More FM’s Georgia Watt, who will compete in the Open singles, in action during last year’s Marlborough Open. Photo Peter Jones
It has been 15 years since the nation’s best indoor bowlers gathered in Blenheim, but the long wait will be well worth it when the 71st Summerset National Open and Masters championships begin at Stadium 2000 on Saturday.
More than 500 bowlers, plus their large band of supporters, will congregate in Blenheim from June 12 until June 19.
With the nationals being cancelled last year due to COVID, anticipation is high this time around, with organisers ensuring participants are kept busy and entertained over the eight-day event.
Apart from the serious business of contesting national titles in singles, pairs, triples and fours formats, Wacky Wednesday is expected to be a highlight, with bowlers dressing up and having some fun.
Also on Wednesday is the Northern Zone v Southern Zone Academy and Masters matches. The Academy teams feature up-and-coming competitors, with two local players involved, namely Lois Randall and Georgia Watt. Local Ken Wells will take part in the Masters’ clash.
A feature of the entries is the wide range of ages represented, suggesting that modern indoor bowls is very much a sport enjoyed by all age groups - from 15-year-old junior Michael Burke to Keven Boothby, who will be competing at his 53rd Championship.
Qualification days for the different formats are Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with all competitors hoping to qualify for the respective final the following day.
Across both the Open and Masters [over-60s] fields 340 singles players will be in action on Saturday June 12, 210 pairs on Tuesday, 130 triples on Wednesday and 110 fours on Friday. There are several local bowlers in all formats.
There is plenty of class on show in the Open singles field, including Marlborough bowlers Steven Grant, Watt, and Anthony Hitchcock, who have also found themselves at the centre of tough sections, each coming up against North Island or New Zealand representatives. Former Mat Black Randall, who now resides in the Marlborough Sounds, has shown winning form early this season and is another strong hope for the locals.
In the Open pairs, Grant l’Ami and Mike Phipps appear the team to beat. They are the defending champions from 2019 and have a national gold star in pairs titles alone. However, 2004 champs Simon Poppleton and Darryn Bell will make worthy opponents, as will 2018 champions Shelley and Mark Jacombs.
Scattered throughout the Open triples draw are an abundance of family teams such as the Archers, Jacombs and Lows, plus relative newcomers such as the Burkes from Tauranga and the Ryans from North Wellington, with the respective fathers skipping their children in those combinations.
Concluding the week is the Open fours, which includes top-rated bowlers such as Nigel Warnes, Grant l’Ami, Wayne Baker, Kristen Gould, and Murray Fraser. Across this group are holders of 60 national championship titles.
Marlborough Indoor Bowls Association president Colin Blake and secretary, Steven Grant, are both looking forward to the championships and are expecting high-quality, competitive play in all events. They are grateful for all the support they have received, enabling the local association to host the nationals.
Play starts at 8.30am Saturday, with the qualification rounds of the Open singles. Spectators are welcome and there is no charge to come along to watch and support the local bowlers against the top-class opposition.