Small, attractive and sharing its surroundings with native trees and birds, Riverhead Bowling Club is beginning to see evidence that its strategies to lift once-sagging member numbers are beginning to deliver as promised.
The club, led by president for the past two years Jim Corric, has used advertising, letter drops and invitations to mix-and-mingles, wine-and-dines – known as social bowls – and roll-ups to encourage men and women to at least have a go at the sport and accept it as the ideal recreational pastime.
Riverhead just eight years ago had up to 50 members but is now left with only 25 to 30.
“Clubs everywhere have been hit as new members become more difficult to get,” Jim says. “With work commitments, families and children competing for their time, they feel they can’t commit a whole day each week to playing bowls so that memberships drop and clubs start to die.
“All clubs are having these problems but those in small country towns are the worst-hit. A lot of members from the older generation have moved on and we are working hard to get new locals to join.”
The club has also courted corporate groups from the city to spend a very different day out in a welcoming place to enjoy a good lunch and game of bowls while three portable twin-bunk huts among the trees and birds close to the clubhouse with its kitchen and bathrooms are an attraction for visiting players to stay overnight during tournaments.
Jim started playing as a relatively young 20-year-old in the early 1970s in the small Taranaki village of Rahotu which boasted a bowling club where he and half a dozen mates joined about 30 members to learn how to play the game.
“There was nothing else to do in Rahotu and we really enjoyed it,” he says. “Most of the members were farming people and I worked in the dairy factory until 1988 when I moved to Auckland and a job with a global company making bathroom-ware in Glenfield.
“I joined the bowling club there and played with them for 20 years – two as president – then moved to Riverhead in 2010 for the lifestyle. I wanted a couple of acres and have cows and chickens. It is a growing area with wineries, a gun club and good fishing.”
Jim makes his daily 30-minute commutes to the Glenfield company, now as technical services supervisor, and is confident Riverhead’s efforts to boost membership will not be in vain.
“We can see a movement through the locals coming to see us and from the questions they are asking,” he says “and we are already seeing benefits from those who have a go – even some kids are doing it.
“It will not happen overnight but we will keep people informed and the interest growing – then it is entirely up to them.”