Still Bowling On in Ōtaki

Patron and oldest member, Keown Shirley, rolls the first bowl, opening the 2015-16 season for the 107yr old Ōtaki Bowling Club

Roll-up, roll-up, and the first bowl of the season rolled down the green on opening day of the Ōtaki Bowling and Pentanque Club’s 2015–16 summer season. It was the 107th year members have been playing.

The oldest member, Keown Shirley had the honour of sending down the first bowl at the kitty and then declaring the season “open”, after which the members took their places and the season’s competition began in earnest.

“This bit of dirt is historic,” said ninety-five year old Mr Shirley, who has been a member of the club since 1984. “It started as the Ōtaki Tennis Club, then the court became a parking lot, the old shed was where they (the bowling club) sifted the soil for their greens. Under the clubrooms there’s a tree stump six feet across, it’s still as good it was cut!”

Following the inaugural meetings in January and February 1908, the club was officially formed and a decision to accept a land proposal from the Jubilee Hotel owner to enter a 21 year leasehold at one pound per year for the first ten years and seven pounds a year for the remaining 11 years. The club eventually purchased the land. Guarantors to the Bank of Australasia “ensured” a 300 pound loan at six per cent, and so the green and initial fencing works were completed and the pavilion was erected. Mr W H Field Member of Parliament for Ōtaki, officially opened the club on February 6 1909.

Initially women had “unrestricted” membership and voting rights, although two years later their right to vote was withdrawn. Ladies then did not play but were in charge of the lunches, morning and afternoon teas!

In March 1951 a ladies club was formed — the Ōtaki Central Bowling Club. They paid the men’s club 150 pounds rental a year to use the green! Dress was very strict and important.

Indoor bowls was introduced in 1953 and played an important part in allowing the men’s and women’s clubs to “intermingle and become socially entwined”.

The club prepared ground for a second green and this was ready for play in the 1955/56 season. In the early 1960’s the club purchased the adjacent tennis courts property, making way for extensions and a new pavilion which built using mainly volunteer labour and this was ready for the 60th jubilee celebrations which were held on their own two greens and new pavilion. The original pavilion was sold to a farmer.

The ladies’ club became part of the Kapiti Bowling Centre in 1981. In May 1995 it was finally agreed to amalgamate the men’s and women’s clubs to known as the Ōtaki Bowling Club. This came into effect with the new constitution a year later.

Green upgrades were needed, in 1990 the No1 green, in front of the clubrooms were changed to an all-weather green and in 2000 Astrograss was laid. With two wet weather greens, No 2 became the main playing green, and by 2008 new Astrograss was laid on the No1 green, too.

Among some of the historic “parts” of the club’s property is the flagpole, this was originally one of the spars for the sailing ship City of Auckland which was wrecked off Ōtaki Beach in 1878, this was later found in long grass behind the Jubilee Hotel and erected at the front of the bowling club sometime between 1908 and 1918. Some of the land belonged to the Ōtaki Tennis Club, from their first beginnings in 1883, which reformed in 1893 until they moved to Haruatai Park 70 years later. The large shed at the rear of the property was their pavilion. There was also a croquet club, just inside the main gate, sadly there are no records relating to their activities.

But a new sport was on the horizon and in 2002 the pentanque club was formed and is now a formal part of the club. The first 10 pistes were laid and play began in November 2003, further pistes were put down in 2007 and the facilities became “the finest on the coast”. Members assist in many of the bowling club’s activities, including working bees and social functions.  

The bowling club remains very active, in spite of falling membership. Wednesday is mixed club day, with Saturdays allowing for mixed games as well as men’s competitions. Ladies competitions are played on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sundays are social roll-up days with mixed teams. Fridays are the 2-4-2 mixed competition with play from 3.30pm and a fish and chip tea. They hold monthly galas with players from Kapiti-Horowhenua Centre clubs and play in their galas, too.

The club still runs regular galas and look for sponsorship to help with these — sponsors get naming rights to these and can present the prizes. Ōtaki RSA hold regular twilight bowls on the greens and for a number of years a junior section operated as well as competitions with players from Ōtaki College with colleges from around the region playing during the week. Sadly these no longer operate.

Like many organisations they are looking for new members, with all year round play available on the two all-weather greens, indoor bowls in the winter and pentanque playing twice weekly all year, there are plenty of opportunities for people to be involved. 

But with age the clubhouse is now in need of urgent maintenance and with the falling membership, there are fewer and fewer to do the work.

“New members are always welcome,” President Peter Whitehead said. “Our current membership is low – only 18 women and 11 men, which makes it difficult to keep operating and doing maintenance.”

Their most urgent needs are roof repairs, painting outside and upgrading the locker rooms and the back fence is falling down. They upgraded the kitchen during the winter, the quiet season with new stove installed.”

Mr Shirley told of the earlier days when they grew vegetables on part of the land and which were sent “Everywhere” until the garden was taken over and operated privately.

“Monday mornings were always working bees,” he said. “We used to get 20 people rolling up now there’s only three!”

At its peak the club had 102 men and 91 women members, now just 39 remain and not all are very active. So with two all-weather greens available and all year round playing opportunity, give bowls a go — it’s not the “rigid formal” sport of by-gone days. Roll up at the weekend and give it a go.

Thanks to the Ōtaki Bowling Club’s booklet History of the Ōtaki Bowling Club 1908-2008 for much of the historical information.