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ACT bowling clubs search for ways to survive

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Optimism remains that bowls will remain part of the ACT's sporting scene, writes David Polkinghorne.

The future of lawn bowls in the capital is in jeopardy.

The future of lawn bowls in the capital is in jeopardy. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The future of lawn bowls in the ACT is heavily reliant on licensed clubs, which have mixed views of the code's prospects.

One predicts the death of the sport if it does not adapt to the modern world, while, in contrast, another says it is an essential part of its long-term business plan.

Southern Cross and South Canberra clubs have closed in recent years and the Hellenic Club has forecast it will shut its West Deakin club next year.

The Vikings Group, which controls the Tuggeranong Valley club, said it would be letting down its members if it didn't consider more profitable ways to use the club land.

In stark contrast, the Ainslie Group is looking to a long-term future with bowls by moving its Canberra City Bowling Club to its golf course in Gungahlin.

Partnerships between lawn bowls and licensed clubs are common in the ACT. West Deakin Hellenic and Weston Creek bowling clubs are also involved with licensed clubs.

Vikings Group chief executive Anthony Hill forecast there could be more closures if the game didn't adapt.

He says the increasing costs of maintaining greens and declining participation are the biggest threats to bowls.

Hill said the group's relationship with the bowls club was ''strong'', but added the value of the land would always be tempting for licensed clubs.

''If I was to crystal-ball gaze and make a call on the future of bowls, I would suggest it will not survive unless it evolves and reverses the trend of ageing and declining membership,'' he said.

''We are working with our bowling club to do this.

''However, if the financial and regulatory landscape we work in does not improve, it would be negligent of clubs not to consider their wider membership and investigate alternative uses for their parcels of land.''

Ainslie Group president Malcolm Scholes said it was committed to the game and only looking to move Canberra City, not close it. He wasn't sure what the time frame would be, depending on whether it developed the land or sold it to a developer.

But he confirmed Gungahlin was the preferred location, a view shared by the ACT government.

''We're not getting rid of bowls at all, it's a core part of our constitutional objective now,'' Scholes said.

''A lot of clubs are just walking away because they don't see a future for it, whereas we do.''

Bowls ACT president Kevin Antoine also reckoned the future of bowls was bright.

He said the organisation was looking to turn around declining membership and he was confident bowls would continue in the ACT.

Antoine said the governing body had been working towards a club in the growing Gungahlin area for five years but the start-up costs would be too great.

He said relationships between lawn bowls and licensed clubs could continue, but the bowls clubs needed to lift their games. Popular social aspects of the sport - such as barefoot bowls - could be more heavily promoted.

''It's up to bowling clubs to ensure that they've got the viability within themselves,'' Antoine said.

''The importance of them having barefoot bowls, they've got to develop that side of it.

''To do that, they've got to have a dedicated person to organise that, and unfortunately a lot of the clubs don't have that.''

ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr, who is also the Bowls ACT patron, said the government could not prop up bowls clubs that weren't viable, but he was confident the game would not die out.

He said how many facilities remained would be ''determined by the number of bowlers''.

''The issue more broadly is are they in the right locations?'' Barr said.

''We need some facilities in Gungahlin and we're probably over-catered in the inner north.

''Past models aren't as viable as they once were, so new models might well be needed.''

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