New Zealand's busy international bowls schedule has contributed to a number of top players by-passing the National Open Championships in Taranaki.
The women's field has been particularly hard hit with Black Jacks Val Smith, Jo Edwards, Lisa White and Jan Khan all unavailable.
Of the New Zealand team that played at this year's World Bowls Championships in Adelaide this month, only Wellington's Mandy Boyd will play at the national open.
It's a slightly different picture with the men's team with only Tony Grantham ruled out of the event which runs from December 28 to January 9.
National coach Dave Edwards said the absentee's were a reflection of the growing demands on the sport's fully amateur players.
"Generally it's work commitments and the amount of time they've had to take out during the year just catches up," he said yesterday. "The biggest challenge is we [bowls] are totally amateur with no support whatsoever as far as Performance Enhancement Grants are concerned."
White, Khan and Grantham all had work commitments, while Jo Edwards and Smith had seized upon a rare chance to spend Christmas with family and friends after a long year, he said.
"We're delighted with the funding just announced by Sport New Zealand... but it didn't include PEGs and these players still have to fit in earning a living," Edwards said.
"That's in amongst a really rigorous training programme we set for them leading into the World Championships.
"It's getting tougher and tougher in tight economic times to juggle things to keep performing and being available at the top level."
Bowls New Zealand chief executive Kerry Clark said the absentee's were understandable considering the Black Jacks' schedule.
The national team had been engaged from the Six Nations in May, through the Trans Tasman series in September, and into the World Championships from mid-November to early December.
"People would have taken a hell of a lot of time off work," he said.
However, despite the absences, both Clark and Edwards are encouraged by both the strength and size of the respective men's and women's fields.
"It's pleasing. The numbers are steady is what I'd say across the board. In comparison to last year we are holding our own," Clark said.
In fact, numbers are up in the women's singles with 144 entries compared to 136 in Auckland last year and fours where 56 teams have registered compared to 52 in 2011-12.
The men's fields though continue to decline with only 90 fours teams (down from 112), 177 pairs (210) and 280 singles (288).
World Championship representatives Shannon McIlroy, Richard Girvan, Matthew Gallop and Ali Forsyth will all be vying for titles in Taranaki.
And Edwards said the tournament remained a valuable tool for the national selectors.
"What we like about it, the level of competition is still very high even though some of the top players aren't there this year," he said. "It is quite gruelling. If you play singles, pairs and fours over a fortnight you are out on the greens day in day out and it's a tough schedule.
"That replicates some of the international events we go to so we still hold the nationals in high regard and that's why we definitely do attend them."
- The Dominion Post
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