Bowls Omarunui in Taradale is hosting the province's Finals Day in Napier today but the region is no stranger to royal battles, if its history is anything to go by.

A cursory glance at the history reveals Omarunui translates in Maori to English as Ō: place of; maru: shade; nui: great or much and was the name of a Maori village 9km southwest of the suburb of Napier. It was the site of a battle between Hauhau and Ngāti Kahungunu/colonial forces on October 11-12 in 1866.

However, the club formed in April 1927 is proud to host the two-day Bowls Hawke's Bay competition, which includes a pair from Wairarapa, involving centre and open champions from all the clubs.

A club of one green in the early years, comprising three rinks, it soon had a pavilion to cater for a membership of 30 and during the next half century enticed more than 400 enthusiasts. It was then rumoured to be one of the three largest bowling clubs in the country.


But in the last 10 to 15 years, membership has hovered around the 100 mark and sits just above it currently.

"It came about with the advent of the seven-day working week," says Philip Stephens, who has been president for two years and a member for 26 years. "I think it was one of the most detrimental influences on falling membership."

In the halcyon days the club had to close membership because they couldn't cater for everyone, says Stephens.

The men's day was on Saturday and it was usual to see three full greens of men playing fours (192 players). Some, unfortunately, had to be balloted out for that day. Sunday featured mixed men and women competitions when all three greens were once again filled to capacity. Wednesday was women's club day.

"People's lifestyles have changed because there are so many more looser activities they take part in," says the 73-year-old retired radio manager/sportcaster, emphasising fitting into organised events appeared to become too regimented for many.

"There's so much more they can do with their leisure time these days and young people want to go overseas to travel."

Stephens says the perception that bowls is for people approaching retirement has been in vogue for decades but he doesn't adhere to that edict.

"Yes, there are lots of older people playing bowls still but there are younger ones coming through," he says, believing the ideal age range is 35 to 60.

While he salutes the recruitment of younger players, he suspects the lure to travel and impending parental demands mean they may return to the lawn because of that early exposure.

"There are exceptions to the rule like Richard Hocking, Dean Drummond, the Boyd sisters [Angela and Mandy], which is great, so full marks to those encouraged to give bowls a go and it would be nice if they did carry on but they'll get caught up in wanting to do other things so bowls may be put on the backburner."

Omarunui, an asset-rich club with little disposable income, four years ago sold its land back to Napier City Council in the hope of arresting its membership slide.

The ensuing fiscal boost enabled it to re-decorate the pavilion, renovate the natural green and plant an artificial surface for all-year use.

The third unused green was converted to help resolve the car-parking and access issues.

If the weather dictates terms this weekend, Bowl HB reserves the right to switching venues, including the indoor venue at Bowls Hastings.

"We're thrilled to have it here and the natural green is playing really well, thanks to greenkeeper Jesse Jones and his staff who have done a wonderful job to what I think is one of the best, if not the best, green in the centre," says Stephens, keeping faith in the weather forecast.

Wairarapa's Makaia Campbell and Scott MacKenzie will take on host members Dot Palmer and Ken Robson (Barry Wakely unavailable) in the most popular event, the mixed pairs, when play begins from 9am today.

Father/son Bob and Grant Hall join Pat Minogue in the final of the men's pairs against battle-hardened Napier trio of brothers Mark and Dave Stevenson, and Malcolm Stockwell.

At noon, Sheryl Viggers and BHB rep selector Lillian Tukiri (Taradale) face Mere Nepia and BHB junior singles champion Cheryn Menhennett (Bay View).

Finding volunteers to help, a grinning Stephens says, is the biggest challenge for him.

Born in Nelson, he has been playing bowls for 45 years. Fulltime broadcasting work brought him to the Bay in 1975.

"When I started playing in 1973 I used to play cricket on Saturdays and bowls on Sundays," he says, revealing a lot of their club championships were played by arrangement at nights.

He is indebted to a crop of older bowlers than him at the time who had the patience to find time to persevere with him in honing his skills.

Enjoying a beer or two was a classic way to finish off bowls nights but notes players "are more responsible now than what we once were".

Stephens says bowls is a good game and urges people not to leave it too late in taking it up.

"Don't until you retire and you're into your seventies when you're not as mobile as you once were," says the bloke who has served administratively in rugby and cricket as well.

Former White Ferns cricketer and Central Districts stalwart Vivian Stephens is a natural in bowls but husband Philip hasn't been able to convince her yet to join Omarunui club. Photo/file
Former White Ferns cricketer and Central Districts stalwart Vivian Stephens is a natural in bowls but husband Philip hasn't been able to convince her yet to join Omarunui club. Photo/file

Wife Vivian Stephens is an ex-White Ferns cricketer, who toured India for a couple of games in the mid-1970s, and former Central Districts board member.

"She was instrumental, along with other people, in setting up the women's side of Central Districts cricket and became heavily involved in that so she's given back a lot to a sport she enjoyed."

However, Stephens has tried but can't seem to convince her convince her to become a bowls club member although she does have a roll up now and then.

"She's a bit of a natural and would be a good bowler but I can't get her to join just yet," he says with a laugh.

He says the club has been quite successful in running business house bowls during summer which has boosted membership, some even crossing the floor from other clubs for whatever reasons. It's the initiative of Barry Wakely and Dot Palmer who also hold coaching sessions through the year.

"We were delighted when our men's team went out to win the district's shield a couple of months ago," he says of the elite centre tourney which he suspects the club has won for the first time in its history.

"It was a big buzz for the club and makes you very proud because for quite sometime at Bowls Omarunui or Omarunui Bowling Club, as it was known for a long time, a good percentage of our members was older and known as the 'roll-up club'," he says of the non-competitive branding they seemed to have carried.



Mixed pairs, 9am: Dot Palmer/Ken Robson (Omarunui) v Makaia Campbell/Scott MacKenzie (Featherston).

Men's triples: Bob Hall, Grant Hall and Pat Minogue (Havelock North) v Mark Stevenson, Dave Stevenson, Malcolm Stockwell (Napier).
Women's pairs, 12pm: Sheryl Viggers, Lillian Tukiri (Taradale) v Mere Nepia, Cherryn Menhennett (Bay View).

Men's pairs, 12pm semifinal: Paul Viggers & Keith Redman (Taradale) v Bob Strahl & Paul Sorensen (Napier), Lloyd Fitness & David Henderson (Taradale) v Ian Mason & Grant Sargison (composite).

Men's pairs final, 3pm: Semifinal winners.

Women's fours, 3pm: Lyn Stowe, Glenys Riddell, Natarsha Grimshaw, Gaylene Harvey (Hastings) v Lyn Bowcock, Sheryl Glock, Jo Hayes, Sheryl Viggers (Taradale).


Men's fours, 9am: Frank Golder, Jim Bentley, Neil Barron, Pat Golder (Hastings) v Paul Scott, Dave Porteous, Ian Mason, Dean Drummond (Hastings).

Women's triples, 9am: Alison Lott, Margaret Bridgman, Jan Henderson (Omarunui) v Lyn Stowe, Natarsha Grimshaw, Gaylene Harvey (Hastings).

Men's singles, semi-finals, 12pm: Dean Drummond (Hastings) v Mark Kilmister (Omarunui), Pat Golder (Hastings) v Bunny Kupa (National Service).

Men's singles final, 3pm: Semifinal winners.

Women's singles final, 3pm: Sheryl Viggers (Taradale) v Natarsha Grimshaw (Hastings).