Melbourne’s Best Lawn Bowls

by admin on April 1, 2015

Broadsheet Melbourne has decided on the six best bowls clubs the city has to offer when it comes to combining some barefoot bowls with other social activities like barbecues and beers.
Broadsheet Melbourne’s Sarah De La Rue has uncovered six of the best bowls clubs in Melbourne, particularly for the unconverted bowler looking to ease their way into the sport with some barefoot bowls, barbecues and beers. Check out 70 of their spectacular photographs here.
Walking into a Melbourne bowls club is like walking into a barbeque for the extended family. You’re not sure who’s going to be there, but you’ll be handed a tinnie, someone will put their back out and there’ll be some good stories going around.
Even though the white-clad veterans are the lifeblood of clubs, it’s the barefoot bowlers and younger generations, fluking their way through the score sheet, that help keep these clubs in business.
Take some time out on the green this weekend and put your best foot forward.
“It’s a really easy game to learn, but it’s a hard game to master and even though there’s a stigma that this is an activity for old people, it’s not,” says club volunteer and two-year member, Dianne Chitty.
Nestled in the leafy grounds of Princes Park in Carlton, the bowls club sits just behind the fountain.
The club is relatively small, but finding a seat at the wooden picnic tables or bench seats placed around the rink is usually easy. It’s undergoing some renovation at the moment, which will result in a new bar outside. “They’re going for a retro-modern look, which really just means daggy but new,” says Chitty.
Currently there’s a huge selection of local tinnies and craft beers as well as imported German beers and a decent wine selection.
Social membership costs $50, which gets you unlimited bowling all year round and discounted bar prices. Casual barefoot bowlers can pay $15 for two hours.
“It doesn’t matter who has a shoulder injury or who’s just had a hip replacement, everyone’s committed to being a good club member, not just a bowler,” says Chitty.
109 Bowen Crescent, Princes Park Carlton
Easter Weekend Opening Hours
Sat to Mon 12pm–8pm
This club is basically a glorified beer garden, with two large greens for bowling, if you feel like it. It’s a destination for bowlers but it’s also a great hangout for locals.
“It’s a little oasis among all of these bigger buildings now in Brunswick,” says Simon Grout who, at 25, is the operations and marketing manager and one of the club’s youngest members.
There’s nothing on tap, but the bar prices are still very reasonable and you won’t pay more than $7 for a Mountain Goat or a White Rabbit. It’s only $5 for house wine or spirits.
Speaking of cheap, for $15 you get your own rink for five hours and for an extra $30 you can hire a barbeque.
Outside is a mix of old and new: a huge section of wooden tables and vintage, lime-green bench seats to hang out on. White tin sheds line the lawns and huge brass lights float above. Inside you can entertain yourself with pool or table tennis. There is usually live music or DJ sets on Sunday afternoons.
From April 1 for two weeks only, the team has transformed the bowling green into an 18-hole mini-golf course. No joke.
“We’re going to break all of the rules and drink on the green,” says Grout.
104-106 Victoria Street, Brunswick East
Easter Weekend Opening Hours
Fri 3pm–10pm
Sat 12pm–10pm
Sun 12pm–9pm
Mon 3pm–8pm
“It’s a home away from home for many of the members who are here five or six days a week,” says head manager Mark Dobbin.
If they’re not playing pennant, then you can typically find the members watching cricket or AFL inside.
“But the club is what we like to call a “broad church” – where all of the older members and younger bowlers get along very well.”
On a weekend, the club greens are busy with barefoot bowlers, typically celebrating birthdays, engagements and bucks nights – it’s not unusual to find a grown man in a red leotard roaming around. There are two large lawns, one with city views, the other surrounded by palm trees. Each has adequate shade and speakers blasting hits from the ’70s and ’80s or classic rock, depending on the demographic.
For non-members, it’s $10 a head per hour, or you can invest in a $70 social membership and you’ll be, “Very well looked after” according to Dobbin. It includes a free pie pre-bowl and a free barbeque post-bowl and cheaper bar prices. But even so, nothing at the bar exceeds $9.50 and the selection is pretty extensive.
