Canberra City Bowling Club closes amid questions about sustainability of sport

As Bob Powell watched a bobcat tear up the green at Canberra City Bowling Club on Sunday night, he knew it was the end of an era.

The 90-year-old bowling club has been forced to disband after its promised move to Gungahlin fell apart.

Bob Powell, president of the Canberra City Bowling Club, watched a bobcat tear up the green, marking the club's closure.

Photo: Karleen Minney

The Ainslie group sold the Canberra City Bowling Club's Braddon premises to developer Nik Bulum in 2015.

It promised to build bowling greens at their Gungahlin club before the site was handed over, but put the project on ice indefinitely last year after failing to attract government support.

Ladies bowlers at the Canberra City Bowling Club in its early days.

Photo: Supplied

"The Ainslie group is not in a position to complete this community project without government support and will not compromise the integration of the project with existing club and golf facilities with a scaled down or remotely located bowling facility," chief executive Simon Patterson said last year.

Now bowlers are being forced to move to another club or give up the sport entirely.

"What distresses me the most is some of our older members will no longer bowl. They don't feel like they can bowl with another club," Mr Powell said.

Longtime member Cliff Gilbert said the club had a "great camaraderie, both on the green and in the club house".

Bowlers at the unofficial opening of the Canberra City Bowling Club in 1926 or 1927.

Photo: Supplied

"One disappointing thing for me is there's a lot of benefits in that sort of social infrastructure, a lot of health benefits," Mr Gilbert said.

"Being on your feet for four hours is good for osteoporosis,for your bones, and for your organ health. I've had my pedometer on during a game of bowls and you typically walk 4.5 kilometres in a game.

"It could be just my perception but people in bowling clubs seem to go on and on because they're getting subtle health benefits. Every time a club closes, it reduces the opportunity for people to play."

Bowling as a sport has been in decline over the past few decades, although more and more people are enjoying casual games, Mr Gilbert said.

However four clubs have closed in the 23 years he has been bowling.

"That's one every five years roughly," Mr Gilbert said. "I don't know if it's going to continue or whether the greater concentration of bowlers left over will help to sustain other clubs."

The Ainslie Group recorded nearly $15 million in gross gaming revenue last financial year, reaping about $35,000 a machine.

Their 423 active poker machines accounts for almost one in 10 operational in clubs in the ACT.

However Mr Patterson said gross gaming revenue included tax, GST and community contributions.

He said the Ainslie Group maintained a range of assets, including the Alan Ray Oval in Ainslie and the golf course at the Gungahlin Lakes Golf and Community club, and gave $1.055 million last year to sporting and community initiatives - 6.12 per cent above the required amount.

"For the past 18 years the Ainslie Group has maintained the bowling facilities at a significant financial burden," Mr Patterson said.

"The club continues to support bowling which includes the 100 bowlers from Canberra City bowling club. The club will contribute up to $300 per bowler to assist with the smooth transition of current bowlers to another club of their choice."

Clubs ACT chief executive Gwyn Rees said maintaining standalone bowling clubs was increasingly difficult.

"The ACT has the second highest commercial charges for water, add rising utility costs and rates and a dwindling participation in bowls - it isn't hard to understand why the viability of these assets has come into question," Mr Rees said.

"Clubs and bowlers need to get together to have an important conversation about the future of bowls to ensure the sport is sustainable and able to attract new players."

"The ACT has 1800 bowlers spread across seven clubs and some clubs have experienced membership as low as 100 to 200 people in recent years. This simply doesn't sustain a club."

Canberra City Bowling Club members will get together in April for one last hurrah to celebrate the history of their club.

The club thanked the Bulum family, who allowed them to salvage the bowling green and outdoor equipment so they can donate it to other ACT clubs.

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