Ten-pin bowling

Ten-pin bowling in action

Ten-pin bowling is a sport in which a "bowler" rolls a bowling ball down a wood-structure or synthetic (polyurethane) lane and towards ten pins positioned at the end of the lane. The objective is to score points by knocking down as many pins as possible. Three finger holes are drilled into a traditional bowling ball, and weights vary considerably to make the sport playable for all ages. The pins are arranged in a triangular position by an automated machine. While professional ten-pin bowling tournaments are held in numerous countries, the sport is commonly played as a hobby by millions of people around the world.

In Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, the game is commonly referred to as just "Bowling". In New England, "bowling" is usually referred to as "ten-pin bowling" or "big-ball bowling", because of the smaller diameter, lighter weight ball used in the Worcester, Massachusetts-conceived sport of candlepin bowling from 1880, and the similarly "small-ball" sport of duckpin bowling (conceived in 1895), popular in the Northeast United States, as well as Canada's own sport of five-pin bowling, all three of which use smaller diameter, lighter weight bowling balls when compared to tenpin bowling, without the necessity for finger holes in them.


The 41.5-inch-wide (105 cm),[1] 60-foot-long (18 m)[1] lane is bordered along its length by semicylindrical channels called "gutters", which are designed to collect errant balls. The overall width of the lane including the channels is 60 18 inches (153 cm).[1] The narrow lane prevents bowling a straight line at the angle required to consistently carry (knock down) all ten pins for a strike. Most skillful bowlers will roll a side spinning (hook shape reaction) ball to overcome this. A foul line is marked at the end of the lane nearest to the bowler: if any part of a bowler's body touches the line itself or beyond (anywhere on the actual lane surface or any adjoining areas including walls and other lanes) after the ball is delivered, the bowl is a foul and any pins knocked over by that delivery are scored as zero (0). The bowler is allowed one shot at a new rack of ten pins if s/he fouled on the first roll of a frame, and if all ten pins are knocked down on this shot, it is scored as a spare. Behind the foul line is an "approach" approximately 15 feet (5 m) long used to gain speed and leverage on the ball before delivering it. 60 feet (18 m) from the foul line, where the lane terminates, it is joined to a roughly 36-inch (91 cm) deep by 41.5-inch (105 cm) wide surface of durable and impact-resistant material called the "pin deck", upon which each rack of pins is set.


The bowler is allowed 10 frames in which to knock down pins, with frames one (1) through nine (9) being composed of up to two rolls. The tenth frame is composed of up to three rolls: the bonus roll(s) following a strike or spare in the tenth (sometimes referred to as the eleventh and twelfth frames) are fill ball(s) used only to calculate the score of the mark rolled in the tenth. If neither a strike or a spare is achieved in the tenth frame, no bonus roll is awarded.

Bowling has a unique scoring system which keeps track not only of the current pinfall in a frame, but also strikes and spares which allow for the value of subsequent pinfall. Effectively, there are three kinds of marks given in a score; a strike (all ten down in the first ball), a spare (all ten down by the second ball), and an open (one or more missed pins still standing after the second ball). A strike earns ten points plus the points for the next two balls thrown. (For example, if a player got a strike then followed with a 7 then 2, their value for the strike frame would be 10+7+2, or 19.) A spare earns ten points plus the points for the next ball thrown. (Again, if a player gets a spare then follows it with 7 pins down on the first ball of the next frame, their value for the spare frame would be 10+7, or 17.) Open frames count the value of the pinfall in that frame only. (Example: if a player knocks down 5 on their first ball and 3 on their second, the open frame would be worth 8 points.) The maximum score in ten-pin bowling is 300. This consists of getting 12 strikes in a row in one game (one strike each in frames 1–9, and all three possible strikes in the tenth frame), and is also known as a perfect game.


Pinsetter boys at a Pittsburgh bowling alley, c. 1908

In 1930, British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie, along with a team of archaeologists, discovered various primitive bowling balls, bowling pins and other materials in the grave of a protodynastic Egyptian boy dating to 3200 B.C., very shortly before the reign of Narmer, one of the very first Egyptian pharaohs. Their discovery represents the earliest known historical trace of bowling.[2][3] Others claim that bowling originated in Germany around 300 A.D.,[2][3] as part of a religious ritual in which people would roll stones at clubs (or "kegels") to absolve themselves of sins.[4]

A site in Southampton, England claims to be the oldest lawn bowling site still in operation, with records showing the game has been played on the green there since 1299.[5] The first written reference to bowling dates to 1366, when King Edward III of England banned his troops from playing it so that they could focus more on their archery practice.[6] It is believed that King Henry VIII bowled using cannonballs. Henry VIII also famously banned bowling for all but the upper classes, because so many working men and soldiers were neglecting their trades.[5]

In Germany the game of Kegel (Kegelspiel) expanded. The Kegel game grew in Germany and around other parts of Europe with Keglers rolling balls at nine pins, or skittles, in a diamond formation (1-2-3-2-1).[7][8] To this day, bowlers in the United States and United Kingdom are also referred to as "keglers".

Ninepin bowling was introduced to the United States from Europe during the colonial era, similar to the game of skittles.[9] It became very popular and was called "Bowl on the Green". The Dutch, English, and Germans all brought their own versions of the game to the New World, where it enjoyed continued popularity, although not without some controversy. In 1841 a law in Connecticut banned ninepin bowling lanes because of associated gambling and crime, and people were said to circumvent the letter of the prohibition by adding an extra pin, resulting in the game of ten-pin bowling.[10]

A painting which dates from around 1810, and has been on display at the International Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis, Missouri (Jan 26, 2010: located at the International Bowling Campus in Arlington, Texas), however, shows British bowlers playing the sport outdoors, with a triangular formation of ten pins, chronologically before it appeared in the United States. A photograph of this painting appeared in the pages of the US-based "Bowler's Journal" magazine in 1988.[11]

Modern game

While still closely related to the German nine-pin game Kegeln, the version of modern ten-pin bowling that became a popular participant sport worldwide was an American creation. German immigrants were instrumental in fostering the game's popularity in America as they formed their own bowling clubs both before and after the American Civil War. The first indoor bowling alley was Knickerbockers of New York City, built in 1840. The Brunswick Corporation's addition of bowling equipment to their product line also served to increase the sport's popularity. In 1914 Brunswick replaced their line of wooden bowling balls, mostly made with lignum vitae, with hard rubber Mineralite bowling balls. The change was met with great approval.[12] Since being brought to the United States from Europe, ten-pin bowling (a modern version of the game of skittles) has risen in popularity as its technology has improved. The sport is most popular in the United Kingdom and the United States. Both nations maintain national regulatory organizations that govern the sport's rules and conduct, and many of those countries' best players participate in tournaments on both the national and international stage. Because of the rise in popularity, many companies began making bowling balls and apparel for professionals as well as for recreational bowlers. Bowling has also become more prevalent in the media in recent years, with the continued popularity of bowling publications and the appearance of films centered around the culture of the sport. However, the sport continues to face challenges in garnering mainstream coverage of the athletic aspects of the game.

Organization and increased popularity

Inside a typical ten-pin bowling alley (Shropshire, UK)
A woman bowling during 45th Victory Day celebration Bowling Tournament'15 in Dhaka, Bangladesh

The modern, indoor game of bowling has long been seen as a sport of the working classes.[5] Accordingly, most bowling alleys at the turn of the century were small, private establishments, mainly frequented by men. This began to change as the sport became increasingly regulated and generally gained in prestige. Although it has not shed its working class image entirely, today bowling is a unisex sport, and is enjoyed by people the world over.

