Quality greens and hospitality ensure strong turnout at nationals
The next month is a bumper time for bowls, but most of the action for our leading bowlers is in Taranaki.
The nationals were due to start today and a complement of 34 men and 14 women will represent our centre over the three disciplines of pairs, singles and fours.
I suspect it's our best representation in 20 to 30 years. By contrast, we had only 10 bowlers in Wellington in 2010-11.
I know the drawcard is the quality of greens Taranaki produces and the legendary hospitality of the clubs.
A visit to a country club in Taranaki is a treat to be sure, and is something many of our bowlers are familiar with from visits to Taranaki men's and women's open fours.
Having such a representation really increases the chances our bowlers can return with some silverware.
More bowlers will qualify, some will eliminate big names and there is a chance for in-form players to come through to the last eight and beyond.
The strongest-looking men's four is Pat Horgan (Palmerston North) skip, Philip Skoglund Junior (Northern) three, with two other Palmerston North bowlers Graeme Cooley and Ross Ellery off the front.
All will play singles and also play pairs, Skoglund teaming with Ellery. That's a combination I really like the look of, but in all disciplines, none of the four has easy draws.
To me that is a benefit as they will run right into top form if they survive section play.
In singles, Ellery strikes Danny Delany, and Skoglund of the North Island bowls dynasty faces Terry Scott from an equally famous family in the south.
For Skoglund and Ellery, the match-ups continue in pairs where they face Peter Belliss and Lance Tasker. Horgan and Cooley will get a real hurry up from Paritutu's John Reid and Darrin Goodin, and Terrace End's Brian Looker and Scruff Anderson will also fancy their chances against them.
Chris Barrett has been in top form skipping teams to defeat Horgan in finals of their club triples and fours and I expect him to respond to the environment in singles play.
Included in his draw is another top-flight bowler in Richard Girvan.
I would expect Robyn Schischka, Feona Sayles, Sheryn Blake, Anna Davis and Ngaire Cowen to feature well in the women's singles but once again there are some huge match-ups. Schischka faces Kaaren Guilford from Johnsonville second up and Margaret Aldrich meets both Clare McCaul and Ra Walker.
In pairs, Schischka teams with former Northern bowler Sue Way and the section will include the sister act of Davis and Jacinta Cousins, along with Sayles and her partner, Anne Bateman of Hikurangi.
None will clash, however. In the fours, there are four sections and our three teams are all in section one. Sayles will play in a composite team with Bateman and two Carlton-Cornwall bowlers.
Teams skipped by Davis and Schischka will clash in round two and all teams will face several local teams. I can see Blake's team of Walker, Georgie Kahui-Rogers and Julianne Mills being extra-competitive.
A good tournament to look forward to, and you can follow our bowlers' fortunes daily on the Bowls New Zealand website.
There will be only a week's break before the Taranaki men's open is played. We will have 14 fours there, and many will have already played the nationals. More on that tournament later.
■ Bowls lost a fantastic stalwart with the recent passing of Shirley Newman. Shirley took up the game in the early 1980s and was a good enough bowler to win two centre titles, but it was administration and selecting where her greatest influence was felt.
She held most positions in her Terrace End Bowling Club, being president for some years and became a life member for her service.
Shirley spent a long time as a member of the centre executive, was vice-president until this season and was selector for some years, helping to mould the careers of many talented bowlers. Her type of dedication is rare and she will be hard to replace.
Good bowling in the New Year.