Sunshine State bowls clubs face the perfect storm

April 28, 2021
Grant Jones

The old Surfers Paradise Bowls Club, shuttered for the past decade, is back on the market fuelling further discussion about the future of the sport in the Sunshine State and the valuable properties they sit on.   

The sold sign also went up on the badly vandalised North Rockhampton Bowls Club last week, which closed its doors in September 2018.   

This latest activity follows reports that Booroodabin Bowls Club in Newstead has struggled financially during COVID-19, and many other clubs are also in danger of closing, including Moorooka Bowlo in Brisbane. While the club has ceased to operate, Brisbane City Council says it is negotiating a potential lease with a local community organisation. 

Meanwhile, Peregian Beach Bowls Club, Swans Bowls Club in Maroochydore, Noosa Bowls Club, Sunshine Coast Bowls Club and Pacific Paradise Bowls Club have all ceased trading with most having had their sites sold to developers. 

Sale of club premises and valuable greenfield development space is more often the end result of bowls club closures. Clubtic has sought comment from Bowls Queensland CEO, Brett Wilkie, about any strategic plan to address the issue but has yet to receive a response.

But confronted by declining memberships, increasing maintenance costs and ageing volunteers, many bowlos face the perfect storm, says Chris Kenward of CPR Group, a national sports and community development consultancy firm. Add in the impacts of coronavirus restrictions and it is easy to see that, for many bowls clubs, their very survival is at risk.

“First and foremost is recognising that things cannot carry on as they are. Change or die are the stark choices facing many clubs. The old business model of bowls clubs was based on bowling – with a large membership who had a game of bowls, a drink or two, and a meal. Their large membership used to provide sufficient revenue for the club to tick over.

“The bowls clubs that are successful today have realised that this model needs to be reversed. They have transformed themselves into social venues where the local community enjoy the opportunity to meet for a drink and something to eat, thereby generating sufficient funds to allow the bowlers to continue to enjoy their game.”  

“Bowls clubs must become outward facing and actively welcome their local communities. What events can they offer that will attract young families and singles in – events that build upon the established reputation that bowls clubs have for providing good value meals and reasonably-priced drinks?”    

Other ways to engage their communities can be through inviting local groups to meet at the bowls club, partnering with other sports clubs, or hosting fairs or markets, he says.    

The sold sign finally went up on North Rockhampton Bowls Club last week after it initially went up for auction in February 2019, was then listed for sale for $1.2 million, then slashed to $990,000, before ANZ took possession in June 2019. Bowls will now be replaced by caravans and motorhomes after the bank accepted an offer by Capricorn Caravan Centre.  

Meanwhile, the old Surfers Paradise Bowls Club on a piece of prime real estate on Remembrance Drive has sat idle since closing in 2010. Three-time Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate tried to develop the site himself at one stage with plans to rescue the club from financial ruin by building a 56-storey residential tower. But several years later, after running the Club at a loss, Tate and business partner Kelvin Gersbach closed it for good. The current sale is being handled by Canford Estate Agents.  

“Obviously, there’s a lot of memories here; and seen a lot of people come through its doors,” Ben Evans from Canford Estate Agents told Nine News. “Sadly, no one will come through as a bowls club again, but the site could be rejuvenated and reutilised for future generations.” 

The Gold Coast Bulletin’s coverage of Mayor Tate’s failed private development plan for the Surfers Paradise Bowls Club.


bowls club closures, bowls clubs, council, developers

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