In 1875, delegates from 11 bowling clubs in New York City and Brooklyn gathered to form the National Bowling Association (NBA) and adopt a set of standard playing rules. While they agreed on a uniform distance of 60 feet from foul line to head pin and the size of the bowling ball, there were many other disagreements, including scoring, that caused splinter groups to form. It wasn't until 1895, when prominent bowling leaders gathered in New York City to form the American Bowling Congress (ABC), that the bulk of the standard rules for bowling that have survived to the modern day were drafted. The ABC was soon joined by similar organizations geared toward female bowlers, with the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) being formed in 1916. (The ABC and WIBC jointly became the United States Bowling Congress [USBC] in 2005.) At the same time, the sport's image among the upper classes was enhanced by the opening of more luxurious and elegant alleys like The White Elephant in New York City, opened by restaurateur Joe Thum. Many consider Thum to be the father of modern bowling, along with inaugural ABC President Thomas Curtis and later, coming into the second half of the 20th century, American professional bowler Dick Weber.

1940 to 1960

The period from 1940 to 1960 is known as the "golden age of bowling" because of the sport's great popularity increase and advances in its play. By 1945, bowling was a billion-dollar industry in the United States. From 1940 to 1958, the number of dues-paying American Bowling Congress members grew from about 700,000 to 2.3 million. The Women's International Bowling Congress grew from 82,000 to 866,000 members, and the American Junior Bowling Congress expanded from 8,000 to 175,000.[13]

Promotion by the U.S. Armed Forces and its image as a sport for the common man made bowling an enticing choice of activity for Americans. For this reason, racial integration was perhaps inevitable. The American Bowling Congress had been a whites-only organization throughout its first 50-plus years in existence, but lobbying by numerous labor organizations and individuals after World War II, including Japanese-American Hiroto Hirashima, quickly led to a reversal of this policy.[14]

Bowling alleys built during this period often featured restaurants or nightclubs where locally or even nationally prominent entertainers would perform. In the 1948 movie Road House, the title refers to a large bowling alley with a nightclub attached, where much of the action takes place. The film provides a good historical glance at bowling alleys of the era.

Automatic pinspotters enter the game, and televised matches

Main article: Pinsetter

This era also saw a great increase in bowling technology. Pins had previously been set by human pinsetters or "pin boys", but with the invention of the semi-automatic pinspotter in 1936 (usually just the "spotting table" component), the process became much easier. In 1946 AMF Bowling launched the first commercial fully automatic pinspotter, the AMF Model 82-10, followed closely by the more developed 82–30 model (still in common use in the 21st century) to replace the earlier Brunswick semi-automatic and fully manual bowling establishments. Brunswick itself introduced its own "Model A" automatic pinspotter design to bowling centers in 1955, and its successors (A2 and "JetBack", both with quicker delivery of returned balls over the Model A) are still in widespread use. The television age of the 1950s also helped to increase the popularity of ten-pin bowling, as images of the sport began to enter the homes of millions across the United States. Nationally-televised programs like Jackpot Bowling and Make That Spare became popular on Friday nights from the late 1950s into the early 1960s. Following many years of debate over what constituted a professional bowler versus an amateur, Eddie Elias founded the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) in 1958. The PBA's Pro Bowlers Tour became a permanent part of ABC's sports lineup by the early 1960s, airing through 1997.[8]

1960 to 1980

Ten-pin bowling was introduced in the United Kingdom in 1960. This was driven by the opening of the Stamford Hill and Golders Green bowling alleys in London. Ten-pin bowling took the UK by storm, with alleys opening up one after the other. At its peak there were over 160 bowling alleys in the UK, but a lack of re-investment and waning interest left the fad in a sorry state. This led to a general deterioration of bowling alleys, with a commensurate decline in their image. In the 1970s a major chain operator, Top Rank, pulled out of bowling and converted many of the more luxurious alleys into Bingo halls. The industry nearly collapsed, with two thirds of the existing alleys closing over the next few years.

The United States, meanwhile, saw league bowling soar in the 1960s and early 1970s—partially influenced by popular professional bowlers Don Carter, Dick Weber, Carmen Salvino and Earl Anthony. The number of sanctioned bowling alleys in the U.S. peaked at about 12,000 in the mid-1960s,[5] while membership in the American Bowling Congress also peaked at just under 4.6 million male bowlers.[15] The popularity of the sport in America was perhaps no more evident than when Don Carter became the first athlete of any kind to sign a US$1 million endorsement contract, inking a multi-year deal with Ebonite International in 1964. By comparison, Arnold Palmer earned just $5,000 in 1961 endorsing Wilson golf equipment, and NFL quarterback Joe Namath made just $10,000 in 1968 to famously shave off his moustache with a Schick razor.[16]

1980 to 2000

Until the mid-1980s there was little, if any, new investment in the sport, with the decline in interest being partially attributed to the complex scoring system, especially as it was a manual process then. However, this all changed with the introduction of automated electronic scoring systems. The general public only had to enter their names into the computers and everything else was done automatically.

Re-investment in the 1980s led to the construction of many bright, modern and attractive sites and began the second golden age of bowling. During the late 1980s and early 1990s the number of ten-pin bowling alleys across the UK rose to over two hundred. This was higher than it had ever been in the sixties, then the peak of the sport's popularity.

2000 to Present

Bowling has experienced another decline since the late 1990s and into the 2000s, especially in the United States. From 1998 to 2013, the number of bowling alleys in the U.S. fell from about 5,400 to 3,976, a 26% drop. This is partly attributed to the decline of league bowling participation, which used to account for most of a bowling center's revenue, as well as the decline in social activity overall, according to Robert Putnam, public policy professor at Harvard University.[13] For example, the Metro Detroit USBC Chapter, which has long had the most certified league members of any chapter in the entire USBC organization, now numbers about 45,000, down from about 300,000 in the late 1970s. Bowling centers once counted on league bowling for about 70% of their revenues, but studies by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and others suggest that figure is now only about 40%.[13]

Today, over 100 million bowlers play in over 90 different countries. The United States Bowling Congress (USBC), for example, reported over 2.6 million members in 2008, but was down to 1.57 million for the 2014-15 season.[17] The bowling industry spends significantly more money each year than any other sport on airlines, restaurants, hotels and rental cars.[18] There is an active movement to make bowling an Olympic sport, which got closest to full Olympic status with the 1988 Summer Olympics as an exhibition sport. Such efforts have been primarily promoted by World Bowling (WB; known as Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs or FIQ from 1952 to 2014), the world governing organization for nine- and ten-pin bowling, with further efforts towards its adoption by the Olympic movement manifesting themselves in 1998, when ten-pin bowling was included for the first time as a sport at the Commonwealth Games, with the sport being a full medal-level event within the Pan American Games since 1991. As people have become exposed to a wider range of entertainment options, bowling alleys have had to reinvent themselves as large entertainment centers that allow people to enjoy many different activities. These developments often include game rooms, multi-screen cinemas, restaurants and night clubs. This has had a great impact on the image of the sport among families,[7] though some of these repurposed centers say they are now attracting a more white-collar group of patrons.[13]

Bowling has been named as one of the eight shortlisted sports for inclusion at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.[19]


For more details on this topic, see Bowling form.
Numbering of pins in ten-pin bowling

A game of ten-pin bowling is divided into ten rounds (called "frames"). In a frame, each player is given two opportunities to knock down the skittle targets (called "pins"). The player rolls the first ball at the pins. If the first ball knocks down all ten pins, it is called a "strike" and the frame is completed. When pins are left standing after the first ball, those that are knocked down are counted and then removed. Then the player rolls a second ball and if all the remaining pins are knocked down, it is called a "spare". There are bonuses for removing all the pins. If there is more than one player scheduled on a lane, play passes to the next player until all players have completed the frame. Then play continues with the next frame. The final or tenth frame of a game may involve three balls. See Scoring below.

