Two of North Harbour’s bowling clubs are successfully meeting the challenges which confront recreational sport these days are Takapuna and Birkenhead.
Both have managed to maintain a good level of membership at elite and social levels and have in common being based close to busy, high-rise business centres. Amid all that commercial activity they provide an almost green-belt relief. And both clubs have free-hold properties which makes each of them asset-rich.
But there are some differences. Bowling is not Birkenhead’s only activity. In the club-house are gaming machines and a licensed TAB. Secretary Terry Moverley points out that Birkenhead has more social members than active bowlers. Of its 280 members only about 100 bowl regularly and a social member, Colin Barrow, occupies the club’s top administrative post as chairman of the board which oversees all the club’s functions. President John Croy heads the bowling activities.
Takapuna is a little more sedate in its social pursuits and most of its membership of more than 130 are regular bowlers, varying from “roll-up” specialists to those at a more elite level.
Birkenhead, however, still makes competitive bowls a priority, as indicated by its many successes in recent years. Its most prominent bowler in modern times has been international Tony Grantham while another Black Jack Mike Nagy did much of his early bowling at Birkenhead. And in 2015 in the national championships three of the winning men’s four, Danny O’Connor, Peter Belliss and Lance Tasker were then club members.
Birkenhead maintains other standards and while concessions have been made from the strict protocols of yesteryear, a dress code is still enforced, even among those who attend the club’s Wednesday roll-ups.
Both clubs have benefited enormously through the mergers, which occurred from about 2000 onwards, of women’s and men’s clubs. Takapuna admitted women in 2002 and has already had two lady presidents in Liz Stephens and Lois Rose. Birkenhead didn’t welcome women until 2009 but their presence was quickly felt when in 2012 Carole Fredrick, Ruth Lynch, Gayle Melrose and Lisa Helmling won the national fours.
That has been followed by a successful women’s invitation pairs event which now offers total prize money of $6500. That has been accompanied by a men’s invitation pairs tournament which also features some of the country’s best bowlers.
Takapuna has also had its share of top-class bowlers with the highlight of its playing calendar the club’s annual Birthday tournament, also an invitation event, held over two days in early December. O’Connor and his great friend Rowan Brassey were Takapuna members for a time and helped the club win the national teams championships in 2005 and 2007.
While Birkenhead started only in 1943 and will celebrate its 75th anniversary next Easter, Takapuna is among Auckland’s oldest clubs and in 2012 celebrated its centenary, marking that season when club members, Murray Mathieson, John Sakey and John Valentine, won the national Open triples.
Social and learner bowlers are especially welcome at both clubs. Takapuna’s roll-ups are especially popular and are held Monday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons, with mufti clothing allowed midweek. One of Takapuna’s most notable successes has been its business-house competition held on Wednesday evenings from November through to February. This has been an excellent way of introducing both men and women to the game and after each session a barbecue meal is provided.
Birkenhead also caters for newer bowlers on Monday evenings but rather than tagging it “business house” describes it as “social bowls”. And at each club learners can be taught the game by renowned coaches like Keith Burgess (Birkenhead) and Graham Dorreen (Takapuna).