One of the advantages being in the lower latitudes of New Zealand is that it’s a little easier to maintain a natural green. They’re not as prone to the green spoilers that warmer climes bring.
As a result, most clubs in Christchurch still maintain grass greens … preferred by the purists who thrive on the variability and unpredictability of such greens. Like Jeremy Coney or Brian Waddle purr over the pitches in cricket.
But an artificial surface allows bowlers the opportunity to get out on the green in winter. And the St Martin’s Bowling Club, with one of the few artificial greens in Christchurch, is finding that bowlers from around Canterbury are being attracted by their winter tournament programme.
“We don’t yet have a covered green in Canterbury,” observes Graeme Nottage, “so an artificial green is the next best thing. We find that we can get a lot of bowls in over the winter, provided we pack it in by three o’clock in the afternoon when it gets cold.”
St Martins has found that serious bowlers are wanting to continue playing all year round. “We get them from all over Christchurch for our winter tournaments … a bus load even comes from Oxford each week.”
The club has two greens: one artificial and one cotula. “The cotula green is about to be replaced,” says Graeme. “It’s never fully recovered since the earthquake, so it’s going to be resewn. The artificial Tiger Turf green is currently playing very well and is half-way through its projected lifetime.”
It sounds a lot for a club with a modest membership of 33 full playing members (22 men and 11 women). 14 social members, and a new category the club has created called ‘limited playing’ members. “We have 8 of them,” says Graeme. “They’re able to play bowls at the club but can’t enter external tournaments. We find it provides a great stepping-stone for new members.”
St Martins takes getting new members very seriously.
“We’ve been running some great initiatives with the Chinese community,” says Graeme. “We even had an exhibition of Chinese art in the clubhouse with the artist in attendance. The artworks were all auctioned off for charity. We’re very conscious that there are new communities in Christchurch, all of whom we believe can enjoy the games of bowls.”
Next door to the St Martin’s Bowling Club, the Otautahi Community Housing Trust is building a new affordable housing village. “I’m going to be hopping over the fence as soon as the new residents move in,” smiles Graeme. “What could be more convenient than having a bowling club on your backdoor step!”
“We are planning a Neighbourhood Day in September, and will invite all the neighbours in the area to come and enjoy a roll-up and refreshments for free. The aim is for the community to regard the club as its own for whatever appropriate uses … a community hub, not just a bowling club.”
Graeme can afford to be confident about membership growth … the club finances are in such good shape.
“The Hillview Christian School next door permanently hires out our old women’s clubrooms … we’ve had little use for them since the men and women amalgamated back in 2001. They also occasionally use the old men’s clubrooms, as does Christ Church Roimata. Probus is here once a month as well.”
“What we’re also finding is that the clubrooms and greens are hired out all year round now, whereas it just used to be booked for corporate Christmas do’s.”
Graeme’s also been talking to the croquet club next door. “We go over and play croquet once a year and they return to play bowls. Down the track, it would make sense to share facilities and ease the burden on volunteers by having just one club to run, rather than two.”
“In fact, you’d have to believe that the future lies in creating combined community sports homes, rather than everyone duplicating facilities. It also makes the hunt for funding easier … benefactors like the grant funders and the council are more likely to fund a community-oriented club rather than a single-use club for bowls.”
It sounds like the St Martins Bowling Club is very well managed, and very lucky.
Why shouldn’t it be? The horseshoe on the club logo has always been regarded as a portender of good luck. But it also recognises the fact that the land where the club now stands was once a horse-racing stud slap bang in a horseshoe loop of the Heathcote River.
Maybe they’re just making their own luck. Keep up the great work, St Martins.