Bowls is back in the Illawarra with Albion Park Bowling Club among the first clubs to welcome members back for roll-ups and practice this week.
Two months after Illawarra bowls clubs shut due to the Coronavirus there was excitement and smiles from Albion Park members as they returned to the green and the sport they love.
''It's great to be back,'' said Vicki Atkinson, who with husband Les were among the first group of 10 bowlers to enjoy a roll-up on Monday morning.
''For me personally bowls is relaxation and a great activity since retiring. It's good to see people happy and having fun again.''
Vicki Atkinson is among six female bowlers at Albion Park who play in the men's Zone 16 pennants competition, which was suspended after just three rounds.
The Atkinsons play together in Grade 7 and joined the Park after Dapto Huntley closed a couple of years ago.
''To have a roll-up is just the first step but it's nice to be back,'' Les Atkinson said.
''Hopefully all the bowls clubs can reopen soon, as businesses as well as for the bowls.
"This is just the start of getting our sport back again.
''People have lost their jobs and everyone is doing it tough at the moment so to be able to come here and have a roll-up feels pretty good.''
The provision for roll-ups was approved by Bowls NSW and Women's Bowls NSW a couple of weeks ago following a loosening of the Government lockdown restrictions.
The restrictions still permit no more than 10 players on the green with an empty rink between rinks.
At Albion Park this week staff are laying out the playing mats and jacks, with a jack at either end.
Sanitisers were available with bowlers encouraged to use them.
While Albion Park BC has taken the lead in welcoming members back for non-competitive bowls, most Zone 16 bowls clubs remain closed.
For many it is still not financially viable to open for even practice sessions given they are operating with virtually no staff for the time-being.
But the return of roll-ups is still a huge positive for bowls in general, as clubs fight back from the biggest crisis to hit the sport.
Zone 16 expect all its member clubs to survive the COVID-19 crisis, though many were doing it tough before the pandemic struck and the extended time closed has only heaped more pressure on them financially.
Another major stage in the loosening of the lockdown restrictions is allowing clubs to cater for up to 100 patrons which should be a catalyst for more local clubs to reopen.
But for the time being the simple exercise of roll-ups and practice time is providing hope that the new normal in bowls at all levels is not too far away.
Impressive roll-up numbers
Albion Park bowls coordinator Brett Pieper is rapt with the response from members taking up the offer of free roll-ups, with good numbers returning to the green for the first time in two months.
Pieper expects more than 70 members this week to enjoy practice time on a Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in one-hour blocks from 10am to 3pm.
The roll-ups will remain free and ongoing for all male and female players. Booking is essential through Brett Pieper (0400344117), with priority given to Albion Park's 170 bowling members.
''We weren't sure what the response would be, but it's been very positive,'' Pieper said.
''You can come down as a single bowler, or play in pairs and with social distancing in place it's a safe and enjoyable way to finally get back on the green.''
The club's bistro has also reopened for dining from Wednesday to Saturday.
Government restrictions mean no more than 10 patrons are allowed to dine at the same time, with the club holding two sittings - 5pm-6.30pm and 6.30pm to 8pm.
Pieper hopes the next step on the return to bowls is for clubs to be cleared to conduct their own club championships for 2020.
Hayman's plans left on hold
Fairy Meadow junior Dawn Hayman has had her plans to chase the World Singles Champion of Champions title put on hold at least with the event cancelled for late October in Adelaide.
The international event is the latest marquee tournament to be called off due to the coronavirus and follows the 2020 World Championships, Australian Open and Australian Indoor Singles among leading events wiped out by the COVID pandemic.
Hayman and Cabramatta star Ray Pearse are the reigning Australian Singles Champion of Champions from 2019 and while they have not been confirmed starters for a 2021 event it would seem unfair if they weren't playing at the next instalment of the event.
World Bowls are currently considering the qualification for the tournament.
Hayman was among the form players in Australian bowls in 2019, winning the Australian Open Pairs crown with Genevieve Delves.
The 22-year-old made her international debut at the 2019 Multi Nations event on the Gold Coast; helping Australia to be overall women's champions, while winning a bronze medal in Pairs and Silver in the Fours.
Hayman plays for the St Johns Park club in Sydney.