“So many of the younger members come here as an alternative to the pub because it actually is a bargain,” says Dobbin.
Canterbury Road, Middle Park
The Melbourne Bowling Club just celebrated its 151st anniversary, making it the oldest club in Australia. The club’s brush with fame was in 2002 when it was the location for Australian (cult?) film, Crackerjack. It also boasts a very impressive trophy cabinet.
The club is a charming blend of new and old. There’s James Squire golden ale, pale ale and cider on tap, but of course you can also get a pint of Tooheys Old or XXXX Gold.
“It’s nostalgic but current,” says recently appointed club manager Adrian Van Lieshout, previously owner of Parlour diner in Windsor.
For barefoot bowlers it’s $20 a head for two hours. The club also offers an $80 provisional membership, where you and seven friends can bowl for half price and drink at members’ prices. A $30 social membership also gets you members’ bar prices.
“That’s bloody cheaper than those Chapel Street prices,” says vice-president Greg “Rocky” Hogan. If you hang around enough you’ll inevitably adopt a suitable nickname, too. That’s free.
Van Lieshout is trying to give the club some new life. He’s planning to get some regular live music in the venue as well as creating a Monday-night hospitality challenge and tournament between some of the workers and friends of local restaurants.
“We’re trying to bring back that community vibe and reconnect with the neighbourhood so we can change that old view and make it a friendly place again,” says Van Lieshout.
138 Union Street, Windsor
Easter Weekend Opening Hours
Fri to Mon 12pm–8pm
Within Edinburgh Gardens, the club was built in 2001 (pretty recent in comparison to the original clubs with century status) when the Victoria Park and Fitzroy bowls clubs united.
The club has undergone some recent renovations. There’s lush indoor fernery, a section of couches and bar tables and a fresh coat of dark-grey paint.
“We’ve tried to make it look and feel less ‘RSL-y’,” says operations manager Holly Simmons.
Outside there are nine barbeque beer gardens available to hire at $60 for five hours, on top of the rink hire of $150 (up to 10 people). Or it’s $15 a head for two hours (without the barbeque facilities). There’s also an outside marquee bar for hire.
On any regular day you can catch the older members sinking beers and watching sport, but over the weekend there’s a lively scene involving barefoot bowling and beer drinking as well as tournaments (in season).
On Wednesday nights, there’s “Jack Attack”: a competition for the newbie bowlers wanting to take up the sport and learn from the club legends. “It’s kind of like Auskick for lawn bowls,” says Simmons. It’s $15 from 6pm–7.30pm and you also get a bistro meal.
There’s a huge range of bottled beers available, from Little Creatures and Stone and Wood to Budweiser and Samuel Adams. On tap is Coopers, Carlton Draught, Fat Yak and Bulmers and it can even do jugs of sangria using Fog City cider.
Easter Weekend Opening Hours
Closed Good Friday and Easter Monday
Sat & Sun 10am–10pm
“If someone walks in off the street and they’ve never bowled before, then we’ll show them how to,” says Ross Durham, treasurer of Flemington Kensington Bowls Club.
Driving down Racecourse Road heading west, it’s impossible to miss the bright-green synthetic turf – it’s like a neon beacon. The rink is quite small, but wooden tables, bench seats and barbeques circle the ground and make for a relaxed, spectator vibe.
The interior seems from another era: there are doors with yellow stained glass and blue Aztec carpet, which leads through an archway to the bar. To be fair, the club is about to celebrate its 125th birthday.
“The carpet’s been here as long as I have,” says Durham, who’s been a member of the club for 30 years.
The beer selection is impressive. There’s only Carlton Draught on tap, but bottled beers include Sierra Nevada, Moon Dog, Brew Dog, Coopers and Peroni, all priced between $3.50 and $7.
You can’t beat the barefoot-bowling prices here. $10 gets you unlimited bowling, and every Thursday evening the club opens the greens for free.
“It’s our way of providing a community service, by introducing people to bowling,” says Durham.
578 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy North