NOT many organisations in Douglas can boast a history as long, varied or interesting as Douglas Bowling Club.
Once the pride of the capital and host of the sport’s biggest events, the club’s bowling green was allowed to fall into a poor state of repair in more recent years, though now, thanks to the efforts and resourcefulness of a team of volunteers, hopes to make an imminent return to former glories.
124 years ago, back in 1888, it was no less a prominent character of Douglas society than Dr William Okell himself, founder of Okell’s Brewery and guardian of the island’s beer purity laws, that started the club.
He built two bowling greens along with a pub, a pub which still stands today as the Bowling Green hotel in Derby Road.
It was in 1921 the club moved to its current home, behind the Villa Marina overlooking the gardens.
‘The Villa was always the Mecca of bowls, and it was a feather in your cap to even play at the festivals,’ said club secretary Ken Williams.
‘It’s a perfect amphitheatre, and protected from the weather. The atmosphere at the festivals was so electric you wouldn’t think you were at bowling, it was more like a boxing match.’
But the standard of the green fell from being the best surface in the island, and the hosting rights for the annual bowling festival went to Noble’s Park.
Ken was one of the small team that took it upon itself to turn the club back around.
‘We’ve totally changed the place. There used to be a lot of vandalism, we had incidents week by week. Now there’s only been a couple this whole year,’ he said.
The club had become a hang-out for young people in the evenings, a fact that contributed to the club’s increasing shabbiness.
‘There would always be gangs of under age drinkers, sometimes we’d even find needles,’ said Ken.
‘Eventually I went down to say, rather than arguing with them all the time, I would teach them all to play bowls. It seems to have worked, there’s less bother now, though none of them have come along for a lesson yet!’
Ken and the team have replaced guttering, stripped hedges to put in 80 feet of new fencing and painted it, as well as painting the clubhouse and toilets.
‘Noel Quigley from the Villa Marina has been very amiable, providing us with a bit of paint and letting us borrow ladders. It’s been a real co-operation,’ said Ken. ‘Isle of Man Farmers have been great too with our work on the green.’
He added: ‘We have to thank Dawn Maddrell at the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure too, she’s allowed advertising at the club, which has allowed us to pay for things like mowers.’
Advertising has been a big step forward in the fortunes of the club which previously has only able to rely on member subscriptions and selling cups of tea for revenue.
Ken believes advertisers are waking up to the club’s potential. With several teams competing in the Manx league structure, he estimates that more than 1000 bowlers pass through the club in a season.
With membership up to more than 50 playing members and growing, and teams all performing better than Douglas have fared in decades, Ken hopes to see the now pristine green become home to the bowling festivals again, and become a home of recreational bowling outside the April to September season.
He said if Douglas Bowling Club was granted one wish, it would be an easy choice.
He said ‘To have a captive audience of nearly 2000 bowlers, and we would like a committed sponsor to help us promote the game of bowls in the island.’