Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Great USBC Open Beverage Debate

When I found out that bowlers would be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages this year at the USBC Open for the first time ever, I wasn't keen on the idea, and I blogged about it here. I argued that spilled beverages could cause sticky approaches and that drunken bowlers could "undermine the integrity" or dignity of this hallowed tournament.

Well, this month's Bowlers Journal International weighs in on the issue with a point-counterpoint article titled "The Great Adult Beverage Debate: Two perspectives on the USBC's decision to allow drinking--and we don't mean water--at the Open Championships." On the pro side is Jeff Richgels, a four-time ABC/USBC Champion and bowling journalist. On the other side is Ed Baur, a former ABC executive.


Richgels argues that the USBC is struggling financially and needs to do all it can to keep bowlers coming to the tournament. One way it can do this is to realize that a lot of participants in the Open aren't deadly serious competitive bowlers but look at the Open as part of their vacation for having fun with their friends. A few drinks down on the lanes can facilitate this, and there's nothing gravely wrong with it provided that officials make sure things don't get out of hand and are prepared to reinstate the alcohol ban if a significant problem arises. Sure, a tournament in which the beer is flowing doesn't make for the most august and dignified tournament around, but it doesn't need to be. Says Richgels:

"The USBC Open Championships is the national tournament for league bowlers; the U.S. Open is the true national championship--the event that opinion leaders and media types will look at if they ever look at bowling.

Some bowling folks get way too worked up worrying about bowling's image.

That energy would be far better spent working to capitalize on bowling's many strengths and embracing what the sport is."


Baur argues that the USBC isn't allowing alcoholic beverages in order to "enhance the 'customer experience.' It's about money, and the USBC appears willing to tarnish its brightest star to acquire funds that would delay the next inevitable dues increase." However, no sport "that takes itself seriously" should degrade its "national championship" by allowing participants to consume alcohol during competition. "This isn't beer pong," Baur exclaims. Bowling has enough of an "image problem" as it is with the public. Let's not do anything to make matters worse. Moreover, when people start drinking, they're going to have to take "bathroom breaks" that cause disruptive delays, and it's going to place an undue burden on staff members to enforce proper conduct.


Bob Johnson
is the editor of Bowlers Journal International and has a column titled "Strikes Me" at the end of each issue. He disagrees with Richgels that only the U.S. Open should be considered our national tournament, because this would regrettably mean that "bowling is perceived primarily as an individual sport as opposed to a team sport." But Johnson also takes issue with Baur's contention that bowling has a longstanding "image problem" with the American public. "I don't think the problem is as much with the public as it is with the media. Bowling's image doesn't stop tens of millions of people from going bowling each year. But the rantings of various media types do feed the negative stereotype of the 'typical bowler.'" he writes.


I've never bowled the USBC Open, so maybe it isn't my place to express an opinion on the matter. Maybe I should wait until I bowl next month as planned, assuming I carry out my plan. So, I'll only say right now that I lean toward the opinion, as I did in my previous entry, that the Open is an important enough tournament that it should present itself in a flattering light to the media and public at large and hold its participants to a high standard of conduct that excludes drinking alcohol and prevents the various problems that "adult drinking" could cause. However, since the cat is already out of the bag, let's see where it goes and what, if any, mischief it causes before we try to stuff it back in.

How do you feel about this issue? Are some of us making a proverbial mountain out of a molehill?


  1. I have to side with Jeff Richgels. I am generally of the opinion that banning things is a bad idea, except in the case of things that provide an unfair advantage. By contrast, alcohol provides a voluntary disadvantage.

    A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a guy who has been to Nationals for eleven years consecutively. He told me it was a "great time". It was clear that he did not go there with the intent of winning, and I would guess that the vast majority of bowlers feel this way. They go because it is fun.

    As for bowling's image problem, I don't see beer as the problem. I have seen more beer at the golf course than I have at the bowling alley, yet golf does not suffer from the same issues.

    If casual drinking led to pervasiveness drunkenness, I might feel differently. Never having been to this tournament, I have no idea how many drunks are stumbling around the lanes, but I would guess that it is very few. So, I really don't see the problem with allowing adults to have a few beers as they participate in a tournament which they have paid to enter.

  2. You make a very good point about the "voluntary disadvantage" that drinking confers on those who elect to do it. Unfortunately, I doubt that I'll personally be competing against many bowling-impaired drinkers in the regular division; most "regular" bowlers are probably serious enough not to compromise themselves.

    I'd still like to see a national championship treated as such, and drinking doesn't seem to me as though it should be a part of it. Having said that, if I don't end up fighting sticky approaches, waiting for bowlers to return from the bathroom, or seeing a lot of unflattering behavior next month or hear of these things from others, I'll reconsider my opposition to the policy.