The ten pins are usually automatically set by machine into four rows which form an equilateral triangle where there are four pins on a side (Pythagorean Tetractys). Neighboring pins are set up 12 inches (30 cm) apart, measured from center to center. There are four pins in the back row, then three, then two, and finally one in the front at the center of the lane. To ease communication, pins are numbered one through ten, starting with "head pin" in front, and ending with ten in the back to the right.

The ball contacting the 1, 3, 5 and 9 pins (sequentially tinted red in illustration) to achieve a strike

Because of the spacing of the pins and the size of the ball (about 8.6 inches (22 cm) in diameter), it is impossible for the ball to contact all pins. Therefore, a tactical shot is required, which would result in a chain reaction of pin hitting pin in a process called "pin scatter". In an ideal shot for a right-hander, the ball contacts only the 1, 3, 5 and 9 pins; for a left-hander, the 1, 2, 5 and 8 pins.

In order to count, a pin must be knocked over entirely. If the pin is wobbling as the automatic pin machine picks it up (or the machine itself knocks over the pin while it is wobbling), it is still considered standing and is not scored. Also, if a pin is moved, it does not change its designation. For example, if the 10 pin were still standing and the 7 pin slid into the 8 pin position, converting this spare would still be considered and given a 7–10 split award (if performed in certified play).

Conventional ball release

A bowler prepares to release his ball toward the pins during a certified bowling match.

There are generally two primary styles of rolling the ball down the lane. Most newer players play by rolling the ball straight, hopefully into the 1–3 pocket for right-handed bowlers or the 1–2 pocket for left-handed bowlers. More experienced bowlers usually roll a hook, which means that they make the ball start out straight and then curve towards the pocket. There are two ways to produce a hook. In the first, the player lets go of the ball with his thumb first, then the middle and ring finger release almost simultaneously. This gives the bowling ball its spin needed for the hook. If the player is right-handed, an ideal position of the thumb after letting go of the ball is "10 o'clock", meaning that the thumb has gone from 12 to 10, as looking at a clock. The corresponding position for left-handed players is 2 o'clock. Of course, there are innumerable variations in style and technique and the position of the thumb can vary from person to person. The second way is to hold the ball without the thumb in the thumb hole. This uses one or two fingers to produce the hook. Some bowlers will use none of their fingers. Lab research has shown that the ideal shot will enter the pocket at an angle of 6 degrees with respect to the lane boards, which means that a straight ball should be thrown from the side of the lane, near the gutter.

Less frequently, a player will use two hands where the fingers of one hand are placed in the holes as in a standard throw, while placing the other hand over the front of the ball and releasing the ball in the form of a "shovel-pitch" from the side.

A right-handed bowler demonstrates the "UFO" or "helicopter" release. At the point of release, the thumb is closer to the body, while the middle and ring fingers face the pins.


A typical bowling ball is designed to roll vertically, and the core is naturally lop-sided so that the ball will hook naturally if the thumb and finger holes are drilled in the proper places. In parts of Asia, where oil conditions are more difficult and lanes maintenance is poor, hooking the ball makes bowling more difficult. The "spinner", "helicopter" or "UFO" release is popular. A top spinning bowling ball will slide (rather than roll vertically,) but also spin like a top down the lane, and will always slide straight regardless of the oil pattern applied to the lane. Because of the spin, the ball will take an unconventional path through the pins at impact, creating a domino effect (spinners call it "deflection") pin reaction not normally seen when using more conventional releases. The spin is generated by rotating the hand counter clockwise (right-handed) until the hand is on top of the ball, the two fingers are in the 12-o'clock position, and the thumb is in the 6-o'clock position. At this point, both the fingers and thumb come out of the ball at the same time. The forearm is also used to create the spin on the ball and push the ball onto the lane. Once on the lane surface, the ball will continue to spin on the X-axis, and slide down the lane. This technique is not seen frequently in world-class competition where oil patterns are more standardized. Spinning is difficult to master, and can even cause injury if not done right. Using a lighter bowling ball (10 to 12 pounds) with a completely rounded core is recommended, along with a conventional grip. Spinning causes results like a weak 5-pin more frequently. Use of the spinner technique is seen more frequently in Taiwan and Hong Kong.[20]


The backup style of bowling is where the bowler will flick their wrist clockwise (for right handers) or counter clockwise (for left handers) upon release of the ball. Like a conventional release that generates hook, this technique will also cause the ball to move in a curved path rather than in a straight line. However a right handed backup will follow a left handed conventional path, and a left handed backup will follow a right handed conventional path.

This style of bowling can be significantly harder to learn for new bowlers and there is increased risk of injury to the wrist, especially when heavier balls are used. However, a right handed backup bowler can gain an advantage, particularly in tournament play where the vast majority of bowlers will be bowling on the right side of the lane. By throwing backup, they will be using the lesser used left hand side of the lane allowing them to play with less change in the general oil pattern over the course of play.

Other ball release styles

Some extremely young or physically challenged players may use both hands to swing the ball forward from in between their legs. This kind of style has the bowler start close to the foul line, and is called the "Granny style" (after its similarity to the "granny shot" in amateur basketball) or the "Pee-Wee method". In recent years, the new two-handed "shovel" style hook release is gaining more popularity, as it generates more revolutions and speed to knock down pins. Another method for novice bowlers is the "bounce pass" technique which is performed by thrusting the ball from your chest with two hands towards the pins. This technique is easily picked up by weaker players but is seldom used because it is frowned upon by the bowling community because of the potential to damage the lanes and/or ball. Some middle aged bowlers use the ramp in which a bowler will use two hands and push the ball down the ramp onto the lane.

Delivery styles

There are three widely recognized delivery styles used while the ball is released onto the lane. (See article: Bowling form.) These are the "stroker", "cranker" and "tweener" styles.[21] Lesser (and newer) styles include "no-thumb" and "two-handed".

Strokers often keep their shoulders square to the foul line and their backswing generally does not go much above parallel to the ground. This type of delivery reduces the ball's rate of revolution, thus decreasing its hook potential and hitting power. Strokers rely on finesse and accuracy, as opposed to crankers, who use speed and power. However, today's modern reactive resin bowling balls now allow strokers to hit the "pocket" at a relatively high angle. Stroking is considered the most classic of all the bowling forms and is still the most popular style of bowling in the PBA. Walter Ray Williams, Jr., the PBA's all-time leader in titles and earnings, is a stroker.

The cranker strives to generate revolutions using a cupped wrist or excessive wrist action. Crankers who rely on wrist action may have a high backswing and open their shoulders to generate ball speed. These bowlers often cup the wrist, but open the wrist at the top of the swing. Crankers may also muscle the ball with a bent elbow because their wrist is not strong enough to be cupped at the release. Crankers often use "late" timing, where the foot gets to the foul line before the ball; a technique known as plant and pull, hardly using any slide on their final step and pulling the ball upwards for leverage. The timing between the feet and the ball being delivered is only a fraction of a second. PBA Hall of Famer Mark Roth is a great example of a cranker.

Tweeners (a term derived from "in-between") are bowlers that deliver the ball in a manner that falls somewhere in between stroking and cranking. This modified delivery could use a higher backswing than is normally employed by a pure stroker or a less powerful wrist position than a pure cranker. Some use the term to refer to a bowler who is simply not a "picture perfect" example of either a stroker or a cranker. A variation on the tweener is the "power stroker". This type of bowler uses a high backswing and/or powerful wrist position, but has the smooth timing and slide step of a stroker. Hall of Famer Pete Weber is perhaps the best-known example of a power stroker.

