Eirias Park has made a name for itself in recent years hosting elite performers, rugby fixtures and concerts. One event attracting elite competitors you may not be aware of, however, is the Colwyn Bay Bowls Festival. Colwyn Bay has hosted an annual Bowling festival for over 30 years attracting some of the top bowls players in the country to North Wales.
Bowls is a simple sport in which two players compete by rolling bowls (weighted plastic balls) towards a jack (a smaller target ball). The player with the closest ball to the jack wins a point (or two if both balls are closer than the opponent’s) until one player reaches 21 points. Crown green bowling, as is played in the Colwyn Bay festival is called this as the green (the pitch it is played on) has a crown and falls away at the edges of the playing surface.
Christine Blake, a volunteer at Eirias Park Bowling Club who host the event has been playing for over 10 years was keen to stress the positives of the sport. “Bowls is a brilliants sport, good for you physically and mentally and we play rain or shine.” “We have players of all ages, even a gentleman who is 95 playing on Tuesday nights.”
A clear attraction to the players of the sport is the social element. Many of the players and spectators at the festival are members of bowling clubs across the country and enjoy meeting up and seeing familiar faces competition to competition. Steve and Dave Baskerville have been playing the game since they were young thanks to their father and have enjoyed making the annual trip to the North Wales coast from Manchester for the past 30 years.
The event has attracted some of the top bowlers from around the country, including 24-year-old Greg Smith, winner of the prestigious Waterloo bowling tournament in 2015. Smith was knocked out of the George Davies trophy (the main event with a £500 winning prize) by 2008 winner Andy Cairns, but got revenge in the semi final of the Capstan Cup, open to visitors to the area. This year is Smith’s first time in Colwyn Bay, “it’s a lovely set up, we’ve heard it’s a nice area, but it is a bit of shame, I heard a few years ago there were 256 entrants to the main event, whereas now it’s 64 or maybe just over which hopefully they can advertise it a bit more and get it back up there as a real big event.”
On preparing for the Capstan final, against Kevin Wainwright, Smith said “I know a little bit about his game so I’ll try and work up a game plan in my head. I’ll look to get on with and whatever happens, happens.” Asked if he would look to return to the event Smith said “definitely, we’ve enjoyed the week….I just hope they advertise it more and we’ll tell our friends in Birmingham how good it’s been and they can come over and have a go.”
Smith’s thoughts regarding the entrance numbers were echoed by other players and organisers. The event is run by Linda Hughes on behalf of the Conwy Borough Council and brings visitors from across the country to Conwy in the hopes of winning the main prize, handed out annually since 1931. The number of entrants to this year’s event was so poor that the event was nearly cancelled altogether, but fortunately rush of entrants allowed bowls returned to Colwyn Bay for another year, and with it tourism.
The future of the sport as a whole was the subject of conversation amongst spectators and competitors. Bowls is seen very much as an old person’s sports, and whilst there were several elderly participants and spectators, there was also a 16-year-old competitor not to mention the 24-year-old Greg Smith who started playing at the age of five. Clubs in the North Wales region have been keen to recruit primary school aged children into their junior ranks, and Penrhyn Old Hall is able to boast around 20 such youngsters. The promotion of bowls as a mixed gender, mixed ability sport will doubtless do wonders for the broader appeal of the sport. Gareth Hughes and the Baskervilles brothers were positive about the sport’s future in a social context, even if the competitive scene doesn’t get the attention of other sports.
1981 winner of the George Davies trophy, Gareth Hughes now a volunteer and coordinator of the event were impressed by the standard of the greens for this year’s competition, thanks to the work of the dedicated groundsman employed as a result of the Rygbi Gogledd Cymru project at Eirias Park. The transformation of Eirias Park into a top class venue continues as there are plans to renovate the bowling greens, installing an all weather bowls pitch with floodlights in place of Green 2, which could help the popularity of the sport. Along with improvements to the playing surfaces and surrounding amenities, the increasing affordability of the bowls themselves should aid in the promotion of the sport.
A special part of the Festival and a crowd favourite is the annual Craig Roberts Memorial Invitation which will be held on Thursday 3rd August at 6 pm in Rhos on Sea. The invitational tournament sees 8 of the best bowlers from across England face off for a prize pool of 700 pounds with all proceeds going to charity, with the event posted on the BlueBorderSports youtube channel. Greg Smith is “looking forward to it, it’s a top class field,” he continued “I’m going to have to play well if I’m going to win that.” Smith faces off against highly ranked Gary Ellis in his quarter final.
The finals day and culmination of the week long festival takes place on Friday 4th August at the Eirias Park Bowling Club. Up for grabs are the Ladies Colwyn Rose Bowl, Juniors, Mixed Pairs, Capstan Challenge and the main event the George Davies trophy. Organisers and spectators are hopeful of a good turnout for the finals day, and if Thursday’s play was anything to go by the crowds will be in for exciting and high-quality bowling action.
The Colwyn Bay bowling festival was once a big tourist draw to the North Welsh coastal town and can be once again. For the council this is the ultimate goal of the festival, and with the likes of Greg Smith, Kevin Wainwright, Andy Cairns and the Baskerville brothers all playing high quality bowls proper promotion of the events and perhaps streaming footage of matches online could bring the crowds back to the Colwyn Bay Festival and even inspire some youngsters to pick up the sport and maybe have their name etched on the famous George Davies trophy.
Council support of the festival is good, but a more mainstream promotion of the event could go a long way to taking the Colwyn Bay festival to the pinnacle of Crown Green Bowls in Great Britain.