Ten-pin bowling

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Ten-pin bowling
Ball contacts the 1, 3, 5 and 9 pins (sequentially tinted red) to achieve a strike
Highest governing bodyWorld Bowling
First played18th century, Europe
Mixed genderYes, separate competitions
TypeBall sport
EquipmentBowling ball, pins, alley
VenueBowling lanes
World Games19812017

Ten-pin bowling is a type of bowling in which a bowler rolls a bowling ball down a wood or synthetic lane toward ten pins positioned in a tetractys (equilateral triangle-based pattern) at the far end of the lane. The objective is to knock down all ten pins (a strike) on the first roll of the ball.

Behind a foul line is an approach approximately 15 feet (5 m) long used to impart speed and apply rotation to the ball. A 41.5-inch-wide (105 cm),[1] 60-foot-long (18 m)[1] lane is bordered along its length by gutters (semicylindrical channels) that collect errant balls. The lane's narrow shape prevents straight-line ball paths from achieving an angle optimally desired to achieve strikes; accordingly, more advanced bowlers impart sideways rotation to hook (curve) the ball into the target. Oil applied in different patterns to the first two-thirds (approximate) of the lane's length adds complexity and challenge to the sport.

Commonly, two finger holes and a thumb hole are drilled into the ball. Ball weights vary considerably to make the sport playable for all ages, and young children may use ramps. While ten-pin bowling leagues and tournaments are common, the sport is also played recreationally by millions of people.

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and most of the United States, the game is commonly referred to as just "bowling" while in Canada it is referred to as "ten-pin bowling" to distinguish it from five-pin bowling. In the New England area of the United States, the game is specifically called "ten-pin bowling" or "big-ball bowling" to distinguish it from smaller balls used in candlepin bowling, duckpin bowling, and five-pin bowling.

Facilities and equipment[edit]


True scale diagram: In ten-pin bowling lanes, the nearest pin is 60 feet from the foul line—more than 17 times the lane's 41.5-inch width.[2] Due to the optical illusion of foreshortening that a bowler experiences when standing on the approach, pins appear closer together and bowling ball angles of entry appear more dramatic than they are in fact.

Ten-pin bowling lanes are 60 feet (18.29 m) from the foul line to the center of 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) back.[2]

Simplified THS (typical house shot) oil pattern on a bowling lane, with greater oil concentrations being represented by darker blues. Relatively dry areas on the sides, and more heavily lubricated areas surrounding the centerline, help to guide the ball toward the pocket.[3] Horizontal scale is compressed.
Simplified sport pattern of oil on a bowling lane, with greater oil concentrations being represented by darker blues. A "flatter" (more even) distribution of oil across the lane presents a greater challenge to hit the pocket.[3] Horizontal scale is compressed.

Modern bowling lanes have oil patterns designed not only to shield the lanes from damage from bowling ball impacts, but to provide bowlers with different levels of challenge in achieving strikes. As illustrated, a typical house pattern (or THS, typical house shot) has drier outside portions that give bowling balls more friction to hook (curve) into the pocket, but heavier oil concentrations surrounding the centerline so that balls slide directly toward the pocket with less hooking.[3] In the more challenging sport patterns used in tournaments and professional-level matches, a "flat" oil pattern—one with oil distributed more evenly from side to side—provides little assistance in guiding the ball toward the pocket.[3] The ratio of centerline oil concentration to side oil concentration (the oil ratio) can exceed 10-to-1 for THSs but are restricted to 3-to-1 or less for sport shots.[3]

Commonly, lanes are protected by about 18 millilitres (0.63 imp fl oz; 0.61 US fl oz) of oil. 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 about 4 inches past the foul line and is applied on about the first two-thirds of the lane.


True scale diagram: A straight path, even one starting from the extreme outside corner of the lane, results in an angle of entry of at most 1.45°. Larger entry angles (shown in diagram) are achievable when hooking (curving) the ball. Larger entry angles have been shown to be generally more favorable for achieving strikes.[4][5]

Rubber balls (introduced in 1905) were eventually supplanted by polyester ("plastic") balls (1959) and polyurethane ("urethane") balls (1980s).[6] Coverstocks (surfaces) of bowling balls then evolved to increase the hook-enhancing friction between ball and lane: reactive resin balls arrived in the early 1990s, and particle-enhanced resin balls in the late 1990s.[6] Meanwhile, the increasingly sophisticated technology of internal cores (also called weight blocks) has increased balls' dynamic imbalance, which, in conjunction with the coverstocks' increased friction, enhances hook (curving) potential to achieve the higher entry angles that have enabled a dramatic increases in strike percentage and game scores.[7]

Hook potential has increased so much that dry lane conditions or spare shooting scenarios sometimes compel use of plastic or urethane balls, to purposely avoid the larger hook provided by reactive technology.[6][8]

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.

