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Bowls: at Milford Bowling Club

The Game for All Ages

If you ever thought that bowls is a sport only for those of a more advanced age, then think again. The popularity of the game is gaining momentum, with players of all ages finding out for themselves the physical, mental and social benefits of the game.
Tim Preston of the Milford Bowling Club is one man determined to change the perception of bowls as an old man’s sport. Tim, now in his fifth year of playing the sport, has his friend Graham Dorreen to thank for introducing him to the sport. “Graham rang up and said I’ve just joined you up with the local bowling club, and we have our first lesson tomorrow,” recalls Tim. “If he hadn’t done that I probably never would have thought about it. You’ll find this with so many people, particularly of the older age group – they wish they’d taken up the game when they were a lot younger.”
Bowls literally filled a gap in Tim’s life when a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis prompted a change in lifestyle. “I joined because of my illness. I had to give up work and look for something to fill that big void. Bowls does that in two ways. It gives me something to match with the physical constraints I have around my multiple sclerosis. Also, coming out of the corporate world I am able to use some of those skills and contacts to benefit the club.”
Tim says one of the great features of bowls is that it is can be played by people of all ages, abilities and aspirations. “There’s a real misconception out there that bowls is an old person’s sport, something you do when you retire and can’t do anything else,” says Tim. “My son calls it ‘old man’s marbles’! But there’s a real disconnect between the perception and the reality of the game. Bowls is actually a young person’s sport - it just so happens that a lot of older people play it very well. The sport traverses all age groups. There’s probably no other sport in the world where you can have such a wide range of ages competing, in a lot of cases on a similar playing field.”
It’s a sport suited to pretty much anybody, says Tim, and you can play it to any level you want to, be it social, club or national. “In what other sport can you, after playing for just a year, go and pitch yourself against the best? When Graham and I first played in the New Zealand Open we’d been playing for eight months, and we ended up playing Auckland and New Zealand reps. It’s just fantastic.”
Tim also speaks of the bowling green’s ability to break down age and social barriers. “You can have playing together a plumber, a lawyer, an airline pilot, a builder and a retired person. All those barriers that may normally be there in a social context are broken down and you’re all there for the one purpose – to play bowls.”
Despite the seemingly simple nature of the game, bowls provides a great mental challenge. “You don’t realise how much there is to the game until you start playing it,” admits Tim. “It looks pretty simple – all you have to do is send the bowl out at the right width with just enough weight so it gets to the little white thing at the other end. But people call it ‘chess on grass’ because there is a lot to it tactically, about how you build your game, about what players you have in what positions, about what shots you play at what times and being able to play all those different range of shots. It seems to be the more you play the game, the more you realise how little you know about it.”
Over the past few the years the Milford Bowling Club has gone from strength to strength. Current accolades include Bowls North Harbour Club of the Year, Massey University Habour Sports Excellence Awards Club of the Year 2011 and runner up (out of 619 clubs) for the Bowls New Zealand Club of the Year for the 2010-2011 season. These accomplishments reflect the work invested by all involved, from the President Trevor Duffy, to the members and volunteers, to the local businesses who support the club through sponsorship.  “We get great support from our sponsors,” says Tim. “It’s been a tough environment for businesses. We make sure we keep in contact with our sponsors and we like to give them tangible feedback. A lot of organisations pay ‘lip service’ to their sponsors, but I think you have to make sure that if people are supporting you by giving you money, then they get something in return. In turn, we’re proactive in making sure our sponsors are supported by us.”
The Milford Bowling Club is moving with the times. In the future Tim hopes to see more half-day tournaments, weekend and evening games to cater for those who have work and other commitments. “The challenge for us, as it is for all clubs, is to get more members. It seems to be that when you finish a sport (such as rugby) you go and play golf, and then eventually you come to bowls. Our argument would be why wouldn’t you come to bowls instead of golf? Bowls is far more social. It gives all the things that a sport like golf gives as far as personal challenges, camaraderie and a great social environment. The challenge for us now is to get more people of all different age groups involved.”

For more information, check out the Milford Bowls website at, or contact the club by phone
09 410 7043, or email 

by Channel Editorial