Hosting a Hawke's Bay Open tenpin bowling tournament as big as this weekend's is a dream come true for Bay stalwart Preston Epplett.
The 25th annual tournament which will be played at the Superstrike Tenpin Bowling Centre in Hastings from Friday until Sunday has attracted more than 140 entries including four of the country's top 10 senior men and two of the top 10 ranked women. New Zealand senior representative and last year's masters winner Pete Richardson of Auckland is among the visitors.
"The $500,000 we spent on upgrading the facilities a couple of years ago is starting to pay off. Bowlers are recognising our centre as one of the best or if not the best in the country and this tournament is shaping up to be the biggest in the country this year," Epplett said.
While his company, Epplett & Co Accountants Ltd will sponsor the event for the ninth year Epplett, 68, doesn't fancy his chances of getting any of the big chunks of the $3500 in prizemoney up for grabs.
"I've got an average of 162 at the moment. I'll have to play well above that to get in amongst the big winners," Epplett explained.
"I'll be relying a lot on my teammates in the team events. Mike had a hole in one at golf not so long ago so hopefully he can play as well at tenpin this weekend," Epplett said referring to his doubles partner Mike Goodacre.
Epplett, who is also entered in the singles, will play with Kay Groome in the mixed doubles and Goodacre, Ian Baldwin and Ken Lyon in the fours. A veteran of 20 years in the code, Epplett, is no stranger to title glory at the open.
He has won the doubles title with former player George Lambert in the past and in 2004 the All Events singles title.
"I'll never forget the 2004 open as I ended up in hospital," Epplett recalled.
He tore a bicep tendon above the armpit of his right arm and for a period after collecting the injury Epplett played with his left arm.
"We're hoping the first 300 will be bowled on the refurbished lanes this weekend," Epplett said, referring to the maximum score in the code.
"There hasn't been an official 300 bowled in Hawke's Bay since former New Zealand rep Koia Shannon did in 1979. But a number of this weekend's visitors have bowled 300 and there have only been 138 of them in New Zealand since 1977."
Richardson, 50, has scored 299 on four occasions. He is the first bowler to represent New Zealand at youth, adult and senior levels.
In September he was a member of the New Zealand seniors team which finished 14th out of 41 countries at the world seniors champs in Las Vegas. In the individual section of the champs Richardson finished 65th in a 160-strong field.
"I was almost going to give the serious stuff away a while ago and just focus on social play. But then the opportunity to play at seniors level came up and I thought why not," Richardson said.
A tournament manager for Tenpin New Zealand, Richardson, who has been playing for 32 years, finished third in a recent Auckland-hosted tournament and will be playing in his second Hawke's Bay Open this weekend.
"I qualified through the back door last year and was fortunate enough to win. Whether I can do it again this time will be very much an on-the-day thing each day," he added.
While New Zealand No 1 and last year's winner of the women's masters title Julieanne Mollet of Kapiti is a late withdrawal Kiwi No 2 Susanne Howell of Auckland will front and start as the favourite for the women's masters title.
Epplett is one of 60 entrants from the Bay. He has high hopes for the likes of the Bay's top man Murray Bicknell, New Zealand Youth team members Christian Karatau and Emilee Adams and New Zealand Youth squad member Rebecca Baxter.
The centre's new manager, Jono Munro, is also tipped to perform well. Munro certainly won't be able to use a lack of training time as an excuse for any poor scores.
All competitors will get national ranking points during the tournament.