Ball motion[edit]

Simplified representation of the skid, hook, and roll phases of bowling ball motion. Technological advances since the early 1990s in ball design have allowed dramatically increased hook potential and strike frequency, without requiring additional skill on the part of bowlers.[7] (Horizontal scale is compressed.)

Because pin spacing is much larger than ball size, it is impossible for the ball to contact all pins. Therefore, a tactical shot is required, which would result in a chain reaction of pins hitting other pins in a process called "pin scatter". In what is considered an ideal shot, the ball contacts only the 1, 3, 5 and 9 pins (right-handers).[4]

Most new players roll the ball straight, while more experienced bowlers may roll a hook that involves making the ball start out straight but then curve toward a target, to increase likelihood of striking: USBC research[4] has shown that shots most likely to strike enter the pocket at an angle of entry that is achievable only with a hook.[5]

A complex interaction of a variety of factors influences ball motion and its effect on scoring results. Such factors may be categorized as:

  • The bowler's delivery (see Effect of delivery characteristics on ball motion) Characteristics of the ball's delivery that affect ball motion include the ball's release speed going down the lane, its rotational speed (rev rate), the angle of the ball's axis of rotation in horizontal and vertical planes (axis rotation and axis tilt, respectively), and how far beyond the foul line that the ball first contacts the lane (loft).[9]
  • Bowling ball design (see Effect of coverstock, core and layout on ball motion). A 2005-2008 USBC Ball Motion Study found that the ball design factors that most contributed to ball motion were the microscopic spikes and pores on the ball's surface (present in balls with reactive resin coverstock), the respective coefficients of friction between ball and lane in the oiled and dry parts of the lane, and the ball's oil absorption rate, followed in dominance by certain characteristics of the ball's core (mainly radius of gyration and total differential).[7] Friction-related factors may be categorized as chemical friction (degree of "stickiness" designed by manufacturers into the resin coverstock) and physical friction (which can be modified by sanding or polishing, or by including additives that physically increase lubrication).[5][10][7] "Weak" (pin down) versus "strong" (pin up) layouts of the finger and thumb holes with respect to core orientation affect skid lengths and hook angularity.[11][12]
  • Lane conditions (see Effect of lane characteristics on ball motion). Lane conditions that affect ball motion include lane transition (including breakdown and carry-down),[13] the oil absorption characteristics of previously-thrown balls and the paths they followed,[13][14] wood versus synthetic composition of the lane (more generally: soft vs. hard lanes),[13] imperfections in lane surface (topography),[13] and oil viscosity (thick or thin consistency; innate viscosity being affected by temperature and humidity).[13]


A ten-pin bowling pin in cross section
True-scale diagram: A bowling ball impacting the head pin at a point found to be optimum for striking (right handers).[4] Many believe—wrongly—that the ideal "pocket" is more "between" the 1 pin and 3 pin.[5] Entry angles of 0°, 2°, 4° and 6° are illustrated.

Pin-setting machines set the pins in four rows forming an equilateral triangle with four pins on a side, forming a tetractys. Neighboring pins are set 12 inches (30 cm) apart, center to center. Pins are numbered 1 through 10, starting with the 1 pin in front, proceeding left-to-right in each row, ending with 10 in the right rear.

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, slightly above where a rolling ball would make contact to give the pin a slight upward trajectory. There are additional measurements which delineate 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).

USBC regulations govern weight distribution from top to bottom. Pins are allowed one or two voids inside the belly area that balance to prevent the pins from being too bottom-heavy. Standard regulation pins may lean no more than 10 degrees off center without falling.