No-thumbers and two-handers are similar in the respect that their bowling hand's thumb is not inserted into the ball. These styles create an enormous amount of hook, are difficult to master and have very few users. The thumbless one-handed style is more difficult to execute properly compared to two-handed. Generally, no-thumbers will use a less-heavier ball (usually one to three pounds lighter than their "thumb-in" ball) to make this style easier to use. With the two-handed release, the dominant hand's middle and ring fingers are inserted into the ball and the non-dominant hand (left for right handers, right for left handers) is kept on top of the ball and helps to support the ball until release. Examples of success with these styles include no-thumber Eric Copping, who has bowled over ninety perfect games and holds the Vermont state record for average in a season with 246,[22] and two-handed PBA members Jason Belmonte and Osku Palermaa.

Optimal ball speed

There is an optimal bowling ball speed at which the player maximizes the chance to knock down all ten bowling pins. Optimal ball speed, which is defined as the time it takes for the ball to travel from one foot past the foul line to the head pin, is 2.3 seconds (this number can shift to 2.2 or 2.4 depending on the dryness or slickness of the lane).[23] A ball that is rolled too fast will not give the pins enough time to “mix” with other pins, or in other words, to knock each other down in a domino effect motion. Conversely, a ball rolled too slowly will deflect too much and will not be able to knock down all the pins.

The bowling ball speed is affected primarily by three factors: gravitational forces, forward momentum, and downswing acceleration. The speed of the ball as generated by gravitational forces during the swing depends primarily on the total arc of the swing. This arc is further affected by the length of the bowler’s arm and by the height at which the swing begins. Assuming a longer arm and higher swing peak will maximize the speed that the gravitational forces produce. Forward momentum is manifested in the walking approach of the bowler prior to the throw.[23] The “four-step” approach is most commonly applied, with the right foot slightly ahead of the left at starting position (for right handed bowlers).[24] Longer legs and a faster approach during the third step and downswing will increase the ball speed. Finally, the deliberate acceleration of the arm during downswing is of critical focus. This particular factor is difficult to master, however, because one can easily force the armswing and thus accelerate too quickly or cause the arm to deviate from the natural path.[23]

Although varying pin weights, angles, and lane conditions will cause small adjustments, with an understanding of the three primary factors that generate the optimal ball speed, each bowler can customize his technique to his own body to improve performance.[23]

Lining up a shot

There are systematic ways of using the lane arrow marks and approach dots to make it easier to line up a shot, increasing consistency of hitting the pins at the correct location every time. For beginners, it also helps eliminate fear of the channels, and places the focus solely on the lane. Most bowlers are taught to utilize the arrows, as the arrows are nearer to the point where a hooking ball starts to hook back towards the pins. Other bowlers utilize the dots if they find themselves pulling their body up at the foul line (the shoulders should stay level throughout the entire approach,) as this is usually caused by them thinking that the arrows are too far out at the lane. Advanced players often use the lane boards themselves to line up shots that require them to aim between arrows.


The conventional bowling footwork styles use either a four- or five-step approach beginning 8 to 16 feet (2.4 to 4.8 meters) behind the foul line. In the typical four-step approach, the ball is pushed away from the body in step one; step two has the ball at the bottom of the backswing; in step three, the ball is at the top of the backswing; finally, the ball is swung forward and delivered in conjunction with the fourth and final slide-step. In a five-step approach, the bowler takes an initial timing step before pushing the ball away from the body.

Rules and regulations

Lanes in a ten-pin bowling alley

The regulations listed here are generally based around regulations set by the United States Bowling Congress[25] — based on the original rules first codified by a USBC predecessor, the American Bowling Congress in 1895 — and the British Tenpin Bowling Association.[26] These rules are followed by all certified leagues and events, such as tournaments.

This information is clarified by the World Tenpin Bowling Association in its "Statutes and Playing Rules".[27]

Playing area

The sport of ten-pin bowling is performed on a straight, narrow surface known as a lane. This bowling lane is 60 feet (18.29 m) from the foul line to the head pin (1-pin). About 15 feet (4.57 m) from the foul line are a set of guide arrows. The lane is 41.5 inches (1.05 m) wide and normally consists of 39 wooden boards (commonly rock maple in the "heads", which is the first 15 feet of lane, and in the pin deck, which begins about 2 feet in front of the head pin; the middle of lane is a softer wood) or a synthetic material. The bowling lane has two sets of approach dots; from the foul line back to the first set of approach dots is about 12 feet (3.66 m) and to the second set of approach dots is about 15 feet (4.57 m) (an additional 3 feet (0.91 m)). Although this figure varies, the lane is protected by about 18 millilitres (0.63 imp fl oz; 0.61 US fl oz) of oil (also known as "the shot"). PBA events use about 30 millilitres (1.06 imp fl oz; 1.01 US fl oz) of oil, and PWBA events use 25 millilitres (0.88 imp fl oz; 0.85 US fl oz). The oil starts from about 4 inches past the foul line and is applied for at least 38 feet (11.58 m) down the lane from that point.


A ten-pin bowling pin in cross section
Main article: Bowling pin

USBC rules specify that a pin must be 15 inches (38 cm) tall and about 4.7 inches (12 cm) wide at its widest point, where a rolling ball would make contact. There are additional measurements which delineate the shape. The weight of a single pin must be at least 3 pounds 6 ounces and no more than 3 pounds 10 ounces (1.53–1.64 kg). Within a set of ten pins, the individual weights may vary by no more than 4 ounces (113.4 g), if made from wood or plastic coated, or just 2 ounces (56.7 g) if synthetic. The top of the pin shall have a uniform arc with a radius of 1.273 ± 132 inch (32.33 ± 0.79 mm).

The USBC also has regulations governing the weight distribution of the pin from top-to-bottom. Pins are allowed one or two "voids" (holes) in the belly area (which can be viewed if the pin is cut in half from top-to-bottom). The voids are needed to balance the narrower top half of the pin with the wider bottom half. Without them, the pins would be too bottom-heavy to fall properly when struck. In addition, a standard regulation pin may lean no more than 10 degrees off center without falling.

The pins must show the name and mark of the maker, either "USBC Approved" or "BTBA Approved" and appear uniform.

Bowling ball

Main article: Bowling ball

The maximum diameter of the ball is 8.595 inches (21.83 cm)[1] and the circumference of the ball must not be more than 27 inches (0.69 m),[1] and the ball cannot weigh more than 16 pounds (7.26 kg).[1] Generally, the lightest ball available for use is 6 pounds (2.72 kg). The ball must have a smooth surface over its entire circumference except for holes or indentations used for gripping the ball, holes or indentations made to bring the ball back into compliance with weight-distribution regulations, identification letters and numbers, and general wear from normal use.

For much of the history of bowling, bowling balls were made using a three-piece construction method. Starting in the mid-1990s, however, most manufacturers switched to a two-piece method. In response to these innovative ball designs, the American Bowling Congress placed further restrictions on the technical characteristics of the ball such as the radius of gyration and hooking potential.[6]

Rules of play

A game of bowling consists of ten frames. In each frame, the bowler will have two chances to knock down as many pins as possible with his bowling ball. In games with more than one bowler, as is common, every bowler will take his frame in a predetermined order before the next frame begins. If a bowler is able to knock down all ten pins with the first ball, he is awarded a strike. If the bowler is able to knock down all 10 pins with the two balls of a frame, it is known as a spare. Bonus points are awarded for both of these, depending on what is scored in the next two balls (for a strike) or one ball (for a spare). The bowler is allowed to throw two extra balls for achieving a strike in the tenth frame, or one extra ball for achieving a spare. This allows for a potential of 12 strikes in a single game, and a maximum score of 300 points, a perfect game. The player with the most points at the end of ten frames wins. Although if time runs out before the end of ten frames bowling stops, and the person with the most points wins the game.


