Zone 16 faces a devastating disruption to its scheduling for the remainder of 2021, with confirmation the NSW government COVID lockdown is being extended to at least July 30.
With COVID infection rates rising across Greater Sydney, the state government's stay-a-home order was extended another two weeks from July 16, resulting in further pain for clubs and no play for most bowlers within Illawarra Zone 16.
The lockdown does not impact the whole of Zone 16 - Wollongong and Shellharbour LGA's under restrictions - while clubs outside the red zone are not in lockdown.
But many clubs outside the red zone have members living in lockdown areas which has significantly impacted their ability to schedule their own championships or prepare to host upcoming Zone or state events.
The escalation of COVID infection numbers comes after Illawarra Zone 16 was hoping to commence its 2021 Zone Triples championship from this weekend, but the Triples and the rest of the calendar of events for 2021 is in jeopardy.
Given the Zone Triples is not able to commence until at least Saturday, July 31 - and the State Championships scheduled for August 20-29 - time is running out to get Triples finished before the state champs are due to begin.
With a host of Sydney and Central Coast clubs and Zones also in lockdown, Bowls NSW will be in urgent discussions with member Zones about the scheduling of many upcoming state events.
Meanwhile, Zone 16 officials wants all member clubs to advise the Zone how they are placed regarding the scheduling of their Club Major Singles and Major Pairs following a directive from Bowls NSW Ltd. The club champions in Major Singles and Major Pairs are eligible for the Zone Champion of Club Champion Singles and Pairs, with the winner to play in the state event and possibly advance to the Australian finals.
Zone 16 will be praying the lockdown is not extended beyond July 30 and wants clubs to complete their Club Major Singles and Pairs as a priority.
The surge in COVID infections is threatening when Zone 16 clubs can run their championships, with the Zone Champion of Club Champion (COCC) Singles set down for October 16-17 and COCC Pairs the following weekend.
Not only is the pandemic threatening the next month's open-gender State Championships - set down for August 20-29 at Ettalong BC - but the Australian Indoor Men's and Women's Singles at Tweed Heads on August 16-19 must be in doubt.
Windang's Steve Sprod, Towradgi Park's Shane Pascoe, Warilla's Jackaroo star Corey Wedlock and 2021 State Singles champion Ben Twist (St Johns Park) won through to the Men's Australian Indoor Singles main draw.
Another event facing postponement or cancellation due to the extension of the COVID lockdown is the State Over 40s Pairs. The Illawarra/South Coast qualification was due to be held on July 24-25 at Figtree Sports and St Georges Basin Country Club.
Bowls NSW will be informing players and hosting venues about plans for the event as a matter of priority.
The draw was finalised with a top field assembled for the Illawarra qualification including Dapto Citizens' pairing Chris Green and Michael Stead (Dapto Citizens); Jamie Mitchell and Jeremy Henry (Warilla); Paul Luke-Peter McCauley (Dapto Citz); Damien Lateo-Russ Taylor (Towradgi) and Geoff McIntyre-Steve Wills (Kiama).
The event was introduced in 2019 but cancelled due to COVID last year.
Finally, the Illawarra District calendar is also under intense pressure with no date for the 2021 District Mixed Pairs which was called off on July 4.
Some Illawarra District champions for 2021 also still need to play against the champions from the Southern Highlands in order to qualify for the Women's State Championships which is scheduled for August 23-30 at South Tamworth BC.
With changes almost daily due to COVID, bowlers are advised to check with the Zone 16 and Bowls NSW websites for updates.
Australian Open vagaries laid bare
A masked streaker, hundreds of COVID-led late withdrawals and a massive redraw were among the challenges and oddities of the Australian Open on the Gold Coast.
Big time Australian bowls delivered its first streaker with a masked man dashing across the green during the Singles final between Aaron Wilson and Wayne Turley.
The live TV broadcasters downplayed the hilarious incident, though organisers faced more serious challenges just getting the two-week event to the start line.
Officials elected to redraw all disciplines with the impact of the late withdrawals highlighted by the Men's Singles field of 884 players in 221 sections cut to 708 in 177 sections.
It left organisers to cut the prize money from $275,000 to $250,000. In 2019 the Australian Open featured more than 300 overseas bowlers.
Despite the challenges the event was another massive success with Gold Coast to again play host in June 2022.
Kelsey Cottrell was the obvious MVP after winning the Women's Pairs and the Fours.
Natasha Van Eldik won the Women's Singles, while Aaron Wilson won the Men's title.
The Illawarra's standout performance was Balgownie's John Green, who reached the Men's Fours final.
Review looming for state events
The overwhelming approval for the unification of bowls in NSW means all competitions and championships are under review heading into 2022.
Bowling clubs backed Bowls NSW and Women's Bowls NSW to come together, with an agenda to consider state-based competitions, including Pennants.
Eight Zone 16 clubs presently play in a Southern Conference format in Grade 1 Pennants with this year's section winners Warilla and Dapto Citizens qualifying for the 2021 State Finals. Towradgi also qualified by beating Corrimal in the playoff between the sectional runners-up.
There's strong belief from Zone 16 clubs that the Southern Conference system is flawed but there's no widespread popular alternative, with Grade 2 champions Windang indicating they don't want to join the top grade as a ninth team next year. The new Bowls NSW Ltd is looking into all possible scenarios for Pennant comps in NSW in 2022, including a possible statewide competition in the top grade.