Business is so brisk that pro shop manager Dean Reid seldom gets a break.
With orders for new bowling balls constantly flowing in, he spends most of his time fitting and drilling at Hi-Way Lanes in Franklin.
He recently reported to work and had 26 new orders waiting for him, a convincing sign that bowling is not only alive and well but still attracting new players.
“We’re busy as heck. All the pro shops have been just busy as heck,” Reid said.
Story continues below gallery
“This is as fast as I can go in here.”
An American pastime, bowling has long been a popular activity for players of all ages. Although challenging economic times, among other factors, have resulted in ebbs and flows, bowling has been — and still is — the nation’s No. 1 participation sport.
That’s according to the United States Bowling Congress, the governing body for amateur adult and youth bowlers. The organization estimates that 69 million people each year hit the lanes for either league competition or recreation.
“It’s a sport that people of all ages and skill levels can participate,” said Terry Bigham, a spokesperson for the USBC. “Parents and kids can bowl together, making it a popular family outing.
“It’s also a great sport for social interaction, a way for friends to hang out and have fun.”
Striking up interest
Johnson County is home to two bowling centers, Hi-Way Lanes and Southern Bowl in Greenwood.
Both report robust league and recreation participation.
“Business has been increasing,” said Hi-Way Lanes general manager Jordan Curtis, who has seen an uptick in both recreation and league play. The center has a combined eight winter leagues for adults, youths and seniors that are at or near capacity.
Curtis expects similar participation for the upcoming summer leagues.
Moreover, open bowling opportunities on Friday and Saturday nights typically fill the 28-lane center.
“The better the economy has been, the better our business has gotten,” Curtis said. “Bowling is expendable income. If you have more money to spend, you’re more likely to do things.
“It’s kind of the way people treat bowling.”
Business is equally booming at Southern Bowl, which has 17 winter leagues and popular open bowling offerings on Friday and Saturday nights.
Casey Leigh, program director at Southern Bowl, estimates 1,200 to 1,500 participate in leagues at the 40-lane center in any given year. And late-arrivers to weekend open bowling opportunities should expect to be patient.
“On Fridays and Saturdays, especially during our Cosmic Bowling, there are times when we have up to a two-hour wait for people waiting for lanes,” Leigh said. “Especially on weekends, we are very busy.”
Attracting new bowlers
In recent decades, the bowling industry has worked diligently to erase stereotypes long associated with the sport.No longer smoke-filled domains frequented by beer-guzzling males, modern bowling centers — not “bowling alleys” — are family-friendly facilities where a child’s birthday party might be conducted next to a corporate team-building outing.
Moreover, the industry has initiated a number of changes to attract new bowlers.
For example, Southern Bowl, like many bowling centers, has bumper and ball ramp availability for young bowlers. Bumpers prevent gutter balls. Ramps allow children who can’t swing a ball to push it down a ramp onto the lane.
And at Hi-Way Lanes, like many bowling centers, league bowlers have an array of options from competitive leagues to not-so-competitive leagues. One in particular is the Lousy Bowler League, where high scores are not quite so hard to come by.
“You can knock down nine pins, and it counts as a strike,” Curtis said. “It’s for the person who just wants to come out and have some fun, the non-serious bowler.
“Kids can bowl in that, too.”
Mirroring a national trend, Hi-Lanes and Southern Bowl also offer a variety of discounts for league participation and, in some instances, free gear.
In some leagues, bowlers are entitled to a free bowling ball — a special perk that keeps pro shop pros like Reid extra busy.
“Bowling is on the upswing,” he said. “We’re very, very busy.”
That’s good news for an industry that has seen an uptick in youth participation.
More than 5,000 high schools in the United States have bowling teams, according to the USBC. More than 50,000 high school bowlers participate.
Several Johnson County high schools have bowling clubs, and the county’s bowling centers are reaping the benefits of the game’s steadfast popularity.
“All ages can bowl,” Curtis said. “It’s a sport where it doesn’t matter if you’re (disabled) or you’re 80 or you’re two. It doesn’t matter.
“Anybody can bowl.”
- Bowling is the No. 1 participation sport in the United States.
- 69 million people bowl at least once a year.
- The United States Bowling Congress, the governing body for amateur adult and youth bowlers, had 1.57 million members in 2014-15.
- The USBC certified 53,209 leagues in 2014-15.
- There are 4,489 USBC-certified bowling centers in the United States.
WHERE TO BOWL IN JOHNSON COUNTY
Hi-Way Lanes, 400 N. North Morton St., Franklin
Southern Bowl, 1010 U.S. 31, Greenwood