Bob Murray began bowling at the age of 43. As a relative youngster, he was welcomed into Manly Bowling Club with open arms by older members, many of whom had joined after retirement. His enthusiastic contributions to the club, and the sport, over more than 30 years have included coaching, expanding the clubrooms, being president twice and many early morning starts to mow three grass bowling greens. Bob credits bowling with helping him keep active in mind and body and still spends 20 hours a week at the club. He spoke with Terry Moore about his years with Manly Bowling Club….
I joined Manly Bowling Club in 1975. The club had a lot of World War I veterans in it at that time and I remember, as I was only 43, thinking ‘there are a lot of old buggers here’. Now I’m one myself of course! I had been coming up to Whangaparaoa since I was 18 years old and when I first came up it was on a metal road. My father had a bach in Ferry Road, off Wade River Road. My wife and I built our own bach in Brightside Road and moved to the peninsula to live in 1974.
My first experience of bowling was a very positive one. In the early 1970s I owned the Wellsford Hotel and the Ruawai Hotel. A group of bowlers were among the regulars at the Ruawai Hotel and one day they talked me into playing in a tournament in Whangarei. We were runners up at that event and that taste of success in my very first game certainly made me keen to do more bowling. All we had when I joined Manly Bowling Club was the old pavilion, which is now the Manly Veterans Tennis Club building, two greens and 16 rinks of rubberised green where the tennis courts are now. I had a bit of building experience and I added a piece onto the end of that building and joined the shelter shed to it to make more room. Several years later I went on to build the clubrooms we use today with the help of six volunteers. We fundraised and then started building in 1979. The job was completed in five months.
The club grew from about 140 members to at one stage having more than 400, but bowls has declined in popularity over the last 10 years and now we have around 155 members. The average age of our members is about 79. Our club is one of the 10 largest in New Zealand though, and I think Orewa is one of the biggest, so bowls in the area is in good heart. People are attracted by the companionship and the challenge of getting a bowl close to the kitty, which requires quite a lot of skill. Bowling is excellent exercise and helps keep the joints mobile. I know a few people my age who don’t play bowls and they seem to me like really old people, whereas most of the ones who play are quite fit by comparison.
I received good coaching when I joined the club and went on to become a qualified coach myself. I was the only coach at the club for quite a few years – until they gave me the sack! The assessors who provide the coaching accreditation rang up about five years ago and said I needed to be assessed again. They were teaching a style of coaching that I didn’t agree with, because it simply doesn’t work for many people that play bowls and have various physical limitations such as crook knees. So they sent my $10 fee back and fired me after 20 plus years of coaching. It doesn’t mean a great deal anyway, as I still give many of our players advice if they ask for help. I must have taught more than 200 bowlers to play over the years, and in 1996 I received a Volunteer of the Year award for services to the sports community from Rodney County Council, as it was then.
To be a good bowler you have to control the speed of the bowl and its direction. The skill is also in your mind, which all the time should be computing what needs to be done next. I have found that ex-golfers often make the best bowlers, as they seem to have a better idea of how to estimate weight and speed. The games can get quite competitive. Last year the club won the Centre Championship of Championship Triples and I was runner up in the Fours. That was the first competition I had played in since 1979, so I was lucky to do so well. Of course a lot of people prefer to play socially. I have made some lifelong friends here. My wife is also a member and the match convenor, looking after all the ladies’ competitions. It is good to have both husband and wife involved as otherwise it can be awkward if you are spending all your time down at the bowling club.
I was greenkeeper here when we had three natural grass greens. I used to get up at 5.30am every second morning to mow those greens. It was a bit of a mission. The greens have to be pretty spot on because any defects affect the way the bowls turn. These days I’m green superintendent, which means I’m here about 20 hours a week looking after the one natural green and the two carpet greens we have now. I also play bowls three days a week. We have interclub matches and open tournaments and often play bowls at other clubs. I would say our greens are as good as those of any club on the North Shore. We play right through winter, as the carpet greens are dry within half an hour of even a heavy downpour.
Aside from bowls, I do quite a bit of fishing with my son and son-in-law, both around the peninsula and in Manganui. I’ve been a keen fisherman for years and used to do a lot of diving. My other big interest is playing bagpipes, but I haven’t been able to play for a while since I injured my hand using a machine that is used to drill holes in the ground to aerate the bowling green. Many years ago I was pipe major in the Waterside Workers Highland Pipe Band. The pipe major directs when the music starts and stops.
I love living here in Whangaparaoa, despite all the growth. It has changed so much – you used to look out at night and see only the odd light here or there, but it’s very populated now. I want to carry on at the club as long as I’m able to. The members are a very friendly bunch of people and the volunteers involved do a wonderful job. Local businesses are also great at sponsoring events and so on, which keeps us going. I don’t play in tournaments any more – the social roll ups are enough for me. I still like to win though. Whatever time of life you take up bowls, it can become a bit of an obsession.