Rising in the East
18 October 2023
By Paul Neazor

It wasn’t that long ago I had my introduction to the Kohimarama Bowling Club. I was a walk-in, one of those people keen to try the game and just rock up to their nearest club. I checked out four or five but settled on Kohimarama, as it was the nearest to home. I never regretted that choice for a moment.

In those days Kohimarama was regarded as a club full of nice people, but not one was to be taken seriously in competitions. The membership board was top heavy; about half the members had been part of the old Mission Bay Women’s BC and didn’t play much, there were next to no juniors (if I remember rightly, I took the number to four) and the all-important middle ground was pretty barren too.

The old stagers were waiting for some new blood to come along and move the club forward, so they could take a step back and enjoy being part of a club without the worry of running it. They had done a fine job, but no longer had the drive or energy to run what was a small business. I clearly remember the club had 43 members, no bar, virtually no men playing there (these last two were not coincidental) and must have been teetering.

A combination of circumstances led to what was a remarkably rapid turnaround. In no particular order, the following happened: I wasn’t the only walk-in that year; the club had its first concerted marketing campaign, which delivered some new members; Fun Bowls, an attraction for those thinking about playing, kicked into higher gear; a couple of other events drew more newcomers; and not least, several newbies had a modicum of talent and wanted to play competitively.

A year later the first Bowls 101 season – a short coaching programme for new players – delivered a number who wanted to carry on with the game. One, Lisa Appleyard, has gone on to play for Auckland at the Year 1-5 level. And Cynthia Morris, then a Bowls Development Officer working with several clubs, appeared on the scene. She has driven a great deal of the promotional work since.

Another future Auckland player, Jeanine Browne, arrived the next season. We were in full Covid mode at that time, so the playing season was completely disjointed, but the club kept moving forward. Tribute must be paid to then President, Mark Compton, who was a real enthusiast and the right man for what was a fairly thankless task. Even if the club made little positive progress in those difficult years, Mark made sure it held its hard-won ground.

While the club had never been short of quality coaches, it was only now they really had material to work with to place the club on the map. A bar was seen as a must – Bill Whitburn worked tirelessly to get the licence matters through Council – and for the first time business plans were put on the table. Membership kept going up, but now the club was also going places.

Socially, new ventures were tried, almost always with success. At one Christmas lunch, Secretary Marlene Mak was speaking about those club members who added value off the greens as well. She told the gathering that ‘I had listed the first few committees, and then I realised that every club member was involved somewhere.’

If you have ever been part of another club, in any code, where that was the case, you are lucky.

The good initiatives are still in place today, and the membership has almost tripled in the last five years. From that figure of 43, it has jumped to 111 at present and the pyramid has righted itself, with a wide base narrowing to a peak which is the most experienced and best players.

Kohimarama won Auckland Club of the Year for 2021-22, an award not given lightly – especially as it was then still one of the smaller ones around. That changed quickly in 2022-23 when 39 first-year players had their badges on the board, a number few clubs in the city could match.

Club players are now regularly seen on Sundays at tournaments; that wasn’t the case until recently. But every tournament day the Kohi Faithful, led by Rosemary Goldie, Mary De Cleene, Joy Boyd and Liz Burton, are on the sidelines supporting their favourites. It’s a part of a Centre event these days.

And they have more to cheer than ever before. That old idea of being an insignificant factor no longer holds water, even if the club is still full of nice people. It’s the right kind of circle feeding on itself; this one gets stronger as a result of good players delivering better results, becoming better players, and so on.

The last word should rest with President Margie Sorensen. She believes the club has the right balance of business and recreation, off-field momentum and on-green competitiveness. ‘It has engendered a belief among members that we know we can do these things,’ Sorensen notes, ‘while still being aware of our reputation for having a friendly, welcoming culture. Everyone still does their bit, and we’re moving forward all the time.’

Even though I no longer have an active playing membership there, the Kohimarama Bowling Club still holds a special place for me; it is, after all, where I learned the game. I’m pleased to see the progress of the last five years and look forward to the future. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of people.