Ball delivery[edit]

Delivery, just before the moment of release


A conventional grip, used on non-customized house balls and some custom-drilled balls, involves insertion of fingers to the second knuckle.[15] A fingertip grip, involving insertion of fingers only to the first knuckle, enables greater revolution rates and resultant hook potential.[15] A thumbless grip, often used by so-called "two-handed" bowlers, maximizes ball rotational speed ("rev rate").[15]

Delivery style categories[edit]

Three widely recognized categories are stroker, cranker and tweener.[16][17]

  • Strokers—using the most "classic" bowling form—tend to keep the shoulders square to the foul line and develop only a moderately high backswing, achieving modest ball rotation ("rev") rates and ball speeds, which thus limit hook potential and kinetic energy delivered to the pins.[16] Strokers rely on accuracy and repeatability, and benefit from the high entry angles that reactive resin balls enable.[16]
  • Crankers tend to open (rotate) the shoulders and use strong wrist and arm action in concert with a high backswing, achieving higher rev rates and ball speeds, thus maximizing hook potential and kinetic energy.[16] Crankers rely on speed and power, but may leave more splits that are rarely left by strokers.[16]
  • Tweeners (derived from "in-between") have styles that fall between those of strokers and crankers, the term considered by some to include power strokers.[16]

Alternative deliveries[edit]

  • So-called two-handed bowling, first popularized late in the 2000s by Australian Jason Belmonte, involves not inserting the thumb into any thumbhole, with the opposite hand supporting and guiding the ball throughout almost the entire forward swing.[18] This delivery style, technically still involving a one-handed release, allows the inserted fingers to generate higher revolution rates and thus attain greater hook potential than with a thumb-in-hole approach.[19] (In what is literally a two-handed release, children or physically challenged players use both hands to swing the ball forward from between the legs.)
  • No-thumb bowling involves only a single hand during the forward swing, without the thumb inserted.[20]
The "UFO" or "helicopter" release: the thumb faces the body, while the middle and ring fingers face the pins.
  • The spinner style, which is mainly popular in parts of Asia, has a "helicopter" or "UFO" release that involves rotating the wrist to impart a high (vertical) axis of rotation that causes the bowling ball to spin like a top while traveling straight down the lane.[17] Usually involving a lighter (10-12 pound) ball, the spinner style takes advantage of the ball deflection from the head pin to then "walk down" the other visible pins and cause domino effects diagonally through the pins.[17]
  • In the backup (or reverse hook) release, the wrist rotates clockwise (for right hand releases) or counter-clockwise (for left hand releases), causing the ball to hook in a direction opposite to that of conventional releases.[21]


Traditional scoring[edit]

In traditional scoring,[22] one point is scored for each pin that is knocked over, and when less than all ten pins are knocked down in two rolls in a frame (an open frame), the frame is scored with the total number of pins knocked down. However, when all ten pins are knocked down with either the first or second rolls of a frame (a mark), bonus pins are awarded as follows.

A ten-pin bowling scoresheet showing how a strike is scored
  • Strike: When all ten pins are knocked down on the first roll (marked "X" on the scoresheet), the frame receives ten pins plus a bonus of pinfall on the next two rolls (not necessarily the next two frames). In this way, the pinfall for two subsequent rolls is counted twice.
Scoring for the illustrated throws:
  • Frame one: 10 + (3 + 6) = 19
  • Frame two: 3 + 6 = 9 → Total = 28
A ten-pin bowling scoresheet showing how a spare is scored
  • Spare: When a second roll of a frame is needed to knock down all ten pins (marked "/" on the scoresheet), the frame receives ten pins plus a bonus of pinfall in the next roll (not necessarily the next frame).
Scoring for the illustrated throws:
  • Frame one: (7 + 3) + 4 = 14
  • Frame two: 4 + 2 = 6 → Total = 20
  • A strike in the tenth (final) frame receives two extra rolls for bonus pins.
  • A spare in the first two rolls in the tenth (final) frame receives a third roll for bonus pins.
  • Informally, to estimate which bowler is "leading", it is standard to tentatively assume 20 pins for each unbowled frame.

