Life on the Circuit: They 'Live for Bowling'
Jan. 09, 1987
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ Life is about as glamorous as a gutter ball and money is harder to make than a 7-10 split for many competitors on the pro bowling circuit.
''We live for bowling. We do everything to see those pins fall,'' said Don Schatz, a 23-year-old from Ontario who drove 3,000 miles in four days with a friend to compete in the Professional Bowlers Association's U.S. Open here this week.
The winner Saturday at the Narrows Plaza Bowl will receive $100,000, the biggest payoff in PBA history, but a bowler must be in the top 60 to earn any money at all in a tournament, and big money is for only a few.
Of the top 20 money-makers in the PBA last year, winnings ranged from $59,000 to $145,000.
Most bowlers, like first-year pro Schatz, must struggle to get by. Dusty vans and motor homes with license plates in a variety of colors line the parking lot of the Narrows Plaza Bowl. Some bowlers log more than 50,000 miles a year.
More than half of the 240 pros on the tour drive from tournament to tournament, said PBA spokesman Jim Collins. Only those who consistently win big can afford to fly, he said.
The four-month, 16-city pro bowling tour includes stops in Union City, Calif.; Grand Prairie, Texas; Miami; Windsor Locks, Conn.; and North Olmstead, Ohio.
Ron Bell of Akron, Ohio, said he made $32,000 as a bowling pro last year, and $20,000 of it went toward expenses. The four-year veteran said he logs between 35,000 and 40,000 miles a year driving to tournaments.
Last year, he drove 56 hours straight from Akron to Seattle to compete in a tournament, he said. His van was destroyed in an accident on the return trip.
''The fatigue of a trip like that can really get to you,'' he said. Even worse, he added, is the boredom.
''Once the initial excitement is gone, and once you've spent 10 hours in a car, all you think about is getting there,'' Bell said. ''After a while, the only conversation is, 'You drive, I sleep. I drive, you sleep.''
But Harry Smith, the 1960 U.S. Open champ, has good memories of traveling to tournaments by motor home for 15 years.
''You got to be close to the land, see different places and meet different people,'' Smith said. ''Between tournaments, you could pull up alongside a stream and go fishing. You can't do that from a plane.
''I'm 56 going on 26, that's what life on the road did for me. It kept me hopelessly young,'' said Smith, now a PBA tournament director who still often drives to tournaments.