Stretching the Limits: Port Melbourne Bowling Club Tries Yoga and More

by Kalon Huett (BV Contributor)

In 1983, a 20-year-old Craig Morris, along with his best mate, fellow bowler and past Club President Alan Foote joined Port Melbourne Bowling Club. Fast forward 36 years and Craig, who has now been the Club President for approximately five years, remains as enthusiastic as ever about his favourite Bowls Club and the sport itself. That’s why he and the club committee are doing whatever it takes to help Port Melbourne Bowling Club reach new heights and new demographics.

“I was born and bred in the local area and I love the club, so when I eventually stand down from my position I want to know that the club has a robust structure behind it and is prepared for lasting success,” he says.

“When I took on the role, we the committee felt the club needed to diversify from its traditional operation as a Bowls Club predominantly for older men. Even though we have 130 years of history here, if we don’t change we won’t grow. It’s not enough to keep relying on 80-100 blokes paying annual membership fees. We thought it was important to start looking at the club as a community club and not just a Bowls Club.”

So that’s exactly what Craig and his beloved Port Melbourne Bowling Club did. “We wanted to attract more females to the club and identify why women weren’t necessarily staying around the club. That led us to improve the environmental infrastructure within the club – the sound, lighting, colours, cleanliness, etc. Then we moved onto bigger things like encouraging more women to play Pennant bowls,” he says.

“And eventually, we introduced the ‘Bowling with Babies’ program, which has seen a fantastic response. We’ve had over 100 parents attend since we began last October. Any mum, dad, grandparent, aunt or uncle who brings along a baby or toddler receives a free social membership. This has helped to grow our women’s membership numbers quite significantly.”

Mixing it up

Craig acknowledges that making major changes at a Bowls Club can be challenging. “Like anything else it takes time and effort, so every few months we tried little things and slowly but surely our new ideas are being embraced,” he says. “We’re willing to try all sorts of different things to engage with more people. The more people you have coming to the club and putting something into the club, the better the chances of the club surviving long term.”

What do those innovations include? “Two years ago I successfully lobbied the state government and with the support of MP Martin Foley the club received a grant to install a synthetic green, which has given us the opportunity to broaden the use of the green to different community groups,” Craig explains.

“For example, we’ve started a yoga program for women. One of our female members said to me, ‘If you want to do something a bit different, try running yoga sessions on the green!’. So we set up two weekly sessions over the summer and we’re still doing one Monday evening session each week, where we get about 18-20 participants. We charge $5 per person and we donate that money to charity. We’re hoping yoga participants will also come down to the club on a Sunday afternoon with their partners and learn how to bowl as well.”

Recently the club also hosted a large school group and even had around 35 teachers visit for a BBQ and bowls evening. “If you can encourage the parents and teachers to enjoy bowls then there’s a better chance they’ll support the club’s programs,” Craig says.

Another recent innovation was to take the ‘beer garden’ space between the two greens and convert it into an interactive playground. “If people bring their toddlers along we’ll now have games of Noughts and Crosses, Snakes and Ladders, and other things like that to keep them entertained. It means people can come here to have a bowl while their kids are playing in this safe area,” he says.

Despite the focus on alternative activities, bowls is still the club’s number one priority. “We’re definitely trying to grow, but we also have to remember that we’re a Bowls Club first and we want to get ourselves to the highest level in the sport,” he says. “That’s another important challenge. We’re competing in Division 2 and of course we want to be competing in the Premier League one day.”

Want to know more about Port Melbourne Bowling Club? Visit the club website here.