Building bowls in Sunbury

Club Sunbury general manager Andrew Breeden-Walton (left) and bowls director Marc Bullows with the club's Bowls Australia Club of the Year award. (Damjan Janevski)

By Oliver Lees

In 2018, Club Sunbury embarked on a six-and-a-half-year plan to upgrade its facilities and programs to a world class standard.

“A few years ago some of the board’s directors travelled to Queensland and they saw a couple of greens that had roofs over the top of them,” Club Sunbury general manager Andrew Breeden-Walton said.

“They saw the upside of people there enjoying their bowls, and so we thought we could do this in Victoria, at Club Sunbury.”

Three years on, the club’s vision has been validated.

At a virtual ceremony held earlier this week, Club Sunbury was announced as the Club of the Year at Bowls Australia’s annual awards night.

Speaking at the ceremony, Bowls Australia chief executive Neil Dalrymple said the accolade was a fitting reward for a club that has worked hard to promote the sport.

“They’ve been an amazing club in terms of what they’ve achieved in a relatively short period of time,” he said.

“I think it all comes back to good governance, and they’ve got a vision for the club in the future.

“What they’ve done with their facilities in general is extraordinary, it’s a great palace to visit.”

Those facilities include a new roofed bowling green, which marked the completion of the first stage of the club’s masterplan.

The club also intends to upgrade its bistro, gaming and social areas by 2024.

As the club’s general manager since 2016, Mr Breeden-Walton has seen firsthand how the club has improved its community engagement.

In the past three years the club has grown its base of social members from 700 to nearly 3000, while also doubling its number of bowling members.

Mr Breeden-Walton said part of the strategy was to encourage more kids to get on the green.

“We’ve got junior supporter packages which come with a cap, a shirt and a bag,” he said.

“There’s also seven or eight primary and secondary schools that we work with, some are close enough to walk to.

“They come and we teach them how to bowl. We’ve even had Schools Sports Victoria hold their state champions here for lawn bowls.”

Club Sunbury has also created a Bowling with Babies program, where mothers can have a game and bring their kids.

Other initiatives include the Jr. Jack Attack bowls program and Rock n Bowl, all of which are designed to get more people into the sport.

Club Sunbury is also set to showcase its talents to a national audience, when it’s team features in Australia’s premier lawn bowls event next year.

Under the banner of Melbourne Extreme, Club Sunbury will field a star-studded triples side in the Bowls Premier League (BPL).

The competition was supposed to kick off in August but was delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The BPL format is much faster than a typical bowls contest, with a 30-second shot clock to keep the game moving along and the audience engaged.

Mr Breeden-Walton said he was looking forward to everything the club has to come in the future.

“From my perspective, the support the club has received from staff and members is second to none, we couldn’t achieve an award like this without the staff, community and member support,” he said.

“It’s a club award [and] there’s hundreds of people celebrating it. I am here at the moment as the general manager, but I am just a custodian. Everyone else, they make up the fabric of the club.”