Traditional scoring

In general, one point is scored for each pin that is knocked over. So if a player bowls over three pins with the first shot, then six with the second, the player would receive a total of nine points for that frame. If a player knocks down nine pins with the first shot, but misses with the second, the player would also score nine. When a player fails to knock down all ten pins after their second ball it is known as an open frame.

In the event that all ten pins are knocked over by a player in a single frame, bonuses are awarded.

A ten-pin bowling scoresheet showing how a strike is scored
Frame 1, ball 1: 10 pins (strike)
Frame 2, ball 1: 3 pins
Frame 2, ball 2: 6 pins
The total score from these throws is:
  • Frame one: 10 + (3 + 6) = 19
  • Frame two: 3 + 6 = 9
TOTAL = 28

Two consecutive strikes are referred to as a "double". Some locations still call it a "Hambone" even though that term has been changed to mean 4 strikes in a row by announcers on television. (Four strikes in a row is also referred to as a "Llama.")

A double's pinfall is:

Frame 1, ball 1: 10 pins (Strike)
Frame 2, ball 1: 10 pins (Strike)
Frame 3, ball 1: 9 pins
Frame 3, ball 2: 0 pins (recorded as a dash '-' or '0' on the scoresheet)
The total score from these throws is:
Frame one: 10 + (10 + 9) = 29
Frame two: 10 + (9 + 0) = 19
Frame three: 9 + 0 = 9
TOTAL = 57

Three strikes bowled consecutively are known as a "turkey" or "triple".

A turkey's pinfall is:

Frame 1, ball 1: 10 pins (Strike)
Frame 2, ball 1: 10 pins (Strike)
Frame 3, ball 1: 10 pins (Strike)
Frame 4, ball 1: 0 pins (Gutterball)
Frame 4, ball 2: 9 pins
The total score from these throws is:
Frame one: 10 + (10 + 10) = 30
Frame two: 10 + (10 + 0) = 20
Frame three: 10 + (0 + 9) = 19
Frame four: 0 + 9 = 9
TOTAL = 78

Longer strings of strikes are called by various names, including "-Bagger" (Four Bagger), "Llama" (Four consecutive), and "-Pack" (Six Pack) depending on local use, equipment, and exposure to the sport.[28][29] Recently, the event of bowling four consecutive strikes has also been called a "hambone".[30] Six strikes and nine strikes in a row can also be referred to "Wild Turkeys" and "Golden Turkeys" respectively. Any string of strikes starting in the first frame or ending "off the sheet" (where all of a bowler's shots from a certain frame to the end of the game strike) are often referred to as the "front" or "back" strikes, respectively (e.g., the "front nine" for strikes in frames 1–9, or the "back six" for strikes in frames 7, 8, and 9 with a turkey in the tenth). A "perfect game" or 12 strikes in a row is also rarely referred to as the "Thanksgiving Turkey". A "Clean Game" is a game with strikes or spares in every frame (not counting bonus balls).

A small number of bowling fans have recognized that naming each strike in a consistent manner adds to the enjoyment and excitement of the game. Based on this, a growing number of bowlers subscribe to the "Duck, Duck, Turkey" method of titling consecutive strikes. In keeping with the tradition that the third consecutive strike is called a "Turkey," every third strike references turkeys and all strikes under this method have been named after birds as follows: Strike 1 - Duck; Strike 2 - Duck; Strike 3 - Turkey; Strike 4 - Goose; Strike 5 - Chicken; Strike 6 - Turducken; Strike 7 - Penguin; Strike 8 - Flamingo; Strike 9 - Turkey Vulture; Strike 10 - Woodpecker; Strike 11 - Eagle; Strike 12 - Turkey Hawk.[31]

A player who scores multiple strikes in succession would score like so:
Frame 1, ball 1: 10 pins (strike)
Frame 2, ball 1: 10 pins (strike)
Frame 3, ball 1: 4 pins
Frame 3, ball 2: 2 pins
The score from these throws are:
  • Frame one: 10 + (10 + 4) = 24
  • Frame two: 10 + (4 + 2) = 16
  • Frame three: 4 + 2 = 6
TOTAL = 46
The most points that can be scored in a single frame is 30 points (10 for the original strike, plus strikes in the two subsequent frames).
A player who bowls a strike in the tenth (final) frame is awarded two extra balls so as to allow the awarding of bonus points. If both these balls also result in strikes, a total of 30 points (10 + 10 + 10) is awarded for the frame. Some people call it "striking out", since three strikes in baseball equals an out.
A ten-pin bowling scoresheet showing how a spare is scored
Frame 1, ball 1: 7 pins
Frame 1, ball 2: 3 pins (spare)
Frame 2, ball 1: 4 pins
Frame 2, ball 2: 2 pins
The total score from these throws is:
  • Frame one: 7 + 3 + 4 (bonus) = 14
  • Frame two: 4 + 2 = 6
TOTAL = 20

A player who bowls a spare in the tenth (final) frame is awarded one extra ball to allow for the bonus points.

Correctly calculating bonus points can be difficult, especially when combinations of strikes and spares come in successive frames. In modern times, however, this has been overcome with automated scoring systems, linked to the pinsetters that set and clear the pins between frames. A computer automatically counts pins that remain standing, and fills in a virtual score sheet (usually displayed on monitors above each lane). However, even the automated system is not fool-proof, as the computer can miscount the number of pins that remain standing.

Scoring may change from the above for high-profile games, non-traditional games (like a 40-frame game), and variations of computer systems from age, manufacturer, or center programming. Televised games score assumes strikes for unbowled frames as needed to score bowled frames. The forty-frame game gives bonus points and takes away points depending on frame. Games bowled at the National level typically do not show detail on most shots. Some computer systems will not immediately tally scores if you string strikes to help control nerves. Most scoring modifications are just extensions of the existing rules, and the end result is the same once the game is complete.

World Bowling scoring

The World Bowling scoring system—described as "current frame scoring"[32]—awards points as follows:

  • strike: 30 (regardless of ensuing rolls' results)
  • spare: 10 plus pinfall on first roll of the current frame
  • open: total pinfall for current frame

The maximum score is 300.[33][34]

World Bowling scoring is thought to make bowling easier to follow than with traditional scoring,[33] increase television viewership,[32] and help bowling to become an Olympic sport.[32][34]

Variant of World Bowling scoring

Another variant of scoring, a 12-frame system introduced at the November 2014 World Bowling Tour (WBT) finals, resembles golf's match play scoring in counting the greater number of frames won rather than measuring accumulated pinfall score.[35] A frame may be won immediately by a higher pincount on the first roll of the frame, and a match may be won when one player is ahead by more frames than remain of the possible 12 frames.[35] This variant reduces match length and scoring complexity for two-player matches.[35]

Perfect (300) game

The maximum score in a game of ten-pin is 300, scored by making 12 strikes in a row. Before 1908, no one ever received an award for a game greater than 298. ABC used to award medals (gold, silver and bronze) for the three highest individual games rolled in the nation. The number of perfect games bowled during a season first became a problem for American Bowling Congress (ABC) officials in 1908 when the organization was only 13 years old. The crisis struck when A.C. Jellison and Homer Sanders, both of St. Louis, bowled 300 games in the same season. Perplexed with the problem of having only one gold medal and unwilling to duplicate the award, the ABC decreed that both had to vie for it in a three-game match at the ABC tournament in Pittsburgh. Jellison, who won the match and the gold, is thus recognized for rolling the first perfect game in ABC history, without regard as to whether his feat was chronologically achieved first. For his accomplishment, Sanders received a silver medal and a place in trivia history. Earnest Fosberg of East Rockford, IL bowled the first-ever documented 300 game in 1902, however, no ABC recognition was available at that time.

