Can you consider rolling a particular heavy ball down a 105 cm wide and 18m deep lane to try and displace 10 ‘jelly baby’ looking pins, a sport? Is it a business or just something kids do on weekends at birthday parties?
In 1930, British anthropologist Sir Flinders Petrie uncovered a grave site of an Egyptian boy dating back 3200 B.C. which to date is the earliest findings of where ten-pin bowling originated from. The early part of the 1900’s was a time of war and bowling became a very popular ‘time off’ activity for the soldiers. It became so popular that some generals even banned the sport in fear of soldiers not working on their combat and shooting skills.
The 1940’s to the 1960’s saw bowling as the golden era in the United States and soon became a multi-dollar industry. Bowling was introduced to the United Kingdom between 1960 and the 1980 and new bowling establishments opened faster than a Californian wild fire. At the peak of the bubble the UK had over 160 bowling clubs across the country.
The sport in the late eighties hit a decline due to the high costs of re-investment and the complex manual scoring process. With the help of technology, this soon become a thing of the past where the entire system became automated. This led to the second golden era in bowling and it was estimated at the time that 100 million players were playing world-wide.
Closer to home bowling has been on the downward spiral even with the national lotto sponsorship. Senior league player and coach Kelvin Way attributes the decline to three main causes. He said, “South Africa has some of the best weather in the world and people prefer to play outdoors. Another reason is that we don’t have enough quality coaches to mentor and teach the youngsters. Lastly and most importantly we just don’t have enough bowling establishments’ country wide”
With just over 20 bowling clubs country wide and at a cost of 1 million rand a lane, it is easy to see why the sport is battling to grow. Just to maintain each lane, the club over has to purchase a half a million rand oiling machine. The high costs associated with this sport and the lack of clubs has a ripple effect on the growth of the sport due to supply and demand. Business owners have to keep a healthy balance between making a profit and providing lanes to professional league players at a discount cost. With such a huge investment, the business owner has an obligation to recoup costs and make money.
Should you really care about tenpin bowling when there are dozens of other more exciting sports to play? Of course you should! South Africa is made up of many strange and wonderful sporting codes and every one of them has a place in our wonderful and diverse country.