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Why Leonie loves lawn bowls

Written by Maryvonne Gray
on April 29, 2024

For the uninitiated, lawn bowls may just look like a bunch of people throwing balls up and down a flat piece of grass.

But for Evelyn Page Retirement Village resident Leonie Wood, it is a game of skill that has brought her 40 years of friendship, camaraderie and many fun-filled experiences and memories.

So much so, that she has dedicated most of the last 20-plus years to umpiring the game. It is her way of giving back, she says, and now she is lending those skills to the upcoming trans-Tasman inter-village Ryman Roll Up.


“The camaraderie I had right at the very beginning… I love sports and the sociability and friendship I got from it, but through bowls it was different,” says Leonie.

“I had played golf and tennis but I felt the camaraderie in bowls was closer or better, there was just more of it, perhaps because you’re together all day whereas tennis and golf are more of an individual game.

“But that’s why I do umpiring because that’s my way of giving back to the sport I have had pleasure from for 40 years.”

Another perception people have of bowls is that there are a lot of overly strict rules around the game, but Leonie says that is a thing of the past.

“Women couldn’t wear trousers or shorts and your dress had to be mid-calf. There was even a sawhorse that you would have to stand next to in order to check the length of your hem!” laughs Leonie.

Other compulsory rules included wearing white, and wearing a hat which had to have the headband of the club you were representing.

“If you didn’t have that you weren’t allowed to play,” she says.

Mixed roll-ups, ie playing with men, were a rarity back then too.

“Women had to play different days to the men, and some clubs and grounds were for women only.”

Leonie worked full time and couldn’t make the daytime club roll-ups, however she would take time off to play in competitions and found she took to it ‘like a duck to water’.

Despite her obvious talent, her club would not promote her because she couldn’t attend club roll-ups and at that time people weren’t allowed to play above their grading.

“I had won my first year singles and junior singles but they wouldn’t promote me.

“In the end, through a friend I knew from Rotary, I was invited to join a team of three with another club and we had an absolute ball.

“We thoroughly enjoyed our bowls and each other’s company, and we went to the Nationals one year when it was in Hamilton.

“Those were the best years of my bowling,” Leonie says.

Leonie helps to organise the bowls roll-ups and competitions at Evelyn Page, and is constantly on the lookout for new players, while juggling commitments with her local club in Ōrewa.

IMG_9988 (Large)The village is currently playing for the Allan Tong Founders Bowl trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the triples tournament.

The distinctive trophy is made from a broken bowl which once belonged to long term resident Allan Tong’s father, also named Allan Tong, and a legend in the game of bowls.

In the meantime, she has been able to offer her umpiring skills to the Ryman Roll Up, with regional playoffs beginning next week.

Umpires are not there as enforcers, says Leonie, more to use their training to advise on unusual circumstances, such as if a bowl hits someone’s foot, or to properly measure boundaries, the length of the jack throw, or the distance between bowls, which can determine the outcome of a game.

“A good umpire is someone who can assist people to enjoy the game, making it fair to all players without being too ‘officious’ in the rules department, especially when umpiring with new bowlers.”

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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