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Lawn Bowling and Croquet - A National Model For Dual Use

by Ross Robinson, Croquet Canada

Secondary tenancy is the key factor in the sweeping success of shared lawn use in Canada.

In the spring of 1990, croquet players and lawn bowlers came together for an historic demonstration of croquet at the Glenridge Lawn Bowling Club in St. Catarines, Ontario. Proposals for such a demonstration had often been made in Canada and the U.S. at other bowling sites, usually to be declined. But president Lou Tomas and his bowling colleagues were open-minded and willing to give the enthusiastic members of the Royal St. Catharines Croquet Club a chance to prove a point.

The point is, of course, that croquet is not damanging to the greens. We proved our point on the Glenridge greens. Our wicket-holes (using Foxy wickets) were insignificant; every shot was tried and repeated, leaving no trace of damage: roquets, croquets, pass rolls, thin and thick take-offs, wicket strokes. Incredibly, even the feared jump shot - a four-foot beauty that sailed over another ball and through the hoop - left not the slightest mark on the perfectly manicured turf.

Soon after, a very non-threatening agreement was negotiated between the lawn bowlers and the croquet players for a probationary period of shared use. If the courts were being damaged, the bowlers had the right to terminate the croquet at any time. Under the agreement, a fair fee was paid by each croquet player, and now, three enjoyable seasons later, it is obvious that this has indeed been a WIN/WIN partnership.

News of the success of this partnership has made it easier for other fledgling croquet organizations to present their cases to established lawn bowling clubs in other parts of the country. At this writing, nine Canadian croquet clubs have become secondary tenants at lawn bowling clubs.

From Westmount in Montreal to West Point Grey in Vancouver, perfectly manicured greens are seeing more activity, club treasurers' stress levels have been relieved, and passersby see more action. There has yet to have been an unpleasant occurrence, as atheletes practicing both sports coordinate their schedules to accommodate each other, while both lawn bowling and croquet clubs enjoy the financial and other benefits of efficient, dual use of fine greens and supporting facilities.

Due to Canada's historical relationship with England, the sport of lawn bowling has a strong presence in almost every Canadian population center. The lawns are almost without exception flat, well tended, and under-utilized. (The same is true of many bowling lawns in the United States.) If you looked for an appropriate activity to expand use and increase financial inflow, you could never find a better fit than croquet.

The main impediment is always the same: Resistance to change. In most cases these wonderful greens have been used exclusively by lawn bowlers for many generations. Seeing croquet or any other activity on them is, understandably, emotionally stressful for bowlers steeped in the gracious traditions of their sport. But if the benefits of shared use with croquet players can be demonstrated, the WIN/WIN nature of the partnership soon becomes evident.

(Incidentally, we may anticipate cases in the future where lawn bowlers will approach croquet clubs to propose dual-use arrangements on greens previously used only by croquet players; and to those lawn bowlers, we would recommend the same tactics we suggest for croquet organizers.)

I propose these general guidelines for organizers contemplating shared-use agreements:

FOLLOW PROTOCOL AND USE GOOD SALESMANSHIP.
The lawn bowling club's executive must be scouted to find an open-minded person who will at least listen to your story. Ideally, this person will be the current president. Never, never approach the head of the greenskeeping committee! This person jealously guards the turf from even the remote possibility of the smallest scar.

ARRANGE A MEETING, IN A NON-THREATENING MANNER,
between representatives of the two clubs' governing boards. Cite specific examples of shared-use arrangements in the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada.

EMPHASIZE THE SECONDARY TENANCY ASPECT
of your proposed agreement. Make it clear that the bowling club will set their own playing schedules as the first priority, and the croquet activity will be planned to fit into that schedule without conflict. In most cases, bowlers establish regular and limited periods during each week for gathering and playing bowls. Typically, there would be plenty of hours available for croquet without having to propose any change in the traditional bowling schedule.

MAKE A VIRTUE OF THE INCREASED ACTIVITY LEVEL
on the lawns and at the club as a boon to the club and to both sports. Point out that bowlers and croquet players seem to get along very well wherever they share greens and clubhouse facilities.

SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDE USE OF THE CLUBHOUSE
from consideration if it becomes a negative in the negotiations and if clubhouse use is not an essential element for your croquet players.

GIVE A 15-MINUTE DEMONSTRATION ON THE LAWN
of all the shots used in croquet and of wicket and stake placement. The demonstration should be lively and light and address all concerns of the bowlers. The bowlers should be left with the understanding that croquet players fully share their respect for the grass and the need to preserve a perfect playing surface.

After the initial demonstration, the bowlers will want to present the shared-use concept to their membership. If the general membership has no opportunity to view your demonstration, it is likely they will reject your proposal. So it is essential that you propose another demonstration for the entire lawn bowling membership. In this second critical demonstration, the utmost skill in diplomacy and salesmanship will be required to overcome the understandable resistance to change, and to create an environment in which your many positive statements can be fairly heard and understood.

Finally, assuming everything goes as well as it should, there will be a meeting to detail the agreements between the two clubs. An agreement which acknowledges the primacy of the lawn bowlers by allowing croquet under a secondary tenancy is most likely to appeal to the dominant group.

The main benefits to the lawn bowling clubs for instituting such agreements as primary tenants are:

INCREASED REVENUES.
Every dollar realized from croquet is welcome "found money." Many lawn bowling clubs are in tight financial straits.

INCREASED ACTIVITY.
Club members and passers-by see more people using the lawns during more hours. If the facility is funded by public tax dollars, the benefit of more and broader appropriate public use is obvious. Furthermore, if vandalism is a problem, the increased activity provides an effective deterrent.

MORE VOLUNTEERS.
Maintaining bent grass lawns requries much work. The more volunteers, the better.

In general, the approach to shared-use negotiations I have suggested here and which have been most successful in Canada is tailored to cases where lawn bowlers own or manage their own private greens and clubhouse. But even where lawn bowlers use greens exclusively which they do not own or manage - in public parks, for example - the public commissions or other decision-makers might also welcome the opportunity to propose arrangements that would not threaten a local lawn bowling establishment accustomed to ruling their own little kingdom of lawns.

In every case I have witnessed, all the practical and rational arguments are on the side of shared use of greens for lawn bowling and croquet. For croquet organizers, there is only one issue to resolve, and it is a big one: resistance to change.

(The preceding article was originally printed, in slightly different form, in Volume One of the Croquet Foundation of America's MONOGRAPH SERIES ON CLUB BUILDING, ORGANIZATION AND MANAGMENT, available by order from the USCA.)

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