World Bowling scoring[edit]

The World Bowling scoring system—described as "current frame scoring"[23]—awards pins 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, achieved with ten, not twelve, consecutive strikes but with no bonus pins received in the tenth frame.[24][25]

World Bowling scoring is thought to make bowling easier to follow than with traditional scoring,[24] increase television viewership,[23] and help bowling to become an Olympic sport.[23][25]

Variant of World Bowling scoring[edit]

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.[26] 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.[26] This variant reduces match length and scoring complexity for two-player matches.[26]

Perfect (300) game[edit]

A USBC "300 game" gold ring

Ernest Fosberg (East Rockford, Ill.) bowled the first recognized 300 in 1902, before awards were given out.[27] In 1908, A.C. Jellison and Homer Sanders (both of St. Louis) each bowled 300 games in the same season, the ABC awarding the gold medal to Jellison after a three-game tie-breaker match without regard to the chronological order of their accomplishments.[27]

On January 7, 2006, Elliot John Crosby became the youngest British bowler to bowl a BTBA-sanctioned 300 game at the age of 12 years, 2 months and 10 days, breaking the 1994 record of Rhys Parfitt (age 13 years, 4 months).[28]

On November 17, 2013, Hannah Diem (Seminole, Florida) became the youngest American bowler to bowl a USBC-certified 300 game at the age of 9 years, 6 months and 19 days, breaking the 2006 record of Chaz Dennis (age 10) and the 2006 female record of Brandie Reamy (age 12).[29]

Jeremy Sonnenfeld (Sioux Falls, S.D.) rolled the first certified 900 series in 1997.[30] A well-publicized court-contested 900 series by Glenn Allison in 1982 was denied certification due to non-conforming lane conditions.[31]


International tournaments[edit]

World Bowling oversees quadrennial World Championship tournaments, and international championships for various sectors, including for women, seniors, youth and junior bowlers.[32]

The QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup (begun in 1965) is recognized as bowling's largest event in terms of number of countries competing, according to the USBC in 2018.[33]

The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) Tour includes dozens of events annually, mainly at U.S. locations.[34] The PBA Tour includes "major" championship events: the U.S. Open, the USBC Masters, the PBA Tournament of Champions the PBA World Championship, and the PBA Players Championship.[35]

The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) has various tournaments for the PBA tour, PWBA, youth and seniors, including the USBC Masters and U.S. Open (both major tournaments on the PBA tour), and USBC Queens and U.S. Women's Open (both major tournaments on the PWBA tour), plus the USBC Team USA Trials/U.S. National Amateur Bowling Championships.[36]

The European Tenpin Bowling Federation (ETBF) owns the European Bowling Tour (organized in 2000),[37] including its final tournament, the European Bowling Tour Masters (first edition: 2008).[38]

The Commonwealth Tenpin Bowling Federation (CTBF), made up of World Bowling member federations within the Commonwealth of Nations, owns the Commonwealth Tenpin Bowling Championships, which has held tournaments at irregular intervals since 2002.[39]

The Weber Cup is an annual, three-day USA vs. Europe tournament, named after Dick Weber,[40] that began in 2000 and has been held almost exclusively in the U.K.[41]

In the decade of the 2000s, the World Ranking Masters, owned by World Bowling, ranked standings in the Pan American Bowling Confederation (PABCON), Asian Bowling Federation (ABF), and European Tenpin Bowling Federation (ETBF).[42]

Geographic scope of tournaments[edit]

  • Local tournaments – 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 tournaments – larger tournaments that can draw bowlers from across the country, but usually from a large area around the locale of the tournament.
  • National tournaments – The USBC National Tournament is held in Reno, Nevada and at various locations around the country in alternate years. The then-ABC National Tournament was first held in 1901. The nine-game format (3 games of singles, 3 games of doubles, and 3 games of team play) that was used then is still in use today.[43]

Olympic-style international competition[edit]

Currently, the Asian Games and the Pan American Games have tenpin bowling as a full-medal level sport for both men and women – the two most recent Maccabiah Games have also hosted tenpin tournaments, specifically at the nineteenth and twentieth Games, alongside lawn bowls as full medal events.

