Amazing Alleys: Bowling Facilities Across America
31 Oct, 2009By: Juli Anne Patty
Each year more than 66 million people in the United States bowl. That's one in five people who bowl at least once a year, making bowling one of America's most popular sports. It's no wonder then that America also offers a nearly limitless variety of fine bowling facilities, ideally suited to pretty much any bowling event you can imagine. And if you're looking for something really out of the ordinary, just ask the United States Bowling Congress. They'll show you how to build your own.
Ancient to Astounding
Bowling may have the reputation of being the favorite evening activity of1950s dads, but the sport goes back much further than that. According to the International Bowling Museum, in the 1930s British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie discovered ancient Egyptian bowling toys, a find that, if correct, puts the birth of bowling as early as 3200 B.C., making Fred Flintstone's affinity for the game a little more accurate than you might guess.
Regardless, the sport has come a long way since the Stone Age and the 1950s, at least in part because of the modernization of bowling facilities. New specially designed lane surfaces, real-time computerized scoring technology and multi-feature facilities with restaurants, bars, even laser shows and glow-in-the-dark cosmic bowling have all inspired a new audience of bowlers of all ages and skill levels to try their hand at this ancient, and ever growing, game.
Bowling for the People
Like all Olympic sports, bowling has a national governing body, the United States Bowling Congress (USBC). But Olympic bowling is just one facet of the USBC, an organization with more than 3,300 local chapters and 2 million members who bowl regularly in USBC-sanctioned events. Another one of bowling's biggest players is the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA), now the long-recognized "major league" of bowling, which brings together nearly 4,300 professionals from 13 countries.
There's Olympic and professional bowling, and there's a whole system of youth, high school and collegiate bowling that prepares elite bowlers to reach the sport's upper echelons. But the beauty of bowling is that it's a game that can be played and enjoyed by anyone, at any age or skill level. The USBC celebrates this democratic spirit of bowling in all of its associations and tournaments, but nowhere more grandly than its USBC Open and Women's Championships.
The 108-year-old USBC Open Championship, USBC's longest-standing event, gives handicap bowlers the chance to compete on a level playing field against bowlers in their average range. The U.S. Women's Open, on the other hand, is one of America's most prestigious bowling events for women. And, thanks to USBC's planning, both events take place on a majestic scale, a feat that requires months of planning, an inspired vision and a very cooperative facility.
For the USBC Open and U.S. Women's Open Championships, USBC needs a facility that can not only accommodate thousands of bowlers, their fans and families and a giant bowling expo, they also need a facility that can do all this for several months. In most cases, commercial bowling facilities can't suspend regular bowling for that amount of time. So USBC came up with another plan: build their own.
El Paso, Texas
USBC has been constructing phenomenal bowling facilities in convention centers for many years for its USBC Open Championships, and in 2010, the Women's Open Championships will join the build-your-own ranks, making its bigger, grander debut at the El Paso Convention Center, which USBC will take over for more than six months, constructing everything they need, bowling lanes and all (the lumber - enough to build three houses - will later be donated to Habitat for Humanity).
"We do it to give members a grand stage, where amateur league bowlers can compete in an arena much like a professional athlete," says Brian Lewis, championships director, USBC. "We bring in electronic scoreboards, lots of lights, create a trade show with vendors, manufacturers, and souvenir shops - basically make it a festival of bowling."
The USBC Open attracts as many as 100,000 or more competitors, while the Women's Open draws up to 40,000, and both Championships are contested over several months. All that adds up to a marked economic impact on the cities the Championships call home: up to $100 million.
"We bid five to seven years out for these events, and we look for a city that can work with us on a number of levels," says Lewis. "It presents a dilemma for many cities, freeing up their convention center space for that amount of time."
In addition to a flexible convention center, the USBC requires at least 90,000 square feet of space, and they're always open to new locations that will help grow interest in bowling and appeal to USBC members.
In 2010, while the U.S.Women's Open takes over El Paso, the USBC Open Championships will be headed to the Reno National Bowling Stadium (the only commercial bowling facility currently hosting one of these events). A truly unique bowling facility created specifically for tournaments, the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium, called the "Taj Mahal of Tenpins" by the L. A. Times, opened in 1995.
The only facility of its kind in the world, the Stadium offers extraordinary features like a Computer Aided Tracking System (C.A.T.S.) Lane, which provides bowlers with computerized game evaluations and improvement recommendations, as well as a 440-foot video screen - the world's longest - projecting bowler video images and state-of-the-art scoring graphics.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Prior to 2010, the U.S.Women's Open took place in commercial bowling centers, so Lewis and his team also have many years of experience scouting America's finest bowling facilities.
"In addition to a great, modern facility, we look for a city that really embraces bowling," says Lewis. "We love a community that really gets into the event - puts up signs, plans events, gets the public involved and into the venue to interact with our bowlers. That really makes an event."
