Friday, March 12, 2010

What if Golf Were as Easy as House Bowling?

In the wake of my post yesterday about the PBA's financial woes, I've been following some discussions in various online bowling forums about why bowling in general and the PBA in particular are struggling. Some believe that one of the reasons for this is that bowling has gotten too easy with walled house shots and high tech bowling balls and that if bowling were made more challenging and people were encouraged to take up the challenge, we would see rapidly growing interest in amateur and professional bowling, and both would prosper.

One person likens how monotonously easy bowling on house shots has become to the following hypothetical golf scenario:

"If golf courses were built with massive 30 foot walls to deflect bad drives back online, and linoleum fairways so all drives rolled out to 300+ years, and plexi-glass over water hazards and bunkers and the greens were concave so all shots went toward the hole and then the cup was the size of a manhole cover... and unskilled players could score like professionals... I GUARANTEE YOU the passion and commitment level golfers have would be different..."

Do you think this guy has a point? Do you think that if bowling centers started putting out sport shots and enticing their patrons to take up the challenge of mastering them in practice, league, and tournament play, they wouldn't turn people off to bowling the way they fear but bring them into the fold or back into it filled with passion to take up and conquer the challenge, and bowling on all levels would prosper?


  1. Well, there is no doubt that bowling scores are a lot higher than they used to be and that technology and oil patterns have a lot to do with that. Still there is nobody who can shoot 300 regularly. Until there is, I don't see a need to add considerably more difficulty to the game. I am convinced that bowling's waning popularity is a largely cultural phenomenon. For many reasons, it is not considered by the vast majority of people as a valued skill nor a prospective career.

  2. I know a few guys who shoot 300 (and 800) so regularly that it must be pretty close to boring to them. And I also know that even mediocre me doesn't get the thrill out of bowling a big game or series on a house shot that I used to. Having bowled on semblances of PBA patterns, I know how meaningless those high scores were as real tests of my bowling skill and execution.

    However, I realize that not everyone is like that and that most people who bowl still love to shoot those big scores no matter where they do it. And I agree with you that "bowling's waning popularity is a largely cultural phenomenon," although I'm not sure precisely what the ingredients of that "phenomenon" happen to be.

    What do YOU think they are? And, more importantly, do you agree with one commenter in the PBA forum who keeps insisting, with inexplicable glee, that American bowling, professionally and otherwise, is in an inexorable "death spiral," or do you believe that something might still be done to rescue it from a fatal crash?

  3. I heartily disagree that bowling is too easy and find most comments in the PBA forum to be, in my limited experience there, mostly useless.

    The "demise" of the game, if that is what is happening, is from making the bowling ball more important than the bowler, while making it hugely expensive at the same time.

    After over 30 years off, I've recently returned to bowling. Learning about the oil being used as a level of difficulty parameter was rather a shock to me. An even bigger shock was the cost of the balls. I now own 3 and know that I'll need many more if I really want to be competitive. One of my new bowling friends typically carries 8 balls into the league night.

    I'm 60 years old and thought I'd like to dabble in the seniors single tournaments. The idea now seems rather silly. To be competitive, I'll have to expend untold amounts of time and effort learning how to bowl on different oil patterns and spend a great deal of money buying the balls needed to attack those patterns.

    C'mon.... Really? In the old days, when I last bowled, you owned 1 ball, because that's all you needed. Fingertip balls were the "radical" devices of the day. But, you never worried much about going from one center to another and not being able to quickly find your strike line, because it was never far from where it was in all the other bowling centers.

    You tested your skills against the other players, meaning your bowling form. The skills of today are radically different. Now, you not only need good form, you need to understand a ton of other things that affect your game.

    IMO, if bowling is really in trouble, it's because of the expense, the need for dozens of balls and the need to understand bowling on heavy oil patterns. To me, it's pretty silly.

    I think that the USBC and PBA should go back to basics. Ban the fancy balls and oil patterns completely, much like they did with the Mark Roth Plastic ball tournament. Proprietors won't have to spend so much money on oil, so they'll be happy. The average league bowler won't have to own and carry a bunch of balls.

    My dream of bowling in seniors tournaments is pretty much abandoned. I was willing to go practice every day, to improve my skills. I don't want to buy dozens of balls, but even if I did, I can't practice on the various oil patterns. None of my local centers will put out the various patterns on the lanes every day, or even once a week, for open bowling.

    That is what is causing the demise of the game, IMO.


  4. Kerry, your comment echoes with uncanny fidelity my own sentiments about the game. I just turned 58, and I too recently harbored fantasies of competing in PBA senior events until I came to the same realization you did. I can't afford all those balls and to practice enough on different oil patterns to have any chance of success. Not that I was probably good enough or capable of becoming good enough to succeed anyway.

    I agree with you completely that elite bowling events would be much better if competitors were restricted to a small number of balls with polyester coverstocks and simple layouts so that the emphasis shifted radically from having the right expensive equipment in your hands to playing the right line with the right biomechanical adjustments to how you play that line.

    I think there could still be variations in oil patterns, but they could all be such that no one had to be strong as a proverbial ox and loft the gutter cap throwing the ball 20+ miles an hour to succeed. Accuracy and consistency should always be more important than power, and younger players shouldn't have the edge over older players that they do now by virtue of their sheer strength advantage.

