Has lawn bowls "Gone to the Dogs"?
What is the future of bowls for small country towns?
Have the numbers participating in lawn bowls deteriorated to such an extent that the future of many clubs are shrinking to such a level that their long-term future is in jeopardy?
And even of greater concern is that some clubs’ future is even uncertain for the near future and possibly as early as next season.
It is an accepted fact that many of the smaller town clubs in the Goulburn Valley Bowls District have memberships that are at an all time low.
Tatura Bowls Club was established in 1904 as the one and only bowls club in town and from an initial 37 membership in that year grew to 135 by 1986, but is now at about the original 37 mark. (In 1965 bowls commenced at Hill Top Country Club at Tatura).
Tatura Bowls Club Associates (Lady bowling members) established in 1954 would have had possibly about 65 lady members at their peak and now there are only five lady bowlers as playing members of Tatura Bowls Club.
Merrigum established in 1966 with 44 members had 52 by 1986, and on advice from Merrigum's current president Joe Chant was now down to 22 men and eight ladies, a total of 30.
The past season's pennant membership for GVBD clubs in midweek and weekend pennant shows almost half of the GVBD clubs had less that 40 playing members.
Many clubs are having hard times in maintaining viable numbers for regular midweek and weekend pennant.
In 2014 from a survey conducted among Victorian bowls clubs, the 21 clubs that comprised the Goulburn Valley Bowls Association had indicated a 14 per cent decline in membership in seven years.
In that period only five clubs out of the 21 had a percentage increase in membership. A worrying sign of the times and still relevant and of grave concern six years later.
Tatura Bowls Club has a proud history. It formed in 1904, comprised men only at this time with the Lady Associates established 50 years later in 1954. Tatura was a key proponent in 1907 along with Shepparton, Nagambie, Euroa and Seymour in establishing the Goulburn Valley Bowling Association.
Tatura Bowls Club's lawn greens have been regarded by many as some of the best in the Goulburn Valley and have been regarded in this light for many years. The greens were selected in 1972 for men's interstate bowls.
The Victorian team impressed by Tatura's fast and true greens later returned for practice prior to travelling north for matches against NSW and Queensland. Again in 1996 the greens were selected for an interstate match between Victoria and Tasmania.
In 1986 the Tatura greens were considered the best in the Goulburn Valley and selected as the venue for the "Jack High" series of men's singles bowls matches filmed by local television station GMV6. Now in 2020 the Tatura greens again could well be considered the best in the region for they were used recently in the GVBD pennant matches for every week of the midweek and weekend finals.
Exceptional greens and talented greenkeepers over the club's history does not guarantee Tatura's future. The club along with many others and in particular smaller country towns require a stable membership base just to keep operational, but are actually facing a decline.
The larger clubs need to be mindful that their future relies on small town clubs surviving or otherwise they will be playing in a competition among a division of only half a dozen clubs.
Players leaving home town clubs and encouraged to chase team rewards with already strong clubs is only speeding up their own smaller club's demise.
One does realise that in this day and age it is not just bowls that is suffering membership declines, but it is also happening with other sports such as golf, tennis and cricket.
This report is provided by Tatura Bowls Club's appointed publicity scribe John Crilly, but is his own thoughts and not necessarily those of Tatura Bowls Club members or committee. He personally believes for his club to survive that amiable discussions should take place with forming a one town club at Tatura, but readily admits he does not have total support from many of his own club members.