Last August, they chose Las Vegas' Strike Zone Bowling Center to host the 2009 U.S. Women's Open. A state-of-the-art bowling facility located inside the Sunset Station Hotel and Casino, the 72-lane Strike Zone is Las Vegas' largest bowling venue and Nevada's second largest. But Strike Zone delivers much more than just impressive size.
"I think people choose to host their events at Strike Zone because of the wow factor," says Jim Welch, manager, Strike Zone Bowling Center. "With a $29 million price tag, at the time of construction it was the second most expensive bowling center in world, behind Red Rock Lanes, our sister center."
Indeed, no expense was spared in creating Strike Zone, from imported Italian glass in the full-service bar to eight 16-foot roll-down projection screens that play an ever-changing video assortment. But more than just a bevy of features, Strike Zone offers something even more difficult to come by: service.
"Our staff is well-seasoned with taking care of bowling events. At the end of the World Cup for example, competitors were giving the staff little going-away presents," said Welch.
The Quad Cities
If service is what you're looking for, you'll find another great option in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois. Host of the 1998 Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) Championships, the Quad Cities knows bowling.
"We have six USBC-approved bowling facilities that we utilize for different events," explains Arlyce R. Musal, senior sales manager, Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau. "With 45,000 women bowlers visiting the community over a three month period and about seven years of preparation, the whole community got involved in the WIBC event. It was the largest event that the Quad Cities has ever hosted, and it was a lot of fun."
While not every event is a three-month affair, the Quad Cities still draws plenty of bowling events to its Mississippi shores including high school, collegiate and professional tournaments. Its six facilities include three 48-lane, two 42-lane and one 24-lane bowling centers, all with automatic scoring systems and including amenities like full-service restaurants, lounges, pro shops and, at Miller Time Bowling in Davenport, Iowa, an attached convention center that seats up to 650 people.
Round Rock, Texas
Round Rock, Texas proves that a bowling facility doesn't have to be mammoth in order to deliver great game. The city's 20-lane Interstate Lanes brings state-of-the-art bowling to the Sports Capital of Texas.
"With great food and a full service bar, Interstate Lanes is more than just a bowling alley," says Nancy Yawn, director, Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's definitely a family and tournament bowling facility but also a group gathering place for people coming into town for other sporting events."
The facility recently hosted the Teen Masters, a scholarship-awarding championship high school bowling event, for one of its 64 regional qualifying matches. In 2011, the Fire Fighters Olympics will come to Round Rock, with Interstate Lanes bringing together the games' bowlers.
Bowling has a strong following in a number of states - what USBC's Brian Lewis calls the "Bowling Belt" - Midwestern and Northeastern states where colder climates naturally encouraged the sport's growth. But bowling's popularity has expanded in recent years to include even some of the country's sunniest locales. Bakersfield, California is the perfect example.
Home to three recently renovated bowling facilities - AMF Westchester, AMF Southwest Lanes and Regency Bowling Center - and centrally located within California, Bakersfield brings in a wide variety of bowling events. For example, the USBC California Open tournament rolls into Bakersfield in 2010.The California Bowlers to Veterans Link, a national nonprofit that raises funds to provide recreational and therapeutic equipment for America's veterans, wrapped up its State Finals in Bakersfield last April.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
One of tenpins' true hotbeds, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, offers four competitive bowling facilities, putting a total of 78 lanes within 15 miles of each other.
"The proximity of our facilities makes Eau Claire a great option for statewide events, especially given our history of hosting different state bowling tournaments," says Michael Strubel, sports sales manager, Visit Eau Claire. "One of the things that makes us competitive in addition to facilities is that we just really like bowling events. We have a strong bowling culture, lots of community support and volunteers who step up to the plate and make sure the competitors are treated really well."
That's probably why Eau Claire is busy with bowling events from January through April, events that stretch over several days at a time. Past events include the 2008 VFW state bowling tournament and the USBC Midwest Kickoff Classic.
Like Eau Claire, Mankato has serious bowling enthusiasm and the facilities to match. Their newest facility, the 24-lane Wow Zone Family Entertainment Center, brings bowling together with a variety of activities to keep bowlers, their fans and their families happy no matter how long the tournament.
"We're fortunate to be a bowling mecca, and the Wow Zone is a great facility to serve our bowling fans," says Jennifer Rath, convention sales and marketing director, Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. "The Wow Zone offers state-of-the-art lanes and bowling technology, not to mention laser tag and mini golf, along with a brand new hotel right across the street."
According to Rath, a great facility is definitely important, but people bring their events to Mankato because they get a personalized experience. Bowlers are treated like special guests. No matter how many lanes or what kind of laser show a facility can provide, there's nothing quite like a personal touch to make a bowling event the kind of success that will draw participants back year after year.