    Whether any of this has any bearing on the game at a more casual level, I don't know. I do think bowling, unless you bowl in centers like my home house at the right times of the day and week, has gotten far too expensive for most of us to bowl with serious frequency. I think serious bowlers should be prized and given financial incentives to practice more and bowl more leagues and tournaments. I also think junior bowlers should have more and better coaching and programs made available to them to nurture their skills and love for the game. We have a fantastic junior program at my home house complete with one of the finest and most dedicated junior coaches in the nation in Debbie Haggerty, and junior leagues and tournaments with sport conditions.

    All in all, I think bowling needs to be treated as less of a money-making business than as a wonderful sport. If more bowling centers did that, I think the patrons would come, we'd have more good bowlers, and the bowling business would fare better than it does now.

  5. I would suggest that any tournament variations from what the typical bowling center offers to the public, is bad for the sport. I should be able to practice for a tournament, at any bowling center, without significant added cost.

    When the USBC, PBA, WXYZ powers that be, decided to add the complexity of oil patterns and to allow dynamite bowling balls, they made a huge mistake.

    IMO, instead of adding the complexity of oil patterns, they should have limited the weight of the balls. The problem they wanted to solve was high scoring, right? Well, would an 8 lb ball produce lower scores across the board? Handicaps could be addressed the same way. But, DON'T change the pins or lane conditions from what the typical bowler sees.

    That way, anyone that wanted to see what it was like bowling a tournament, against the pros, could simply buy an 8 lb ball and roll it in his home center. The ball would have to be hard, much harder than the dynamite balls of today and they already have provisions for that, with a minimum hardness line in the rules. A similar provision for friction coefficient would also be needed. All of that is easily controlled at the manufacturer and easily tested. Tournament winning balls of top 5 are sent to the lab for verification.

    I completely agree that accuracy and consistency are the key elements to be rewarded. As I stated in another post, Brooklyn strikes should not be allowed for scoring, unless the bowler calls Brooklyn "before" he starts his approach.

    Would matches be more closely contested, thus more exciting, using this format? I think so. It is likely that most matches would be decided in the 10th frame. Would this format appeal to the general public and TV viewing audience? Again, I think it would. When Walter Ray shoots a 250 on TV, Joe Average at home could run out to his local bowling center with his 10 lb ball and try to beat that score.

    You can't do that now, even if you have the same ball as the winner of the tournament. Run down to your local center and tell them you want to bowl on a pair with the Shark pattern loaded on it. None of the centers in my area will do that. There are days when I can't even get THS that is less than 2 days old. At least one of my local centers is going to go to a twice a week oil schedule in the summer. Great.....


  6. Kerry, I'm not sure I'm against elite tournaments having tougher conditions than the THS. But I think bowling centers should have junior and adult leagues that put out elite tournament conditions and provide incentives for people to bowl in them. I know that I've jumped at the chance over the past couple of years to bowl in PBA Experience leagues. Unfortunately, we had them only during the summer.

    I don't know that I'd go for the 8lb maximum ball weight idea. But, as we discussed earlier, I think professional bowling would be better served if it employed fewer oil patterns and placed more restrictions on equipment so that the emphasis was far more on the bowler than on the ball.

    As for regular bowling, I don't know how we could limit bowlers to, say, balls with polyester or even rubber coverstocks, without ripping the guts right out of the ball manufacturers and pro shops and, in perhaps decimating that part of the bowling business, ending up destroying the entire sport.

  7. I'm not at all against having tougher conditions, because that's what I outlined. Lighter, harder, slicker balls would do just that, without putting any burden on the bowling centers, average bowlers or the ball makers.

    There would be no reason to eliminate dynamite balls, because league and recreational bowlers could still buy and use them if they wished. Indeed, I'm sure that most folks would prefer to bowl with the dynamite balls in league play. I'm not at all sure that the average recreational bowler cares, if they even know the difference. Regardless, I see no harm in allowing people to utilize dynamite balls in league play. They'd not be able to use the averages for elite tournaments, but there's no reason that there couldn't be elite leagues either, to generate averages if that was necessary.

    That wouldn't impact serious bowlers or elite bowlers in any way. But, it certainly would make it much easier for you and I and Joe Average to experience the elite conditions.

    There would have to be a standard oil pattern, but other than that, bowling elite would be up to the individual. The beauty of that is that you could go elite anytime you wished, right up to the moment of throwing the first ball. Just carry an elite weight restricted ball and your dynamite ball to the center and then choose. No muss, no fuss, no hidden fees.

    You want to prepare for the US Open? No problem, do it at your home center with the elite ball. Want to compare your skills to Parker Bohn? No problem.

    That is the only way that Joe Average can really experience elite conditions, on a daily basis, while still providing the tougher, difficult conditions for the pros.

    Allowing the public to continue using new and improved dynamite balls would preserve that part of the industry, easily, because that's where they make their money anyway. They could co-exist without problems and I firmly believe that bowling needs something like this to grow and become a more popular mainstream sport. It's the only realistic way that you and I could actually try to compete in elite senior tournaments.