History of Asian and Pan American bowling events[edit]

At the Americas-exclusive 1983 Pan American Games[44] tenpins were a demonstration sport, with the tournament held in a similar manner to how it was held five years later, for similar demonstration purposes, at the 1988 Seoul Games. The sport also appears to have been a full-medal-level sport at two of the Asian Games celebrations before 1991: the first time at the eighth Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand in 1978 (five years before its Pan American Games demonstration appearance in 1983); with the second medal-level appearance at the Asian Games occurring at its twelfth celebration in Seoul, South Korea in 1986, two years before the Summer Olympics demonstration event there. As a direct result of the 1983 experience in Caracas, Venezuela, for the first time anywhere (that would start a successive series of it being held anywhere), on August 2, 1991 in Havana, Cuba, the tenpin sport earned a continuing, full "medal status" in an international multisport competition: the eleventh competition of the Pan American Games, at which all the nations of the Americas compete every four years. Unlike the Asian Games bowling events held before the 1994 Games in Japan, when bowling joined the full-medal sports held at all successive celebrations at the Asian Games, the medal-level tenpin competition has been held at every Pan American Games since 1991, and is a part of the 2019 Games to be held in Lima, Peru.

Notable achievements[edit]


Membership in the USBC (and its pre-2005-merger constituent organizations) has declined, as has the number of USBC-certified lanes, indicating waning league participation in the U.S.[47]

Bowling leagues vary in format, including demographic specialization (male, female, mixed, senior, youth), number of bowlers per team (usually 3-5), number of games per series (usually 3), day and time of scheduled sessions, starting dates and duration of league seasons, scoring (scratch versus handicap), and systems for bestowing awards and prizes.[48] Usually, each team is scheduled to oppose each of the other teams over the course of a season.[49] Position rounds—in which the first place team opposes the second place team, third place opposes fourth place, and so on—are often inserted into the season schedule.[50]

Customarily, team position standings are computed after each series, awarding a first number of points for each game won and a second number of points for achieving the higher team score for that series, the particular numbers being specified in each league's rules.[51][52] Further, in leagues having "match point" scoring, individual bowlers on one team are matched against respective members of the opposing team, the winners receiving points that supplement their team's game and series points.[52]

The number of league bowlers in the U.S. peaked at 8 million in 1980,[53] declining to approximately 1.3 million in 2018.[47]


Early history[edit]

Bowling alley at the Pleasant Beach Hotel, Bainbridge Island, Washington (c. 1898)

Modern American bowling derives mainly from the German Kegelspiel, or kegeling, which used nine pins set in a diamond formation.[54] Some sources refer to an 1841 Connecticut law that banned ninepin bowling because of its perceived association with gambling and crime, and people were said to circumvent the prohibition by adding a tenth pin;[55][better source needed] other sources call this story a mere fable.[54] A painting thought to date from around 1810 shows British bowlers playing outdoors with a triangular formation of ten pins, which would predate the sport's asserted appearance in the United States.[56][better source needed] In any event, the enjoyment of kegeling by German peasants contrasted with the lawn bowling that was reserved for the upper classes, thus beginning bowling's enduring reputation as a common man's sport.[54]

Pinsetter boys (Pittsburgh, c. 1908)

In 1884, the Brunswick Corporation became the first American bowling ball manufacturer, and in 1914 introduced the Mineralite (hard rubber) ball that was considered so revolutionary that it was displayed at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1934.[54] In 1886, Joe Thum—who would become known as the "father of bowling"—began opening bowling alleys and over decades strove to elevate the sport's image to compete with upper-class diversions such as theaters and opera houses.[54]

In 1875, delegates from New York City and Brooklyn bowling clubs formed the National Bowling Association (NBA) to standardize rules, but disagreements prevailed.[57] In 1887 Albert G. Spalding wrote Standard Rules for Bowling in the United States, and in the mid-1890s the United Bowling Clubs (UBC) was organized with 120 members.[54] The American Bowling Congress (ABC) was established in 1895, followed by the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC) in the 1910s, such organizations promoting standardized rules and striving to improve the sport's image.[54]

From 1920 to 1929, the number of ABC-sanctioned alleys grew from 450 to about 2,000, with Prohibition leading to the growth of family-appropriate "dry" alleys.[54] The 1933 repeal of Prohibition allowed breweries to sponsor teams and bowlers, adding to bowling's reputation as a working class sport.[54] Though at the turn of the twentieth century most bowling alleys were small establishments, post-Prohibition bowling lanes shifted from side entertainment at fancy Victorian venues or seedier saloons to independent establishments that embraced the Art Deco style and fit the era's perceived "need for speed".[54]

1940s to early 1960s[edit]

Actual text from one of Gottfried Schmidt's patents, this one from an application filed in 1936 and describing how his "bowling pin setting apparatus" can pick up and replace pins even if they were off their proper spots.[58]

