrate her ‘30th birthday’. “I used to live and work in Auckland,” says Sarah, “You wouldn’t get me going back. I love it here at Ohope. And I love it here at the club.”
But Jock also has another weapon that attracts people to the club. The food.
His partner Sheryl Ball is a cakemaker, and created a magnificent lawn bowls-inspired confection for the 70th anniversary celebrations. Like one of those awesome creations on Extreme Cake Makers.
But he also has another culinary weapon up his sleeve … Mary Winters … club member since 1982 … a non-playing Life Member who is seen more often than not the club kitchen whipping up fresh Christmas mince tarts and date scones to die for.
As a result, Jock is unsure whether it is the friendliness of the club or Mary’s superb cuisine which causes out-of-towners to return for the Ohope Bowling Club’s signature tournaments year after year. “We hold the Men’s Paradise in August, and the Women’s Paradise in May. They’re fours tournaments, and we fill both greens. The invitations for the Women’s in May 2020 have already gone out, and we expect the tournament to be filled by the end of January.”
However, despite this rich participation from its 100 full-playing members and visitors, the club is not resting on its laurels.
“We may investigate putting a roof over one of the greens,” says Club Secretary, Margaret O’Regan. “but that sort of decision will need to be put to our members at next year’s AGM for consideration.”
It’s that sort of development bravery which drove Roy Winters, then Club President, to expertly traverse the club, community, and local body politics to originally move the club from Pohutukawa Avenue to its current site in Harbour Road back in 1996.
And has rewarded the club in the 20+ years since.
In fact you could even say it rewarded Roy as well. He accomplished quite a unique feat at the newly sited club in 1999/2000, making a clean sweep of the club titles by winning the Singles, the Pairs, the Triples and the Fours all in the same season (remarkably, it’s also a feat that Club member Des Connor later repeated in 2016/2017).
Next time you’re in Ohope (and no one needs an excuse to go to Ohope!), drop into the club. Give Mary Winters some warning, and she may even prepare some hot date scones right out of the club oven to fuel your roll-up.
Published with permission from Bowls NZ