Other than the location, little has changed about the Lawn Bowls Club of Clearwater since it was founded in 1924.
The bowls, or balls, are now made of plastic rather than lignum vitae, a hardwood used in bowls of days gone by. And a special rod, called an arm, now enables older bowlers to roll a bowl without over-extending aching knees and backs.
But in a spacious facility off Calumet Street, where the club relocated in 1963, bowlers still play on treated clay courts following the rules of old.
Those drawn to lawn bowling through the decades seem like-minded on the attractions of the game: the camaraderie of the group, the challenges of learning a new sport, and that bowlers can continue to play into old age.
The Clearwater club, though, is struggling to keep going. With a dwindling membership, paying the monthly bills is a challenge.
The good news, said board member Ron Ridley, is that the city of Clearwater allows the club to use the city-owned facility rent-free. The property includes more than 29,000 square feet of courts, or greens, divided into two sets of rinks, or lanes. Also part of the compound is a large clubhouse and two kitchens.
The club's responsibility is to keep the property maintained, which costs about $567 a month. The club also must water the greens and pay for domestic water inside the clubhouse, waste disposal and electricity.
"In 2009, we installed a well to save money," said club treasurer Roy McCartney. "We pay about $4,500 a year for storm run-off."
The diminishing membership is problematic. At one time, the club had about 400 annual members. Today, 45 men and women paying annual dues of $185 provide the chief source of income.
A few other sources of revenue help, including part-time memberships and invitational tournaments.
"We have about 100 bowlers," said McCartney, "but that number includes monthly members and daily members who come periodically and pay $8 to bowl 14 rounds."
About six times a year, the Clearwater club sponsors invitational tournaments, with teams coming from clubs in St. Petersburg, Sun City Center, Sarasota, Lakeland and Mount Dora. About 16 teams participate each time, paying $45 a team. Prize money comes out of that revenue, with the remainder proceeds for the club.
Despite these various sources of income, the club still struggles to meet its monthly bills.
What do to? The 45 members, who range in age from 60 to 90, do not want to see their favorite activity disappear. Trevor Colby, past club president, said the answer is to attract younger members who also might enjoy the sport.
"For less than $4 a week, you get it all," he said. "There's a physical aspect, mental challenge and an opportunity to socialize."
The group is working on ways to bring others in. Currently, the rinks are open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until noon.
"If we got any interest from younger people," McCartney said, "we could open Saturdays, Sundays and evenings."
Members hope to convince potential bowlers that the game is not just an easy activity for old people. It has strategies involving techniques for rolling and spinning the bowl. It entails learning a new vocabulary, including "jack," the small white ball used as a target for the bowls to reach, and "hog line," the special side markers that indicate the minimum line beyond which the jack must be rolled.
The game also involves teamwork. Participants bowl on teams of two, three or four. Tournaments, where bowlers wear white or their team colors, are numerous throughout the year. One wall in the clubhouse features the portraits of Hall of Fame bowlers through the decades.
Bruce Miller, who has been bowling for 18 years, said he was inspired by his late father, Bill Miller, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the mid 1970s. Bruce also went to a championship game in 2006. He's admittedly hooked on the game.
"It's a good friendly sport that you can play from 10 to 100," he said. "It is social and competitive."
Correspondent Elaine Markowitz can be reached at [email protected]