Jeremy Sonnenfeld of Sioux Falls, S.D. made bowling history on Feb. 2, 1997 when he became the first person ever to roll three certified perfect games in a three-game set, or a 900 series. Sonnenfeld was not the first person to shoot a 900 series, but his was the first recognized by ABC. Former PBA bowler Glenn Allison submitted the first-ever 900 series for award consideration, when he accomplished the feat on July 1, 1982. But the ABC refused to certify the score, citing non-compliant lane conditions. ABC/USBC has relaxed their criteria for certifying scores in the past few years, leading many bowling fans to believe that Allison's 900 would have easily been sanctioned under today's rules and procedures.[36][37]

In Britain, the youngest bowler ever to achieve a perfect single game score of 300 (12 consecutive strikes), in certified competition was 12 years, 71 days old Elliot John Crosby, at AMF Purley in South London, England in the Surrey County trials on January 7, 2006.[38] Crosby beat the previous British 300 shooter record holder Rhys Parfitt by more than a year. Parfitt was 13 years, 4 months when he achieved a 300-point game at the London international tenpin bowling tournament in 1994. In the United States, Hannah Diem of Seminole, Florida, became the youngest bowler to achieve a perfect 300 game in a certified event on November 17, 2013 at the age of 9 years, 6 months and 19 days. The game was bowled as part of a 730 series (204, 226, 300) in the Youth/Adult League at Liberty Lanes Largo, Florida. The record has been approved by the United States Bowling Congress. The prior record was held by Chaz Dennis, 10 years, 3 months, 16 days, back in 2006. The prior female record holder was set by Brandie Reamy at the age of 12 years, 4 months, 11 days back in 2006.


World tournaments

Note that all major tournaments are non-handicapped ("scratch").

Major world tournaments

The world champion is crowned at the WTBA World Championship held by the World Tenpin Bowling Association since 1954.

The "Weber Cup" is the ten-pin bowling equivalent of golf's Ryder Cup. It is the world famous major world tournament of Team Europe vs. Team USA bowling championships that happens annually. Other major world-famous bowling tournaments include the World Tenpin Masters and the Qubica/AMF World Cup.

All of the three world major bowling tours above are televised on Sky Sports by Matchroom Sport. All three events are also presented by broadcaster and journalists, Nick Halling and Cass Edwards.

There is also the influential European Tenpin Bowling Federation, which has the prestigious European Bowling Tour, and under that the PTBC Storm English Open.

Among the leading world tournaments is the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour. The PBA Tour takes place mostly in North America, however stops on the World Bowling Tour (WBT) have been added as PBA stops in recent years. This tour has 20 or more events per year, and includes four major championship events: the U.S. Open, USBC Masters (known as the ABC Masters prior to 2005), the Tournament of Champions and the PBA World Championship. Although PBA headquarters are based in the U.S., the PBA has members from all over the world who also compete in all of its events. The PBA tour is televised in America and certain parts of the world by ESPN and CBS Sports Network.

Along with increased coverage in recent years, these tours have become more profitable for bowlers. Earl Anthony, who bowled left-handed, became the first bowler to earn more than $100,000 (U.S.) in a single season when he finished the 1975 PBA Tour schedule with $107,585. He broke the $1 million mark in career earnings in 1982. From 1987 onward, the PBA held some single tournaments that paid $100,000 to the winner. Norm Duke is the youngest person to win a PBA Tour tournament. He won the 1983 Cleveland Open at age 18 years, 345 days. The youngest person to bowl a PBA event is 14-year-old Kamron Doyle of Brentwood, TN, who participated (and cashed) in the 2012 U.S. Open.[39] The oldest player to win a regular PBA Tour title is John Handegard, who won the 1995 Northwest Classic at age 57 years, 139 days. Walter Ray Williams Jr. is the all-time leader in PBA Tour titles with 47.

The USBC (United States Bowling Congress) has two major "open" championship events: the USBC Open Championships and the USBC Masters (known as the ABC Masters prior to 2005). For female bowlers, the USBC sanctions the U.S. Women's Open, USBC Queens (known as the WIBC Queens prior to 2005) and USBC Women's Championships.

There are also the Commonwealth Tenpin Bowling Championships.

World Ranking Masters

Ten-pin bowling has an international ranking system, as with many professional individual sports. This ten-pin equivalent is known as the World Ranking Masters and is made of three vast tours: the European, Americas and Asian bowling tours.

Minor world tournaments

Other minor tournaments, although major in their respective countries, include Britain's prestigious BTBA Nationals (BTBA National Championships), the Brunswick Ballmaster Open, Brunswick Euro Challenge in Greece, ETBF European Youth Championships, the European Gold Cup and the Mediterranean Challenge Cup. The world's premier amateur event is the WB/WTBA World Championships (World Bowling) which has been running since 1954 and is now held every two years.

Other Tournaments

Around the world, there are numerous local, regional and national tournaments held, normally with the only basic requirement that a bowler be a certified member of a national bowling organization. These tournaments may have handicapped or scratch divisions, but, generally, bowlers are entered automatically into each division. The time frame for bowling tournaments can be from one day to several months.

Examples of these:
Local – a USBC local association or state tournament, open only to certified members of the local or state association where the tournament is being held.
Regional – larger tournaments that can draw bowlers from across the country, but usually from a large area around the locale of the tournament. The Lilac Tournament in Rochester, New York can be considered one of these.
National – the USBC National Tournament, held in Reno, Nevada and at various locations around the country in alternate years.

League play

Traditionally, a major form of organized bowling has been through league competition. Leagues are typically groups of two- to five-player teams that compete with one another over the course of a 28 to 36 week season, generally starting in September and ending in the spring. Summer leagues are often offered with a much shorter schedule of 10 to 15 weeks, usually starting in May. Additionally, "short" (8 to 12 week) season leagues are now offered in many bowling centers to entice bowlers who may not want to commit to a "long" season league. These "short" leagues generally start around September/October and January/February.

In most leagues, teams of individuals bowl three games (called a "series") each. A typical league will schedule two teams to compete against one another each week. Usually the winner of each game is decided by adding up the scores of all teammates (plus a team "handicap" in most leagues). Leagues typically decide standings by awarding a certain number of points for each team game win. Additionally, points are usually awarded for total pin count for each team over the course of the series (commonly referred to as "total wood"). Some common methods for calculating points in a given three-game match include:

The 7- and 8-point systems are favored, because a tie game can result in each team getting one point. (In a 4-point system, half-points would be required for ties.) Throughout the course of a season, each team will usually face all of the other teams in scheduled competition. "Position Rounds", where 1st place bowls against 2nd place, 3rd place bowls against 4th place, and so on, are often added at one or more points during the season.

There are some leagues that are organized as "match point" leagues. In these leagues, each bowler on a team bowls "head-to-head" against his opponent for points, and, along with the team game points and total wood, the point system can total 30 or more.

Leagues can have various formats. While most leagues are mixed leagues, containing both men and women, men's and women's leagues are still common, along with junior leagues for young bowlers. There are also different types of competition. Scratch leagues are those in which the actual pin count determines the winner. Most leagues are not scratch, but handicap leagues.

In handicap leagues, the scores are a combination of the actual pins knocked down, plus addition of a handicap value, to give teams with lower averages a chance to compete against teams that have higher averaged bowlers. The handicap system provides a means to compare scores across the whole league. When computing averages, however, resultant totals that have a decimal component (numbers to the right of the decimal point) discard all numbers to the right of the decimal point, leaving only a whole number, as rounding any decimal number equal or higher than 0.500, "up" to the next highest whole number when calculating averages is prohibited by USBC rules on scoring in tenpins.

