Column by Ken Cohen
Now and then, I still watch professional bowling on television. I used to watch it almost every Sunday, back in the day of Earl Anthony, Mark Roth, Johnny Petraglia and Marshall Holman. I'm not exactly sure why, but I always liked bowling and the possibility of watching a 300 game intrigued me. Also, I was a big Anthony fan -- just liked his elegance and composure compared to the power and emotion of Roth. It sort of reminded me of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
When I lived in southwest Miami in the late 1970s, I used to bowl all the time at Don Carter Lanes in Kendall then one of the largest bowling centers in the United States with 72 lanes. It had just opened in 1976 when I moved just a few blocks away a year later. What an eye-opener for me coming from cozy Liberty Lanes!
The Burger King Open in 1978 at Don Carter's offered the largest first prize check of the season and one of the largest ever $30,000. All of the top bowlers were there and so was I for just about every game. I watched all the qualifying rounds and match play rounds as well as the finals. I think I took a day or two off of school to take in my first pro bowling tournament and it was something to see. Just the sheer amount of games they had to bowl during the week and all the action took place simultaneously until the television show. That's when Randy Lightfoot defeated Larry Laub, after he remarkably defeated Holman and Roth in the earlier step-ladder rounds.
Anyway, I bring this up because it seems bowling is missing something now. I know I don't bowl as much anymore nor do I watch on television. The numbers suggest that participation has steadily decreased since 2007, though still healthy at more than 54 million active bowlers. I know people who own and operate bowling centers and they say it's been a tough go lately mostly because of less league revenue. That's when they not only get the bowling fees but the food and beverage business.
The good news is that youth bowling is actually on the rise though many bowling centers are not capitalizing on this sector as income sources. Kids can spend money if you capture their imagination. In today's world, that might mean lots of hi-tech arcade games or cool apparel.
As far as generating interest in the professional game and even for the recreational adult bowler, I would like to see more variety. If you think about it bowling may be the only sport where every first shot is exactly the same. Ten pins, 60 feet away from the foul line. Every lane is 15 feet wide. I'm thinking like a golfer here where all the holes are different, but what if bowling had lanes of different lengths and widths, perhaps some with more than 10 pins. I know this may sound goofy to the tried and true bowlers, but it if we're looking to energize the sport, a little out-of-the box thinking and fun is necessary.
If that's too radical, how about something as simple as bowling with the bumpers up and every shot has to hit the bumper at least once. I tried this once and it’s a lot of fun, not to mention difficult. I think even the best of bowlers would be challenged at least until they figure out the angles involved. Perhaps it's this type of infusion of non-traditional ideas that bowling needs just like the radical concept of a 72-lane bowling alley with 24 billiard tables that was Don Carter's Kendall Lanes in 1976.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.