To cover or not to cover? That is the question

Bowls NZ

When you’re interviewing Phil Vyver about the development of covered greens in Auckland, you’d suspect he’s simultaneously arranged a typical Auckland summer downpour to prove his point.

But as the greens at Mt Eden Bowling Club quickly flood, it’s not the weather the Auckland Centre General Manager claims to manage.  Instead, Vyver has become pretty good at managing the creation of covered bowling greens in the Auckland region … to protect the sport from the vagaries of the wet, sub-tropical Auckland climate pounding the Centre headquarters as we talk.

“Letting mother nature control when and where we play bowls has no longer become acceptable in today’s sporting environment,” explains Vyver. “Rugby expects covered stadiums; hockey expects artificial turfs; skiing expects snowmaking; and there is a growing expectation that bowls should have covered greens.”

As a result, Vyver has become the go-to person helping clubs work their way through the mire of red tape required to realise the creation of covered greens.  Clubs can of course ‘go it alone’.  But when you listen to Vyver, he has a lot of expertise that clubs would be silly not to take advantage of.

That expertise starts with the Auckland Council.

“The Strategic Plan we’ve submitted to the Auckland Council provides for the development of 7 covered greens within the council area,” says Vyver, “with at least 5 of those being within the boundaries of the Auckland Centre.”

“The Council is not only keen to see a spread of bowls facilities across the region,” says Vyver, “but wants to deal with one coordinating body, rather than with individual bowls interests.  That’s where the Centre comes in.”

The stakes are high.  There’s permission required if the club is on council land.  Potential council funding to be accessed. And the big elephant in the room : resource and building consents to be negotiated.

However, Vyver doesn’t just offer expertise about Council-wrangling.  He’s also an expert about the endless number of ways to cover a green.

“Whilst we love the idea of Auckland covered with covered facilities,” says Vyver,” We don’t want to see any of our clubs get into a financial pickle stretching themselves with an unsustainable development.  Diligent research is critical to assure the viability of something that comes with a minimum price tag of $600,000.  And that’s without any bells and whistles!”

“In the end, the decision to cover or not to cover is up to each club,” says Vyver.  “Funding organisations will want to know that it’s a sustainable development if they’re to add funds to the pot.  They rely on us for that assurance.”

Currently there’s 3 clubs with covered greens in the Auckland Council region : Pukekohe; Orewa; and New Lynn.  And there’s another 5 clubs that are investigating covering a green : Remuera; Royal Oak; Howick; Papatoetoe; and Glen Eden. “I imagine that it’s something that’s been talked about at some time in all 40 clubs in the Centre,” adds Vyver.

The big stopper is of course money.  And club amalgamations are acting as a major impetus for covered facilities, funded by the sale of surplus assets.

“Council also looks kindly on clubs that open their membership … not only to other bowlers or other sports, but also the community in general,” says Vyver.  “Clubs are seen as a great way to integrate the community.”

They’re challenging decisions for clubs to make.  And decisions which clubs don’t take lightly.

“What I love about bowlers,” says Vyver, “is they modestly regard themselves simply as temporary caretakers and custodians of their club’s interests … their goal is to leave the bowling club better than they found it.”

“And if that means covering a green, or for that matter, not covering a green, then so be it.”