Gottfried Schmidt invented the first mechanical pinsetter in his garage in 1936, one implementation of which was publicly exhibited in 1946 before AMF placed a production model into service in 1952.[59]

The late 1940s through the early 1960s became known as the "golden age of bowling" because of its increasing popularity, with ABC membership growing from 700,000 (1940), to 1.1 million (1947), to 2.3 million (1958), to 4.5 million (1963),[54][60] Women's International Bowling Congress membership growing from 82,000 (1940) to 866,000 (1958),[60] American Junior Bowling Congress membership growing from 8,000 (1940) to 175,000 (1958),[60] and sanctioned individual lanes growing from 44,500 (1947) to 159,000 (1963).[54]

Bowling's growth was fueled by deployment of automatic mechanical pinsetters by AMF (1952) and Brunswick (1955), television broadcasts (said to be "ubiquitous" in the 1950s), modernization and stylization of establishments with amenities to attract broader clientele, and formation of bowling leagues.[54] Though President Truman had installed a bowling alley in the White House in 1947,[54] a report of the American Society of Planning Officials in 1958 characterized bowling alleys as the "poor man's country club".[60]

ABC bylaws had included a "white-males-only" clause since its inception in the 1890s, but numerous lobbying efforts and legal actions after World War II by civil rights and labor organizations led to a reversal of this policy in 1950.[61]

Eddie Elias founded the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) in 1958 with 33 members, its Pro Bowlers Tour TV program airing from the early 1960s through 1997.[59]

Late 1960s to 1980[edit]

The first tenpin lanes in Europe had been installed in Sweden in 1909, but attempts to popularize the sport in Europe were unsuccessful over the next several decades, though hundreds of lanes were installed on U.S. military bases in the U.K. during World War II.[62] Various countries developed the sport to some extent, and the Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs (FIQ; now World Bowling) was formed in 1952 to coordinate international amateur competition.[62]

A firmer establishment of the sport began in the U.K. in 1960 in London (Stamford Hill) in January 1960,[63] and the British Tenpin Bowling Association was formed the following year.[62] Various other countries, including Australia, Mexico and Japan, adopted the trend over the ensuing decade.[62] After initial faddish growth the U.K., however, the sport did not thrive as it did in the U.S., and by the 1970s many British bowling alleys were converted to serve competing pastimes, such as bingo.[64]

In the U.S. in 1964, Don Carter became the first athlete in American sports history to sign a $1 million endorsement contract (with ball manufacturer Ebonite).[65] The $100,000 Firestone Tournament of Champions launched in 1965, in a decade that saw ABC membership peak at almost 4.6 million male bowlers.[66] The number of sanctioned bowling alleys peaked at about 12,000 in the mid-1960s,[60] mostly in blue-collar urban areas,[67] and Women’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC) membership peaked at 4.2 million members in 1979.[68]

The "Lane Master" automatic lane cleaning and conditioning machine was first deployed in the 1960s.[66]

In the late 1960s, the participation sport of bowling found itself competing with spectator sports and outdoor recreational activities.[54] The number of certified bowling centers was to eventually decline from its 1960s high of 12,000[60] to 6,542 in 1998[67] and 3,976 in 2013.[60] The decline was noted acutely in waning league participation over the intervening decades.[60][69]

1980 to 2000[edit]

A bowling alley in Berlin (1981) with early electronic displays

Tournament prize funds in the 1980s included the PBA National Championship ($135,000, its largest) and the Firestone Tournament of Champions ($150,000), and PBA membership approached 2,500.[70] In 1982, Earl Anthony became the first PBA bowler to earn more than $1 million in career earnings.[70] Ten-pin bowling became an exhibition sport at the 1988 Summer Olympics (Seoul),[70] was a medal sport at the 1991 Pan American Games (Havana),[71] and was included in the 1998 Commonwealth Games (Kuala Lumpur).[72]

Outside elite and professional bowling, participation in leagues—traditionally the more profitable end of the business—declined from a 1980 peak (8 million), compelling alleys to further diversify into entertainment amenities.[60] While league bowling decreased by 40 percent between 1980 and 1993, the total number of bowlers actually increased by 10 percent during that period, with nearly 80 million Americans going bowling at least once during 1993.[69] In 1995, the National Bowling Stadium (Reno, Nevada) was constructed at a cost of $47.5 million, but the PBA Pro Bowlers Tour TV program was canceled in 1997 after a 35-year run.[71]

