So, how do you like your bowls?
16 June 2023
By Paul Neazor

That was a question the Operations Committee of Bowls Auckland was tasked with finding the perfect’ answer in order to prepare for the 2023-24 season. Of course, nothing is perfect, so they failed in that brief.

If you ask 100 people the questions that were sent out to clubs and players, you’ll probably get 70 or more variations on a theme. Bill won’t agree with Fred, who won’t agree with Anne, and Jo disagrees with the lot of them, and so it goes on.

It is fair to say there has been a bit of griping about the calendar over the last couple of years, but on first inspection, this one looks likely to please more than it annoys. The most obvious feature is that there are no major events on long weekends, allowing clubs that traditionally host long-standing tournaments a free run on those dates.

1-5 players will be pleased that their championships are not all crammed into the first month of the season; it would have been quite daunting for a new player to consider competing against some of the guns they faced in the Canoe or Campi, and many newish players elected to give a September date a miss. Now, with the first two tournaments being the Triples and Pairs, a month apart, and with the Fours and Singles in the New Year, a much better balance has been struck.

There has also been a step away from any combination team events at the 1-5 level, with only the Fours retaining that format. That’s a sound decision, as it particularly allows smaller clubs or those with fewer juniors to enter teams which may not have been possible otherwise. Yet the move to men’s and women’s Pairs and Triples is also one with a sound rationale behind it. Ironically, the reason for scrapping the system is the same that was brought forward to introduce it. The aim is to combat decreasing numbers entering competitions and increase the range of players taking part.

There are many reasons why the system didn’t work as planned, and no single one covers all. The very strong core group who all left women’s 1-5s over the last two years (think Philly Akaruru, Linda Fenton, Pip Wilton, Karen Kuzminski, et al); the considerable strength in the men’s game right now; the fact many clubs with strong women players don’t have comparable strength in the men; the list goes on.

In the last two years of any combination teams, only one woman, Gloria Teinaki, has won a Centre 1-5 title in a team event, despite the success Jeanine Browne, Lee and Nicole Singer, Andrea Wilson and others have had in Open competition. Gloria, in fact, won two – the Pairs and Fours in 2021-22 – but her performance is magnified by the fact that in the Pairs round of 16 that season, there were 31 men and one woman left in action. That the one woman was the player handed the trophy was, in the circumstances, extraordinary.

It wasn’t lost on Bowls Auckland boss Dean Bartlett. When asked, he replied: ‘We want to get more women and girls involved, and through our consultation process we received feedback that any combination teams/tournaments can be intimidating, especially at the 1-5 level, so we thought to try and remove this barrier this season and hopefully that encourages more participation and a better experience’.’

Like a lot of things where a move away from the status quo is happening, there are no answers about the rights and wrongs at the moment. By late October, we will know a bit more. I’d put a few bob on it being a good call.

We already knew there was an even split on the Interclub format. Did the players and clubs want eights or pennants? When the question was asked, half went to the right and the balance to the left. Therefore you can’t fault the decision to stick with the existing format.

There is less change in the Open ranks, more tweaks than major shuffles. That, too, is something most would expect. The top players have various priorities and the club players are set in their ways. Not a whole lot needed changing here.

You can’t get away from the fact the calendar is crowded; that a number of players are looking, weeks or months ahead, at the possibilities before them and trying to juggle schedules so they can get the most out of their year; that championship and rep events may collide with what the clubs want; that it’s impossible to please everyone. We all know that stuff without being told.

Speaking as a player whose first look at the calendar is made to ink certain dates into the diary, I reckon this one is not a bad effort at achieving the impossible. It won’t be perfect, it won’t please everyone, but it will give us a fair crack at a well-planned season.

Now if only that bloody rain stays away this summer …