In 1886 the first New Zealand Bowling Association was formed, comprising the 12 clubs then in existence, Dunedin, Roslyn (Dunedin), Invercargill, Caledonian (Dunedin), Balclutha, Auckland, Lawrence, Christchurch, Oamaru, Milton, Canterbury, and New Plymouth. The Governor of New Zealand, Sir William Jervois, consented to become the patron of the association and, in spite of the vast distances between the affiliated clubs, they competed for six medals. A constitution was drawn up by the committee and approved by the clubs and, for the first time, “rules of the game” were considered and agreed upon. In order to “further the influence of the association”, a national tournament was held in Dunedin in the same year, the entrance fees being devoted to the purchase of a prize for the winning club. This tournament was confined to teams of four or “rinks”, as they were then called, and entries were received from nine of the 12 clubs, a total of 28 fours. The Dunedin, Caledonian, and Roslyn greens were used, the whole tournament being completed in one day.
At an Easter tournament held in Wellington in 1890 under the auspices of the Wellington club, the question of the formation of a bowling association for the North Island bowlers was discussed. It was decided to form the Northern Bowling Association of New Zealand, with its headquarters in Wellington. The first meeting of the council of this association was held on 13 August 1891. Delegates from Wellington, Napier, Auckland, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Nelson, Wairau (now Blenheim), and Palmerston North clubs were present. The first annual report of the northern association for 1891 says: “the whole of the clubs in the North Island, as well as those in Nelson and Marlborough, have joined – nine in all – having a total membership of between five and six hundred”. The report of the northern association for the year ended 30 September 1906, 15 years later, states (inter alia), “during the year our numbers have been further augmented by the affiliation of the Waipawa, Maitai (Nelson), and Marton clubs, bringing the roll up to 43 clubs, with a membership of over 2,000 – the strongest association of its kind in the Australasian colonies”. By 1906 there were 40 clubs affiliated to the association. In the same year came the formation of the North Canterbury Centre, with the idea of more conveniently arranging matters directly affecting the North Canterbury district. The North Canterbury Centre then appeared to comprise the Christchurch, Canterbury, St. Albans, United, Ashburton, Dunsandel, Kaiapoi, Rangiora, Temuka, Timaru, and Waimate clubs.
A further split took place with the formation in 1895 of the Auckland Provincial Bowling Association, at a meeting of delegates from the then existing clubs, Auckland, Remuera, Newmarket (now known as Carlton), and Devonport. In 1906 there were 16 clubs affiliated to the Auckland provincial association, with a membership exceeding 1,000 players.
The original New Zealand Bowling Association had been steadily growing and its report of 31 July 1909 records that the association then consisted of six centres comprising 59 clubs, with a total membership of 3,119. The North Canterbury Centre had now become the Christchurch Centre, comprising 16 clubs and 895 players. The South Canterbury Centre had been formed and included five clubs, with a membership of 283. The North Otago had four clubs with 203 playing members; South Otago, seven clubs with 257 members; and Dunedin Centre, 17 clubs with 1,056 members; while Southland was still in its infancy with 10 clubs and 425 members. The report also records that in the first tournament held in 1887 (referred to above) the Canterbury club won with Southland second and Dunedin third. After three successive tournaments in Dunedin the venue alternated between Christchurch and Dunedin annually.