As of the 2014-15 season, approximately 1.57 million people compete in bowling leagues in the United States. At its peak in 1980, over eight million men and women competed in leagues throughout the United States.[40]

Governing bodies

In ten-pin bowling there are two major world organizations which govern the sport and have predominant influence over its rules. These two central bodies are based in the United Kingdom and the United States, but their influence and ascendant ruling are highly respected globally and are projected worldwide. Additionally, there is the World Tenpin Bowling Association (WTBA), a part of the WB organization, which governs the sport of tenpin bowling throughout the world of which is divided in three zones; the American Zone, Asian Zone and European Zone.

United Kingdom

In England, ten-pin bowling is sanctioned and governed by the BTBA (British Tenpin Bowling Association). The BTBA is devoted to the interest of the game itself and like the US equivalent it ensures the integrity and protection of the future of the sport, providing programs and services and enhancing the bowling experience, including a coaching education and qualification system. The NAYBC (National Association of Youth Bowling Clubs) is responsible to the BTBA for organizing ten-pin bowling for the under-18-year-olds. There is also the Tenpin Bowling Proprietors Association (TBPA), the trade association for ten-pin bowling of Britain. For BTBA qualified Instructors and Coaches the British Tenpin Bowling Coaching Association has been set up to help with the exchange of information and ideas between members. In addition, affiliated to the BTBA is the Young Adults Club (YAC).[41][42] University & College tenpin bowling is administered jointly by the British Universities Tenpin Bowling Association and the Tenpin Bowling Sports Advisory Group of BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport). Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have their own governing bodies, with similar responsibilities to the BTBA for their respective regions of the UK.

United States

In the United States, the governing body of ten-pin bowling is the USBC (United States Bowling Congress). The USBC became the "administering organization" on January 1, 2005, after following separate groups merged: the American Bowling Congress (ABC), which was the earliest founded (in 1895) of the USBC's constituent organizations, and the first codifier of ten pin bowling rules and equipment specifications; the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC), founded in 1927 as the women's equivalent of the then "male-only" ABC; the Young America Bowling Alliance (YABA), formerly known as the American Junior Bowling Congress (AJBC); and College and USA Bowling. The USBC's main function is to ensure the integrity and protect the future of the sport, while providing programs and services to enhance the bowling experience. The International Bowling Hall of Fame formerly located in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Arlington, Texas since 2010, includes separate wings for honorees of the American Bowling Congress (ABC), Professional Bowlers' Association (PBA), and Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC). The museum does not include the new Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour Hall of Fame, which is located in Las Vegas, Nevada.

In 2008, the USBC moved its headquarters from Greendale, Wisconsin to Arlington, Texas.[43]

Drug testing authorities

In the United Kingdom, UK Sport, the official sports body that governs drugs testing on ten-pin bowlers and other athletes in the UK on a regular basis and is conducted by a Doping Control Officer (DCO), is Britain's "National Anti-Doping Organization" (NADO). It is a subsection of the internationally recognized and authoritative World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA is recognised by the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games of which ten-pin bowling plays a part.[44]


In December 2005, at the Premier Tenpin Bowling Club Tour (PTBC), hosted by Airport Bowl, two of Britain's BTBA Nationals Team England were banned for testing positive for chemicals produced from the consumption of cocaine. UK Sport was responsible for the testing and reported their findings to the BTBA governing body. The individuals were subsequently banned for two years, which is standard WADA recommendation. They were due to be re-instated into the official bowling tournament community in early 2008, subject to WADA and BTBA review. This story was first reported on in Go Tenpin magazine.[45]

Technology changes and controversy

For the machine that sets bowling pins, see pinsetter.
For the ball that is used to knock down the pins, see bowling ball.

Pin characteristics, the bowling ball, and the lane surface are regulated by the USBC, BTBA and others. Technological changes throughout the history of the sport have often required new regulations. This continues today, often with great debate. The controversies usually involve "scoreability" related to greater strike carry on less-than-perfect shots. The increasing frequency and degree of higher scoring irks many bowling purists, who say that it is damaging the integrity of the sport.

History of technological changes

Before 1970, nearly all bowling balls had a hard rubber surface. As the coatings applied to wood lanes changed from softer lacquer to a harder urethane in the early 1970s, the first plastic balls became widely available. Subsequent changes since the early 1980s—particularly urethane surfaced and later "reactive" resin or composite ("particle") surfaced bowling balls—have been altering the physics of how the ball rolls and strikes the pins. Coupled with synthetic lane surfaces and advanced oiling machines presenting the opportunity to lay out lane oil patterns that make targeting easier, there have been numerous concerns. In 1989, for example, 34 teams at the National ABC Tournament in the U.S. rolled scores of 3200 or greater. There had only been 31 team scores above 3200 in the previous 85 years of the tournament.[46] Honor scores (for 300 games, 800 series, 900 series, etc.) have increased by several thousand percent on a per-member basis in the time period from 1980 to the present. To many, this has cheapened the intrinsic value of honor scores and created other workarounds.

An automatic machine that oils the lanes

Up until the early 1970s, the ABC/WIBC honor awards were genuine treasures because they were so rarely won. In response to the view that advanced equipment is spoiling the integrity of the sport, the USBC introduced in 2000 the "Sport Bowling" program which offers a different optional league certification and the USBC provides a separate set of honor awards. In Sport Bowling, lane conditions are more highly regulated and controlled than in traditional leagues, and the oiling patterns used are generally more even with regards to volume and ratios of oil across the surface of the lane. Sport Bowling conditions are similar to those used at some major championships of professional bowling, particularly the U.S. Open. In more recent years, "PBA Experience" leagues have been introduced that allow bowlers to compete on the five main lane conditions currently used on the PBA Tour.

Not everyone has embraced the Sport Bowling concept. PBA Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia argues that Sport Bowling combats changes in bowling balls simply by making it tougher to roll a shot into the "pocket" (the 1–3 pins for a right-hander, 1–2 pins for a left-hander). According to Petraglia, Sport Bowling is merely an attempt to "create the scores that were shot 30 years ago. The problem is, 30 years ago the game wasn't tougher. You could hit the pocket as easily as you do now, but you couldn't knock over the same [number] of pins with a rubber bowling ball. Sport bowling is, for the first time, intentionally trying to make the lanes tough."[47] Petraglia's suggestion to combat high-tech bowling balls is to use heavier pins that are single-voided on the bottom (versus double-voided), making them less top-heavy.

Bowling alley proprietors and lane maintenance personnel have also argued that changes in ball technology have made it more difficult to lay out fair and credible conditions for participants. This is because advanced players using high-tech balls need more oil to score high, and might complain about the radical behavior of their balls on "dry" lanes. At the same time, less aggressive players with older equipment might complain when they cannot get their balls to hook on ever-increasing amounts of oil. Such complaints about lane conditions have actually been part of the game throughout bowling history, and will likely continue.

USBC technology study

Among advanced players, there is little argument about whether technological changes have enabled higher scoring. The general consensus has been that they have. Yet there are those who have seen their scores decline, often because they did not change their technique or bowling balls appropriately. Some argue that such high technology unfairly affects competition, making high scores too dependent on how much money one spends on equipment. The USBC, for various reasons, has struggled to regulate these changes well enough to protect the integrity of their honor score award program.

The problem mostly stemmed from the feature of modern oil patterns, especially house patterns that help exhibit performance of modern bowling balls allegedly for marketing reasons. Every such pattern provides better odds to bowlers with certain line of bowling, release, ball speed and certain type of bowling balls. If a bowler has a specific form of bowling suitable for a specific oil pattern, coupled with the right bowling ball, his margin of error is highly increased versus other bowlers. The result is that sometimes the bowler throwing the more accurate shot loses to the bowler who has created a larger "target area". Some advanced bowlers simplified this to: "To a large degree, the equipment and oil pattern determines the winner."

