Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Changes in 5-Pin Bowling: Helpful or Not? - Fraser Hambly

The new changes in 5-pin bowling specs, will undoubtedly improve scoring to some degree. There are now ranges approved that allow for smaller bases, taller pins, and heavier balls - are all meant to increase scores. The 17” set-ups are still under review, but these too may be approved sooner than later. It all begs the question: Is this a good thing for our sport? Purists won’t like the changes for the most part, while others feel it will make the sport dramatically better, and will help retain present bowlers and attract new ones.
I’d like to address many of the changes over the years that have changed the sport, and you can decide for yourself which things have been good, and whether more needs to be done.
- In 1909, Tommy Ryan invents 5-pin bowling as an improvement to 10-pin
- In 1912, the rubber band is added but only made flush with the pin at first (this information just came to light from an article written by Bob Hesketh who wrote for the Toronto Telegram in the 50’s and 60’s) > top averages increased from 140 to 200, but a ball could still go between the pins
- A few years later, some proprietors started adding more rubber to the outside of the band > top averages went up to 240+
- The original 4,2,1,3,5 count is changed to 1,4,5,3,2 in Western Canada, and in 1959 the whole country adopts 2,3,5,3,2
- The counter or blow pin is abolished nation-wide in 1971
- The original Blue Band is introduced in the early 60’s and scores go up dramatically
- Personalized balls are allowed in 1990 after being banned in the late 50’s because a Hamilton team brought their house balls to an all-events tourney at Waterloo and won almost everything
The above changes increased scoring whenever they were implemented. Some helped all bowlers, while some helped lower average bowlers more than higher average players (eliminating the counter pin for example). Have all these changes really had an impact on making the sport better? There is no question scoring is better compared to the early days. One could argue that without these changes, the sport might have declined more than it has. But do changes to improve scoring really help save the sport? It may help retain those already involved, but that’s not enough.
The sport needs a major change in the way it’s perceived by the public in general. I was fascinated by a post of Fabbio Lancia’s, who is the owner/operator of Skyview Lanes in Bolton, Ontario. He states that he is frustrated by numerous inquiries that his centre only has “children’s” bowling, meaning 5-pin. While we all know that 5-pin is more difficult, the public’s perception is that it’s a kids’ game before you play the “adult” game of 10-pin. This perception has become much more pronounced in the last 10-20 years. While many proprietors are doing wonderful things to promote the game, and the Provincial Associations are trying to be innovative, it’s my opinion that the public’s perception is the main thing that has to be overcome. A TV or print campaign highlighting that 5-pin was invented to improve on 10-pin, and that it’s not a kids’ game would help. If say, Canadian hockey players or Don Cherry could be featured in a campaign that 5-pin really is an adult sport, that would help change the public’s perception. While all this takes money that may not be readily available, some kind of campaign to change the public’s perception is essential! I’m personally in favour of the changes, both old and new, in 5-pin bowling and hopefully the sport will continue to evolve without becoming bastardized as the years go on. However, perceptions need to change: people have to be convinced to play, before they’ll stay!!!

Let’s do everything we can to help change the public’s perception, so that people will think: “When you go bowling, bowl Canadian, bowl 5-pin!!!

Fraser Hambly


  1. What I wouldn't give to see Don Cherry bowling... :)

  2. Sadly, legitimacy as a sport comes from substantial tournaments and TV coverage. Will we find a benefactor willing to put $500k into the sport to attract the best competition for truly big money? I'd love to see it, and if I could spare $500k, I would do it.

  3. Please sign all my 5-pin bowling petitions on Facebook: