Just like the blade of a lawnmower rotating clockwise at several thousand rotations per minute, Ken Dunlop’s position as greenskeeper at Powell River Lawn Bowling Club has also come full circle. He started as a bowler in 1947 and worked on the greens from 1949 to 1952, making $125 a month fertilizing, cutting and maintaining the grass for the Powell River Company.
After a 40-year hiatus spent working in the mill and raising his family, he returned to “the highest paid job in town” as a retirement project in 1989. Now, at 85, he can still be found aerating, fertilizing and watering the club’s immaculate turf.
His brother Fred, 82, is no stranger to the club either. As the long-time organizer of local tournaments and special events, he spends long hours each year coordinating teams, booking hotel rooms and cold-calling businesses for prize donations. He began bowling in 1984 and has been overseeing tournaments for 15 years.
The Dunlop brothers are second-generation bowlers, following in the footsteps of their father Alex, an active member of the club from 1941 to his passing in 1991. He bowled all over the world, everywhere from Scotland to San Diego. Rarely did he pack a suitcase without bringing along a set of bowls.
The club will celebrate its 90th birthday this year with a two-day tournament on Wednesday, August 10 and Thursday, August 11. It’s no surprise that Ken and Fred have been very busy in recent weeks and months helping to bring the whole thing together.
“It’s the biggest tournament in BC this year I think, money-wise and prize-wise,” said Fred. “There will be 96 bowlers.” Since November, he has collected $5,200 worth of prizes with first-place honours valued at $1,000.
Jim Aitken, president of BC Bowls, is making a trip up to Powell River for the tournament. “He’s interested and wants to know what’s going on up here,” said Fred. “For him to come here, that’s something. We’ve never had a president come before.”
Fred and the rest of the club take pride in giving their guests the best experience possible. “We treat people right when they come here—we put on a show,” he said. The club often caters lunches and dinners during tournaments and offers a comfortable clubhouse with warm hospitality.
The club’s current membership numbers around 65, coincidentally close to that of the original statistic from when the club first opened in May, 1921. Members have come and gone over the years and around eight or 10 new bowlers appear each year for the annual season, which runs from May to October.
A major factor in the club’s longevity is likely the dedication of members like Fred and Ken who donate their time to the club and the sport. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they’re good at what they do.
“Ken is a first-class greenskeeper,” said Fred. “There’s not many better than him anywhere. They phone him up from Vancouver and [Vancouver Island] to ask him what they should do with their greens.”
The bowlers at the club have quite a reputation as well. Teams have done well over the years, winning gold at BC Seniors’ Games and trophies in various tournaments across the province.
While he looks forward to next week’s tournament, Fred maintains it will be his last as an organizer. He has a couple of keen members lined up to coordinate future events and is confident that a younger group of volunteers will be good for the club.
Fred encouraged younger bowlers to take up the sport as well. “I love to see new bowlers come down. I’ll put the time in for any new bowlers.”
As for facilities, Fred expressed an interest in seeing artificial turf installed on the grounds, out of the earshot of his brother Ken, of course. “It would eliminate all the work,” he said. “All you need is a vacuum cleaner, but it’s about $300,000.
“We’re a non-profit club; the members do all the work around here,” he continued. “Our dues are only $75 a year, the lowest in North America because we do all our own work. Some clubs, they pay guys to cut the grass.”
At the club, the traditional way seems to be working just fine. After 90 years, the turf remains healthy, fast and ready to go, and while lawn maintenance may be a lot of work, they say it’s not easy being green.