Arguably, league bowling is the most popular recreational sport in the US. Alongside pro leagues and pro tournaments, you will find hundreds of bowling leagues being arranged mostly by exclusive bowling alleys or by social clubs that include a bowling alley within their premises. And no matter what your skill level or age is, you can always find a bowling league of your choice in your own town or city.
In fact, the sport of bowling, thanks largely to its ability to bring people together, has huge cultural significance for the US people. The game is for the most part affordable and appeals to people from many different walks of life. As such, the game also provides the participants with great opportunities for socializing and for forming a sense of camaraderie with their respective bowling partners. In addition to that, today you will find many full-service bowling alleys that are equipped with food and drink stores; equipment shops where you can buy or borrow bowling equipment or apparels; and more. This makes bowling a fun and relaxing activity (unless you’re having a particularly bad night!). And of course, if you are competing in a league, what with the adrenaline rush and everything, the whole thing reaches a new dimension altogether.
And as we’ve mentioned already, there is a league available for bowlers of every stripe. There are individual leagues, team leagues, couples leagues and if you so want, you can even set up your very own bowling league at your preferred location and register it to USBC (United States Bowling Congress), the central governing body for the sport of bowling in the country.
Top Bowling Leagues
Basically, all bowling leagues and tournaments in the country can be divided into two major categories: Recreational Leagues and Professional Leagues/Tournaments.
- Recreational Leagues
However, when it comes to recreational leagues, there are leagues of all ilks and descriptions. There are leagues where bowlers participate mostly for fun and then there are those that are often bitterly fought! Of the latter category, many offer sizeable prize money for winners. So, don’t commit the mistake of confusing the term ‘recreational’ with ‘non-competitive’.
Normally, with leagues that offer prize money, half of your fees for participating in the league go toward the prize fund. The prize money is distributed among the top ranking teams at the season end. Most leagues will award individual awards as well such as an MVP award. Keep it in mind that although there are individual leagues, couple leagues, etc., most serious recreational leagues will feature teams, typically of 6-8 members.
Normally, all leagues are registered with USBC, so as long as you participate in a league, you’ll automatically become a USBC member. A USBC membership costs you about twenty dollars, but more often than not, this will be included in your league participation fees, so you don’t need to spend any extra bucks towards it. Why we mention this is because a USBC membership comes with its own range of benefits. With a membership, you qualify for award patches or magnets (as they are called these days) and can also avail useful discounts from different merchants, including car rental, hotels, etc.
Types of Leagues
Commonly, you’ll find four types of bowling leagues in the US—the Men’s League, the Women’s League, the Mixed Team League and the Youth League. Save the last category, there is no age bar for participating in these leagues. The Youth leagues are commonly reserved for individuals aged 22 or less. Some organizations offer separate Senior Leagues as well that, following the rules of Pro Senior Tournaments, are open only to persons of age 50 or over.
Leagues are also differentiated by skill sets, so you have Beginner Leagues, Novice Leagues, Experienced Leagues and finally, Advanced Leagues. In the last two categories, the competition is often fierce and participants are typically those who take a special pride in their bowling abilities!
Most Famous Leagues
Some of the most famous and prestigious bowling leagues in the country are arranged by well-known bowling alleys and social clubs many of which have franchises all over the country. Some of the most reputed of these bowling clubs include BrunswickZone, Bowlero, AMF and BowlMor Lanes. These clubs organize many of the major recreational bowling leagues across the United States.
How to Find the League of Your Choice
You can find news about many ongoing and upcoming leagues from websites of different bowling clubs. For example, if you are looking for a suitable bowling league to join for the upcoming season, you can look up the AMF website. AMF, a dedicated bowling club (although it offers some other facilities as well), has a page where you can enter your city of preference, preferred dates, type of league you want to join as well as other details/filters to find the right league for you. The site will not only exhibit their own bowling leagues but those arranged by other organizations as well.
Leagues Standing Sheets
You can find fixtures, schedules and standings of all the bowling leagues registered with USBC at USBC’s own site Bowl.com. For example, if you want to know the standings of a particular bowling league, visit this search page and fill out the required information and you’ll be summarily directed to a printable League Standing Sheet page. So, you can see that although all these various non-pro leagues are commonly referred to as ‘recreational’ leagues, they actually work under a well-organized and –supervised system—a testimony to the fact how seriously these bowling leagues are taken by both organizers and participants.
- Professional Leagues/Tournaments
Then there are professional bowling leagues and tournaments, all organized under the auspices of USBC. There are Open Championships, Women’s Championships, Youth Tournaments, Short-Duration Tournaments, Collegiate and Senior Tournaments.
Under each of these categories, you’ll find a number of tournaments. For example, the short-duration category includes some of the most prestigious pro bowling competitions in the country. These include USBC Masters, U.S. Open, USBC Queens, U.S. Women’s Open as well as Team USA Trials. You’ll need to meet different eligibility criteria for participating in these events.
To know more about them, visit the page dedicated to each individual tournament. For example, the USBC Queens page informs that the 2019 edition of the tournament will take place in Wichita, Kansas and the registration for the tournament is still open. The registration fee is $350 for anybody who registers before April 24. All later entrants will need to pay $400 as registration fee.
Similarly, there are different events in Youth and Collegiate categories. Youth tournaments include USA Bowling, Pepsi Championships, Youth Open Championships and Junior Gold Championships. In Collegiate, we have Intercollegiate Team & singles Championships. However, the most prestigious of all these are of course Men and Women’s Open Championships.
For our purpose though, perhaps the most relevant are the pro senior tournaments. In this category, there are four tournaments in all: the Senior Masters, the Senior Championships, the Senior Queens and the Super Senior Classic. The last of these are meant only for individuals aged 60 or over while all other tournaments are open to those of age 50 or older.
This tournament provides the most exciting opportunity for all recreational/hobbyist bowlers age 50 or older. This is an open tournament which means both professionals and amateurs can enter the tournament and it offers prize money of up to $100,000. However, you need to pay a steep entry fee ($400 or $350) and normally, you will only consider entering the tournament only if you feel that your bowling skills are good enough to trouble the professionals.
Other than that, the tournament offers the same fun, exciting and challenging double-elimination format that is followed for the traditional USBC Masters. According to this format, all participants start by rolling 15 games and only the top 63 scorers advance to the double-elimination round where they are joined by the defending champion of the tournament. Just as in USBC Masters, the players now engage in one-to-one 3-game matches. The winner of a game proceeds to the winner’s bracket and stays there as long as he continues to win. The loser, on the other hand, will find himself in the elimination bracket. The good thing with this format that even if you lose your first match, you’ll still find a second chance. However, losing a match while in the elimination bracket will sadly mean the end of the tournament for you!
This year’s Senior Masters will take place from June 2-9 and will be organized by Sam’s Town Bowling Center, Las Vegas. The registration is open, so if you feel you’ve what it takes, you can register now.
Unlike the Masters, USBC Senior Championships is not an open entry tournament. Bowlers can only qualify for this tournament trough their state’s senior tournament. You should get in touch with your state association manager if you want to enter your state senior tournament. The 2019 USBC Senior Championships will run from August 6-9 at the Western Bowl venue located at Cincinnati, Ohio.
Wayne Webb is a three year state champion bowling team member. Wayne first started bowling with his father at age 5, and has been a huge fan of the sport ever since. In his professional career, Wayne currently serves as a full-time teacher at Portland High School. Wayne writes for several online publications including Lane1Bowling.com and Bowling Magazine.