At the end of 2007, the USBC completed a two-year study on bowling ball motion and how advanced, high-tech equipment may influence lane conditions and scoring. Establishing a Bowling Ball Specifications Task Force—comprising research engineers and volunteers from ball manufacturing companies—the USBC sought to better understand the motion of bowling balls using scientific research and data analysis. Test equipment included, but was not limited to, a robotic ball-thrower, a Computer Aided Tracking System ("Super C.A.T.S."), 59 reactive resin and particle bowling balls from various manufacturers, and eight lanes in a climate-controlled facility.

The driving force behind the study was summed up by USBC Technical Director Neil Stremmel: "USBC is concerned that technology has overtaken player skill [as the primary factor] in determining success in the sport of bowling."[48]

The USBC completed data analysis and released a lengthy report on its website (www.bowl.com) to the public in the spring of 2008. As of April 1, 2009, The USBC now regulates the chemical surface roughness of all bowling balls manufactured for certified ten-pin bowling. This specification is a direct result from the ball motion study, as the surface roughness of the coverstock of a bowling ball was the number one variable (out of 18) that affected the strength (how much a ball hooks) of a bowling ball. The radius of gyration specification has also been tightened and went into effect in 2010. For up to date information on ball specifications, check the USBC Equipment Specifications website at http://bowl.com/equipandspecs/index.jsp.


Today there are an exceptional number of major sports-related and non sports-related companies that focus specifically on designing, producing and or supporting the production of many items specifically designed for ten-pin bowling equipment. Such items include scoring systems, balls, bags, cleaning products, wrist supports, shirts, shoes, trousers, shorts and gloves, etc. Some of the major world famous equipment producers and supporters include AMF, Brunswick, Dacos, Ebonite, MOTIV, and Storm.

Other manufacturers and suppliers include Lane#1, Track, DV8, Roto-Grip, Hammer, Circle Athletic, Columbia 300, Dyno-Thane, Fun Balls, Legends, MoRich, Robby, and Via Bowling. Specially designed shoe design and manufacture is also a significant enterprise that many companies have gotten involved in next to ball production. Some of the major shoe designers are Circle, Dexter, Etonic, and Linds.

Individual stores that sell the merchandise made by these companies specifically for ten-pin bowlers are called pro shops.

In the United States, bowling equipment sales totaled US$215 million in 1997 which is around the same figure as in 1996 when the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) released their reports.[49] In Britain "Mintel International Group Ltd" produced a "Market Research Report" in July 2004 which gave the UK's Tenpin bowling sales and market by sector from 1999–2003 and also the type of customer.[50]

Ten-pin bowling in media

Ten-pin bowling in print

The Indian Tenpin Bowling Association (ITBA) produces the magazine Go Tenpin. However, it is not specific to the United Kingdom and is highly respected around the globe in ten-pin bowling circles. (The final issue of the magazine was August 2009 it has been superseded by an online e-zine). The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) publishes a magazine for its entire membership called U.S. Bowler.

Other widely acclaimed ten-pin magazines and news services are the international and world-renowned Bowling Digital News, the international Bowlers Journal Online and the International Bowling Industry. Specific American magazines of note are the Bowling This Month magazine and the Bowling Digest.

Additionally, other than books written by bowling instructors on the coaching and training of the sport, books on the humorous and historical side of ten-pin bowling have become extremely popular. Some of these include A Funnier Approach, The Funniest Approach, Bowled Over, The New Bowling Trivia Book, Two For Stew and The Tour Would Be Great.

Ten-pin bowling has been referenced in many fictional works. One of the most notable recent examples is Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling. Although it and its sequels establish that the magical characters featured know nothing about the non-magical (i.e., "real") world, Philosopher's Stone reveals that one major character, Professor Albus Dumbledore is a fan of ten-pin bowling.[51]

Ten-pin bowling video games

Since the electronic gaming industry began, ten-pin bowling has been seen in many formats on many big name gaming machines. Mattel's Intellivision game line introduced PBA Bowling, the first fully electronic bowling game, in 1980. JAMDAT Mobile (now known as EA Mobile), made the Jamdat Bowling series. Some of the many bowling games include PlayStation's "Bowling Xciting", "Black Market Bowling", "Strike Force Bowling", "Ten Pin Alley", "Brunswick Circuit Pro Bowling", "King of Bowling" and "Big Strike Bowling". Some of those on the PC are "Fast Lanes Bowling", "Flintstones: Bedrock Bowling", "Arcade Bowling", "Bowling Mania", "10 Pin Bowling Fever" and "GutterBall 3D" amongst many others on other gaming units.

More recently, Bowling appeared as one of the games featured in Wii Sports for Nintendo's Wii. To throw the ball, the player swings the Wii Remote in a motion similar to throwing a real bowling ball. Bowling returned in the sequel Wii Sports Resort, with the controls adapted for the Wii MotionPlus; the Resort incarnation also includes versions with obstacles and with a 100-pin setup. High Velocity Bowling, released for PlayStation 3 in December 2007, likewise mimics the arm movement using the motion sensors of the "Six-Axis" controller.

Ten-pin bowling is also featured as one of the various minigames in Grand Theft Auto IV, Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Tekken Tag Tournament, Mario Party 8, Yakuza 3, and Yakuza 4 that the character can play.

Ten-pin bowling in film

Possibly ten-pin bowling's most noted appearance in film is in the Coen Brother's 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski, in which the game serves as a sort of limbo from the otherwise complicated plotline. During these breaks in the action, the characters usually debrief their escapades and engage in several sub-plots, such as their run-ins with Jesus Quintana and the famed "Mark it zero" scene.

A well-known movie that revolves all around ten-pin bowling is the Farrelly brothers' 1996 comedy Kingpin. A few professional bowlers appear in the film as extras.

In the 1996 film Greedy, Michael J. Fox stars as a professional bowler. Many professional bowlers appear as extras in the film.

Alley Cats Strike, a Disney movie made in 2000 featuring a star athlete at his school joining the bowling team.

Dreamer is a 1979 film starring Tim Matheson as a man aspiring to be a professional bowler. The film features bowling great Dick Weber as one of Dreamer's challengers.

In The Bowling Alley Cat, an animated short from 1942, the cartoon duo of Tom and Jerry battle inside a bowling center.

Mainstream media portrayal

ABC Sports' coverage of PBA events had been the network's second longest series of live sporting events, behind only their college football coverage. PBA events had also aired on NBC, CBS, and ESPN (where it was broadcast exclusively from 2002–2012). CBS Sports Network has aired some events since the 2012–13 season, while ESPN continues to be the primary network for PBA coverage.

Amateur bowling competitions such as Bowling for Dollars and other programs built around a similar concept, where league and amateur bowlers competed for cash and prizes, were staples on local American television stations for many years up until the end of the 1980s.

However, while the prevalence of bowling media has greatly increased in recent years, many mainstream media outlets continue to lack adequate coverage of the sport. Reasons for this discrepancy may include bowling's blue collar demographic, its lack of corporate sponsorship, and the lack of any one bowling star to follow.[52]

It has also been suggested that the perpetuation of negative stereotypes about bowling pushes away the elite members of the journalism community. This includes the bowling atmosphere, which is frequently associated with beer drinking, as well as the personality and physical condition of the average bowler. These ideas may stem from the notion of bowling as only being a recreational activity. Professional bowlers have tried to dispel this idea by offering demonstrations (such as skills competitions and trick shot challenges) of the complex technique required to bowl successfully and compete at higher levels.[53] However, the debate over whether bowling should be considered a "sport" or a "game" continues.

Mathematics of ten-pin bowling

Statistical analysis of scoring

A distribution table for scores in ten-pin bowling may be found at http://www.balmoralsoftware.com/bowling/bowling.htm. It shows that there are just under 6×1018 possible ways to obtain a score, ranging from 1 way of getting zero (20 gutterballs in a row) to 1 way of getting 300 (12 strikes in a row).

See also


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