In 1991, equipment manufacturer DBA Products released "The Lane Walker"—the first computer-driven lane cleaning and oiling machine, programmable to clean up to 50 lanes.[71]

The early 1990s brought development of reactive resin ("reactive") balls with chemically "tacky" surfaces that enhance traction to dramatically enhance hook and substantially increase the likelihood of striking, raising average scores even for less experienced bowlers.[6]

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) reported 1997 bowling product sales of $215 million, the SGMA president claiming an increase in popularity to bowling alley remodeling, technological innovations in balls and lanes, computerized scoring, and promotion by bowling organizations.[73]

2000 to present[edit]

Example of a modern bowling alley (2010).

From 1998 to 2013, the number of American bowling centers fell by one-fourth.[60] Similarly, in the two decades following 1997, the number of USBC-certified lanes—also indicative of business viability—declined by one-third.[47] This business decline is often attributed to waning league participation: USBC membership—indicative of league participation that was the main source of revenue—declined by two-thirds in those two decades,[47] and the portion of alley revenue attributable to leagues is estimated to have dropped from 70% to 40%.[60]

Political scientist Robert D. Putnam's book Bowling Alone (2000) asserts, with some controversy, that the retreat from league bowling epitomizes a broader societal decline in social, civic and community engagement in the U.S.[60] The USBC stated in 2019 that that bowling is the #1 participation sport in the U.S., with 69 million people bowling at least once a year, but that total includes less than 1.5 million sanctioned league bowlers.[74] More broadly, the International Bowling Museum stated in 2016 that bowling is played by 95 million people in more than 90 countries.[75]

In contrast to the U.S., the 2000s and 2010s brought a bowling renaissance in the U.K., achieved by accommodating sophisticated modern tastes by providing (for example) retro style bowling alleys outfitted with 1950s Americana, "boutique bowling", "VIP lanes", and cameras for instant replays, and by rejuvenating bowling "alleys" into diverse-entertainment bowling "centres".[76][77] The population of ten-pin bowling centres grew from a low of barely 50 (in the 1980s) to over 200 (2006),[76] with almost a third of Britons going bowling in 2016 and league participation growing over 20% over two years (2015-2017).[77]

Beginning late in the decade of the 2000s, the two-handed approach became popularized, first by Australian Jason Belmonte.[18] It was hoped by some that the controversial style would boost popularity of the sport.[18]

Though ten-pin bowling was a demonstration sport in the 1988 Summer Olympics (Seoul)[70] and has been included in the Pan American Games since 1991,[78] after making the short list for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics (Tokyo), it was cut.[79] One commentator noted that the sport's limited geographic popularity (the U.S., Australia and a few European and South American countries), and aging demographic of those who follow the sport, make it difficult to convince an Olympic Committee that wants to appeal to youth.[79]

Bowling organizations[edit]


World Bowling (WB) was formed in 2014 from component organizations of the Fédération Internationale des Quilleurs (FIQ, International Federation of Bowlers), which in 1952 developed from the International Bowling Association (IBA) which began operations in 1926.[80] Since 1979 the International Olympic Committee has recognized the FIQ, and later, WB, as the sport's world governing body.[80] WB establishes rules for the uniform practice of bowling throughout the world, and promotes bowling as an Olympic sport.[80] The World Tenpin Bowling Association "membership discipline" (component organization) of WB serves the amateur sport of tenpin bowling worldwide, adopting uniform playing rules and equipment specifications.[81]

United Kingdom[edit]

The British Tenpin Bowling Association (BTBA, formed in 1961) is the official governing body of tenpin bowling in the country, is recognized by World Bowling as the official sanctioning body in England, and as such "is responsible for the protection, integrity and development of the sport".[82] Its stated vision is "to ensure that all people, irrespective of their age, disability, ethnic origin, marital status, sexual orientation or social status have a genuine and equal opportunity to participate in the sport at all levels and in all roles".[82]

The National Association of Youth Bowling Clubs (NAYBC) is a BTBA subcommittee serving youth bowlers and youth bowling clubs.[83]

