Thursday, March 17, 2011

Billy Hardwick's Son "Hates" Modern Bowling

After the recent Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship, I wrote here that I would rather see bowlers required in all elite level tournaments to use bowling balls with polyester coverstocks and simple layouts so that the sport would downplay the importance of bowling ball technology and return to emphasizing a bowler's physical and mental skills. It seems that Chris Hardwick, the multi-talented son of bowling legend Billy Hardwick, agrees and would like to see bowlers at all levels subject to the same restrictions.

Hardwick, who writes articles for Wired magazine, penned a provocative article in Oct, 2008 that is fun and interesting reading. In Technology's Gutterball: New Gear Makes Bowling Too Easy, Chris, who was named after famed bowling announcer Chris Schenkel, writes about growing up on course to become the "Tiger Woods of bowling (but with a hilariously lower salary)" until Dungeons and Dragons and videogames altered his destiny. However, he says that he remains "a careful observer of the game" and that he 'hates' what he sees.

He hates the fact that modern reactive resin and other high tech bowling balls have made 300 games and high averages pretty much meaningless:

These new balls and surfaces mean more strikes, which means higher scores and more perfect games. By some counts, amateur bowlers can average 40 pins higher per game than a professional bowler did 40 years ago — and that's not because of some recently evolved mutation in the human bowling gene. Look, we all want to excel at bowling. How else would we attract potential sex partners? Not to go all Harrison Bergeron on you, but when everyone bowls perfect games, then no one bowls a perfect game. Sure, other sports have tech. A titanium shaft and weighted clubhead will let you hit 300-yard drives until your spine unhinges, but they'll still slice. With bowling, the equation is simpler. More tech equals more strikes.
Hardwick later, with tongue probably only halfway in cheek, writes this about the USBC's proposal to limit the porousness of bowling balls after April, 2009:

As a purist of the sport, I'm grateful for the change. We should have to earn our marks the way our daddies (or, at least, mine) did: with hard rubber balls on wood, a hot lamp over the scoring table burning our hands and faces, and watered-down American beer lubricating each frame until we go home smelling like an ashtray in a chemical plant. "Keep yer got-damn science off mah balls!" we'll cry, and life will be good and pure and true.

Call me the old fuddy-duddy that I am, but I agree with Hardwick, except for the hot lamps and cigarette smoke.

Chris' dad Billy in a 1969 Miller High Life beer commercial.


  1. The silence is deafening. Nobody wants to discuss the issue. Seems like most of the "serious" bowlers are quite content with the status quo. Many of them happily look down their noses at the inferior THS bowlers, secure in their knowledge that they are the "real" bowlers, because they love the "challenges" of the complex oil patterns and mastering their dozens of balls.

    It's quite confounding to me. Bowling needs bowling centers. Bowling centers need patrons, aka THB's. The sport is in decline, from the PBA on down, yet the "serious" bowlers don't seem to care. Bowling centers are closing and reducing their hours, due to lack of interest. Leagues continue to dwindle in numbers.

    The PBA was rescued from bankruptcy 5 years ago, but is still losing money. It just lost one of its rescuers. The women's tour went under years ago and has yet to be revived. How long will it be before that happens to the men's tour?

    I applaud Chris Hardwick for speaking out, but I suspect that he's been mocked by the game's "elite".

    I recently watched some clips of an older tournament. The top 4 finalists were left handed. The 5th seed bowler was WRW, who didn't make it to the championship match, which was won by Jason Couch. IIRC, WRW just barely squeaked by another lefty, to attain the 5th seed. Had he not done that, the finals would have been all leftys. Doesn't anyone wonder how a tournament finals could be so lopsided?

    The most obvious answer is that the oil pattern heavily favored left handed bowlers. To me, there is something seriously wrong with that. Oil patterns should be completely neutral. Obviously, they are not. But, even more obvious seems to be the fact that nobody cares. The apathy toward the sport and its future is apparently overwhelming.

    I am sad for that and sad for those that love the game dearly. I am especially sad for the us vs them mentality that many seem to have regarding THB's.


  2. unfortunately i think we all know why the bowling balls have gotten so much more advanced its comparable to the golf clubs of today. its all about the cash, better equipment equals more people willing to try because its easier to learn on the spot and see results sooner just like hitting a golf ball with modren club

  3. I returned to bowling this year after being away for 18 years (since 1996). Here's the equipment that I'm using at this time: 1989 Columbia pearl gold dot (spare ball); 1995 dull blue Hammer (Fab version); 1995 burgundy Hammer (Fab version); Track NRg; Track Sensor II.

    So far after nearly 100 games of practice, I've gotten my game close to where it was nearly 20 years ago. What I immediately noticed was how oil patterns were longer and heavier than when I last bowled competitively. So it seems necessary that I'll need to add some of the newer technology bowling balls in order to be competitive.

    What I have seen is, yes, people have defected from bowling in droves. The problem I see is that bowling was a sport once greatly identified with this country's middle class. But the middle class is being squeezed out and what you have is a greater disparity of the rich getting richer and the poor being poorer. What we see is golf and tennis being glorified -- but who typically play those sports? People who tend to be in a higher tax bracket. Comparatively speaking, bowling is a more affordable sport to get involved with, but there is less of a middle class to identify with it. Something got lost somewhere.

  4. Anon, I think you may be right about one of the reasons why bowling is suffering attrition. There certainly IS a vanishing middle class, and it's becoming increasingly difficult not only to identify with a middle (and working) class sport, but it's also becoming increasingly difficult to find the time or money to indulge in it, since people are working harder and harder for comparatively less pay than they used to. Who has time or the finances for bowling anymore, especially at anything more than the most casual level a few times a year at most?