Club Life | Branksome Park BC

9th December, 2021 by Ellen McLaughlin

Club Life | Branksome Park BC

In the second of our new series, the Bowls England team visited Branksome Park BC in Poole, Dorset. We met with the 2021 Men’s Senior Pairs winners James Garner and Stuart Stephens to discuss how finding bowls reignited their competitive spirit. 

Branksome Park BC is one of the most beautiful located greens in England.

The club, in Poole, Dorset, is set amongst some of the most exclusive property addresses in the country.

Arriving at the club, James and Stuart welcomed us with great warmth and it was clear that both men have an innate pride in their club. “Branksome Park is a special place to play the game.”

Stuart went on. “Our matches are always well attended and the quality of bowls here is fantastic, both for a participant and a spectator.”

As our discussions began, it was evident how both James and Stuart project a real passion for the sport. Both followed similar sporting paths, and this formed a significant part of their lives in different ways and at different levels.

James explained. “Whilst working in Germany, I played football to a high level, playing three or four levels below the Bundesliga 2.” Stuart, on the other hand, described how “I’ve played sport all my life; rugby, football, cricket, basketball and I’ve always been competitive”.

Injury sadly impacted them both in different ways and in 1981, whilst playing football, Stuart suffered a broken nose and a concussion.

This resulted in him retiring from the game and induced a 10-day lay-off from work.

James suffered several injuries and eventually conceded that he “was too old to play football.”

Despite their injuries, James and Stuart still wanted to keep active and reignite their competitive spirit.

This is when they were both introduced to the game of bowls.

Both confessed to having had a healthy scepticism before playing the game; mainly as to the degree of sporting prowess required to play.

They learned the game individually, and their attitude towards the sport quickly changed.

“A friend of mine rang me, asking me if I would like to play a game of bowls.” Stuart, who was 32 at the time, responded, “you’re laughing, that’s an old man’s game”.

James found the sport later on in life, at the age of 43. He described finding bowls “as a pure accident! It was my father-in-law who pushed me to play.”

He wanted a sport that filled his need to still be competitive but he never believed that bowls would turn out to be just that sport.

Having been coaxed down to the rink, Stuart recalls how he felt when he picked up a bowl for the first time. “I immediately developed a real love for the game!”

He continued by saying “the game, to my delight, was simple but challenging, and I was hooked.”

They both discovered how the sport offered a real competitive element – and this was just the start of their story.

James commented “bowls took me on a journey and filled my need to be competitive,” whilst Stuart added “bowls is up there with one of the best sports I have ever played.”

Discussing the comparisons between bowls and the previous sports played by both men. James spoke on the similarities to football, saying how bowls can become a real team sport when tactics and playing with others come into it. “The game pushes you into a real tactical battle.”

James was recognised as “the best lead-in Dorset” – courtesy of Stuart! – but he wanted to play back-end, which Branksome offered him.

He quickly joined the club, where he met Stuart for the first time.

Stuart spoke on how their partnership formed, saying that “James and I had only recently joined Branksome, so we both needed a partner.”

“It was just so out of the blue, we asked each other if we fancied entering as a pair into the National Finals, we both agreed and that’s where our journey began.”

James commented on how, “at the Nationals, it was the very first time we had ever played pairs together!” They secured the Men’s Senior Pairs title, beating Howard Watts and Raymond Gaskins from Oxfordshire.

Stuart reflected on their title win and recalled saying to James following a successful Friday session at Leamington, “our names are on this trophy!”

“Winning the title at the home of bowls means everything to the both of us.”

James said, “it was the stuff of dreams; Stuart and I had the rub of the green all tournament long.”

Stuart recalled in the Semi-Finals that his teammate was encouraging him on. “James said to me, Stuart your attitude has been superb.”

“We were 10-2 down after 6 ends but by keeping a positive approach, our attitude allowed us to come back and win by 5.”

The relaxed approach adopted by the pair was a major positive that aided their quest to secure the title.

The overriding emotions from spending time with this engaging pair were passion, respect, enjoyment, and a positive attitude – which both men have in abundance.

The main takeaway, however, is that, despite early scepticism of the sport, this was soon replaced with a real passion and a desire from these two bowling converts.

They want to promote the game to others and encourage people from all generations and backgrounds to get involved – and think entering National Competitions, whatever your ability, is a great way to get competitive, have some fun with friends and maybe, just maybe, dream of emulating their success in the first year of playing together.

Two men who may have seemed improbable converts to the game have now evolved into National Final winners.

They have built their abilities over years and have earned well-deserved success.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Stuart & James, and discover the gem that is Branksome BC.

National Competition entries are now open for 2022! If you enter before 5pm on December 17th, you will receive a discounted entry price. National Competitions are a great way to get competitive – find a competition that suits you now! Enter Now!

Watch the Club Life | Branksome Park Bowls Club video here

We hope you are enjoying our new series Club Life. If you feel your club has a great story we should feature, let us know by contacting katy.shilladay@bowlsengland.com

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