The British Universities Tenpin Bowling Association (BUTBA, formed in 2008) organizes bowling events for present and former university and college students.[84]

The Tenpin Bowling Proprietors Association (TBPA, formed in 1961 as an umbrella organization) is a trade association for the British ten-pin bowling industry.[85]

United States[edit]

The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) was formed as the governing body for the U.S. on January 1, 2005 by a merger of

  • the American Bowling Congress (ABC, a male-only organization founded in 1895),
  • the Women's International Bowling Congress (WIBC, 1916),
  • the Young American Bowling Alliance (YABA, 1982), and
  • (Team) USA Bowling (1989).[86]

As the national governing body for bowling, its stated mission is to provide services, resources and the standards for the sport,[87] its stated goals including growing the sport and promoting values of "credibility, dedication, excellence, heritage, inclusiveness, integrity, philanthropy and sportsmanship".[86]


The International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame is located on the International Bowling Campus in Arlington, Texas, U.S.[88]

"Score inflation" controversy[edit]

The number of 300 games increased from about one of 3150 members (1900—1980) to about one of 27 members (2007), a greater-than-hundredfold increase that many thought threatened to jeopardize the integrity of the sport.[7] Specifically, the USBC Technical Director wrote that the "USBC is concerned that technology has overtaken player skill in determining success in the sport of bowling," announcing in 2007 the completion of a ball motion study undertaken "to strike a better balance between player skill and technology".[89]

Automatic lane oiling machines can be programmed to lay down oil patterns of different levels of difficulty.

Separately, a USBC pin carry study completed in about 2008 found that dramatically increased entry angles improve pin carry[4] to result in higher scores—regardless of whether the bowlers supplied additional effort or improved their skill.[7] Among the factors allowing higher scores were technological advances in coverstock and core design[7] combined with improved lane surfaces and accommodative oil patterns.[90]

Specifically, the reactive resin balls and particle balls that came out in the 1990s increased frictional engagement with the lane to provide greater hook potential that made high entry angles easier to achieve.[8] Moreover, changes in lane surface technology, as well as the introduction of voids into pins to make them lighter and more top-heavy, helped to raise average scores as early as the 1970s.[91] Expanded choices in oil viscosity and electronically controlled lane oiling machines permitted alley owners to customize house oil patterns to optimize the advantages of the new ball technologies.[91] Technological progress allowed some 1990s league scores to surpass those of professionals in the 1950s.[91]

Responding to such concerns, the USBC initiated "sport bowling" leagues and tournaments that provide "sport", "challenge" and "PBA Experience" oil patterns that are more challenging than the accommodative patterns of typical house shots.[91] Still, the USBC has encountered enduring issues concerning how to maintain "average integrity" (fair handicapping) across leagues using oil patterns of differing difficulty.[92]

As a result of various USBC studies, including a bowling technology study[93] published in February 2018, the USBC Equipment and Specifications Committee established new specifications focusing mainly on balls.[94] The overall result of the new specifications was said to slightly limit hook potential, more specifically eliminating balance holes and setting a new specification for oil absorption.[94] The USBC stated that the new specifications will slow oil pattern transition, cause bowlers to move less, and keep the same scoring pace with lower oil volume.[94]

Ten-pin bowling in media[edit]

In print[edit]

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.[95]

Video games[edit]

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.

In film[edit]

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[edit]

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 continued to be the primary network for PBA coverage until it lost the PBA broadcast rights to Fox Sports in 2019.[96]

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.[97]

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.[98] However, the debate over whether bowling should be considered a "sport" or a "game" continues.

See also[edit]


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  • Stremmel, Neil; Ridenour, Paul; Stervenz, Scott (2008). "Identifying the Critical Factors That Contribute to Bowling Ball Motion on a Bowling Lane" (PDF). United States Bowling Congress. Archived (PDF) from the original on June 3, 2012. Study began in 2005. Publication date is estimated based on article content.
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  • United States Bowling Congress (USBC) (February 2018). "Bowling Technology Study: An Examination and Discussion on Technology's Impact in the Sport of Bowling" (PDF). bowl.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 31, 2018.
  • United State Bowling Congress (USBC) (2018). "2018-2019 Playing Rules and Commonly Asked Questions" (PDF). bowl.com. Archived from the original on December 27, 2018.


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