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Horsham Bowling Club: Short Mat Season

Short Mat Bowls at Horsham Bowling Club

Published on 1st January 2020


There’s an enlarged photo on the wall of Horsham Bowling Club, with Chairman George B. Simpson rolling the first wood on 17 May 1906. Back then, the club was based at the Bishopric, where it would remain for more than a century.  It was a men-only club, with a limited number of ladies permitted to join in 1926 before eventually being given equal status in 1986. 

In 2015, the Waitrose and John Lewis development forced the club to seek a new home. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as an ideal location was found next to Tythe Barn on Pondtail Road, where the club has gone from strength to strength. 

Mike Wilson, Membership Secretary, said: “The founders of the club had the foresight to buy the Bishopric land. More than 100 years later, that allowed us to purchase the new site. Some long-serving members didn't necessarily want to move but we had little choice and it was a matter of securing the best deal. There was just a derelict green on the new site but we transformed it with a purpose-built clubhouse and one of the best bowling greens in the County. From us having a clubhouse with no heating that was only open in the summer months, we now have a facility open all year, which people from clubs across the region love coming to.”

Short Mat Season

The modern new facility has attracted new members drawn to Horsham for the quality of its playing green and clubhouse. However, perhaps the biggest draw is that it allows members the chance to play during the winter months. While the outdoor green isn’t covered, the clubhouse was deliberately designed to accommodate three short mat bowling rinks. What started as a trial has grown beyond expectation, creating an influx of new players, particularly from the local Holbrook area. 

Mike, who is also Short Mat Bowls Captain, said: “Short mat is very different to bowling on the green. The woods are the same size but the mats are much shorter, so it’s difficult to play aggressive shots. There is a block of wood in the centre that players need to avoid, but you can’t bowl too far wide otherwise the wood goes off the mat. So, you need woods with less bias than those you would use outdoors. But still, the aim is to get closest to the jack and it’s a great game where the competition element is still important.” 

Even Playing Field 

In mid-April, the mats are put away and there is more space for tables and chairs, as the doors to the outdoor green open-up until October. During the green season, the club plays about 70 friendly matches as mixed, ladies and men’s teams. The ladies play in the Nellie Mercer League and the men play in the Surrey/Sussex Border League. Key fixtures for the men include matches against Worthing Pavilion for the Friendship Cup, whilst the mixed fixture against Marine Gardens Worthing for the Centenary Bowl and the match against Horsham Park for the Town Challenge Trophy are important too. Men and ladies participate individually in County competitions and represent the club in County Club competitions too. 

For the first time, the overall Club Captain is one of the ladies, Irene Gettins, who was encouraged to join after visiting the new venue shortly after opening. “Bowling is one of the few sports where the skill level between men and women is negligible. That’s why it’s so popular with couples, as they can compete on an even playing field. We have three ladies who have their County badge.” 

“One of the many good things about this club is the variety of competition. You can just play friendlies or internal matches, or you can play against other clubs, which can be more formal and competitive. We also have leagues designed to develop the skills of new players, so you can learn from more experienced members. The whole idea is that people enjoy their time here and don’t feel intimidated.” Social Scene
Offering short-mat bowling has not only improved the social side of the club; it has boosted finances by generating revenue throughout the year. This means it can afford the upkeep of the outdoor green. 

People can join as outdoor or short-mat members, but most like to do both. The club also has social membership, for those who enjoy the camaraderie and friendship but can’t or do not wish to play. The clubhouse is open every day for members, with friendly matches, league fixtures and competitions held throughout the week. There is also a weekly social evening with hot food and a quiz. 

For Ali Hilton-Childs, Secretary, the game has helped her stay active in retirement. “I am here most days and my husband is also a member. I enjoy playing golf as well and suppose joining the bowling club was partly about planning for whatever may happen in future. That sounds awful, but as I get older, I know there is a wonderful community that will always be here for me.” 

“I’m competitive too, so that element is catered for. So, with the social and competition sides of the club, it fulfils what I need. The club can provide for whatever sort of person you are, whether you just want to enjoy yourself by doing something new or want to be competitive. And what’s really nice is that I can have a drink and walk home afterwards!”

Horsham Bowling Club is always happy to meet new bowlers and anyone thinking about taking up bowls or short mat bowls can get in touch to arrange a visit. Email: info@horsham-bowling-club.co.uk or visit  www.horsham-bowling-club.co.uk