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A ten-pin bowler releases their ball
Playing bowls at West End Bowling Club, UK.

Bowling refers to a series of sports or leisure activities in which a player rolls or throws a bowling ball towards a target. In pin bowling variations, the target is usually to knock over pins at the end of a lane. In target variations, the aim is usually to get the ball as close to a mark as possible. The pin version of bowling is often played on a flat wooden or other synthetic surface,[1] whilst in target bowling, the surface may be grass, gravel or a synthetic surface.[2] The most common types of pin bowling include ten-pin, nine-pin, candlepin, duckpin and five-pin bowling, while in target bowling, bowls, bocce, carpet bowls, pétanque and boules, both indoor and outdoor varieties, are popular. Today, the sport of bowling is enjoyed by 100 million people in more than 90 countries worldwide.


  • History 1
  • Variations 2
    • Pin Bowling 2.1
    • Target Bowling 2.2
  • Health benefits 3
  • Bowling accessibility 4
  • In popular culture 5
    • Paintings 5.1
    • Onscreen 5.2
      • In films 5.2.1
      • In shorts 5.2.2
      • On television 5.2.3
    • In video games 5.3
  • Introduction to Ten Pin Bowling 6
    • Bowling Centers 6.1
    • Scoring 6.2
    • Equipment 6.3
      • Types of pins 6.3.1
      • Ball 6.3.2
      • Shoes 6.3.3
      • Hand Guard 6.3.4
      • Bags 6.3.5
    • Ball release techniques and delivery styles 6.4
    • Bowling safety 6.5
    • Competitions 6.6
      • Major tournaments 6.6.1
      • Multi-sport events 6.6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8


Peasants bowling in front of a tavern in the 17th century

The earliest most primitive forms of bowling can be dated back to Ancient Egypt[3] and the Roman Empire. From records and artifacts in ancient Egypt, going back 3000–5000 years ago, remnants of bowls used at the time were found.[4] Balls, made of husks of corn, covered in material such as leather, and bound with string were made. Other balls, made of porcelain, also exist, indicating that these were rolled along the ground, rather than thrown, due to their size and weight.[4] Some of these resemble the modern day jack used in target bowl games of today. Bowls games of different forms are also noted by Herodotus as an invention of the Lydians in Asia Minor.[5] About 2,000 years ago a similar game evolved between Roman legionaries: it entailed tossing stone objects as close as possible to other stone objects (this game became popular with Roman soldiers, and eventually evolved into Italian Bocce, or outdoor bowling).[6]

The first standardized rules for pin bowling were established in New York City, on September 9, 1895.[7] The oldest surviving bowling lanes in the United States is part of the summer estate of Henry C. Bowen in Woodstock, Connecticut, at Roseland Cottage. The lanes, now part of Historic New England's Roseland Cottage house museum, dates to the construction of the cottage in 1846. It contains Gothic Revival architectural elements, in keeping with the style of the entire estate.[8]

Rules for target bowls evolved in each of the countries who had adopted the predominantly British based game. In 1905, the International Bowling Board was formed, and it subsequent constitution adopted the Laws of the Scottish Bowling Association, with variations allowed for various regulations at individual country level.[9] The oldest known bowls green for target style bowling is that which is now part of the Southhampton Bowling club, in southern England. The use of the land as an area for recreational bowls dates back to 1299, and was then known as the "Master's Close".[10]

Today, bowling is enjoyed by 95 million people in more than ninety countries worldwide[11] and continues to grow through entertainment media such as video games for home consoles and handheld devices.[12]


Pin Bowling

(video) A man bowling in Japan.

Five main variations are found in North America, varying especially in New England and parts of Canada:

  • Ten-pin bowling: largest and heaviest pins, bowled with a large ball with finger holes, and the most popular size in North America
    • See also Introduction to Ten Pin Bowling
  • Nine-pin bowling: pins usually attached to strings at the tops, uses a ball without finger holes
  • Candlepin bowling: tallest pins, thin with matching ends, and bowled with the smallest and lightest (at 1.1 kg) handheld ball of any bowling sport
  • Duckpin bowling: short, squat, and bowled with a handheld ball
  • Five-pin bowling: tall, between duckpins and candlepins in diameter with a rubber girdle, bowled with a handheld ball, mostly found in Canada

Target Bowling

A bowls tournament in Berrigan, New South Wales, Australia

Another form of bowling is usually played outdoors on a lawn. At outdoor bowling, the players throw a ball, which is sometimes eccentrically weighted, in an attempt to put it closest to a designated point or slot in the bowling arena. Included in the outdoor category:

Health benefits

Bowling is an anaerobic type of physical exercise, similar to walking with free weights. Bowling helps in burning calories and works muscle groups not usually exercised. The flexing and stretching in bowling works tendons, joints, ligaments, and muscles in the arms and promotes weight loss. While most sports are not for elderly people, it is possible to practice bowling very well at advanced ages.

Apart from the physical benefits, it also has psychosocial benefits, strengthening friendships or creating new ones in groups.[13]

Bowling accessibility

Technological innovation has made bowling accessible to members of the disabled community.

  • The IKAN Bowler, a device designed by a quadriplegic engineer named Bill Miller, attaches to a wheelchair and allows the user to control the speed, direction, and timing of the ten pin bowling ball's release. The name comes from the Greek work "ikano", which means "enable".[14]
  • For Bowls the sport has introduced a number of innovations to enable people with a disability to participate at all levels of the sport, from social through to Olympic Standards:
    • The use of bowling arms and lifters enables bowlers to deliver a bowl minimising the amount of movement required
    • Wheelchair and green manufacturers have produced modified wheel tyres and ramps to enable wheelchair athletes to access bowls greens.
    • Modified conditions of play as outlined in Disability classification in lawn bowls

In popular culture


The bowling game, by Dutch painter Jan Steen, c. 1655

Many Dutch Golden Age paintings depicted bowling.


Bowling is often depicted as a group date, teen outing, and blue-collar activity.

In films

The sport has been the subject of a number of "bowling films", which prominently feature the sport of bowling. Examples include:

  • 7-10 Split (film) (2007), renamed STRIKE for its USA DVD release in 2009
  • Alley Cats Strike, a 2000 Disney Channel Original Movie
  • The Big Lebowski (1998), bowling played a pivotal role in the film and figured prominently in the film's promotional advertisements.
  • Blackball – a 2003 comedy film about a young bowls player, based upon Griff Sanders.[15]
  • Crackerjack – a 2002 Australian comedy film about a wisecracking layabout who joins a lawn bowls club in order to be allowed to use a free parking spot but is forced to play bowls with the much older crowd when the club enters financial difficulty.
  • Dreamer (1979 film), a direct-to-video film
  • The Golden Years (film), a 1960 sponsored film that promoted bowling as a family sport
  • Kingpin (film), a 1996 slapstick comedy film
  • Spare Me (film), a 1992 "bowling noir" film
  • A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, a documentary film about 10-pin bowling that was released on DVD on March 21, 2006 and stars four PBA Tour players
  • Strikes and Spares (1934), a sports shorts film that was nominated for a 1934 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (novelty)
  • Jackass 2

Bowling is an important theme in other films, as well.

In shorts

On television

  • Several game shows have centered around bowling:
    • Many local television stations produced Bowling for Dollars as part of a franchise, mainly in the 1970s.
    • Nick at Nite had a one-time special entitled King Pins, which featured contestants bowling in unusual ways. Its bonus round featured the winning couple attempting to knock down six giant pins with a likewise oversized ball.
    • Comedy Central produced a televised version of a radio show, Let's Bowl, which featured two contestants (usually family members) settling some sort of dispute between each other and competing for nearly worthless prizes, with the hosting and modeling abilities of the cast likewise played for laughs.
    • On The Hub's game show Family Game Night with Todd Newton, there is a game called Yahtzee Bowling where families play Yahtzee with a bowling twist.
  • "King of Queens" Season 2 Episode 11, "Sparing Carrie", Doug has to decide whether winning bowling games is more important than hurting his wife, Carrie's feelings.[16]
  • In
  • In The Flintstones (which imitated and spoofed The Honeymooners and The Jackie Gleason Show),[17][18] "bronto" crane operator Fred Flintstone and his next-door neighbor and sidekick, Barney Rubble, often bowl. Fred is an avid bowler who has won championships based on his incredible bowling skills. A number of episodes address Fred and Barney's bowling adventures, such as:
    • In "Wilma's Vanishing Money" (1962-01-26), Fred steals Wilma's money to buy a bowling ball, while Wilma thinks it's a burglar who stole it. She, meanwhile, was planning to use the money to buy Fred that ball he wanted for his birthday.
    • In "Bowling Ballet (aka Rush-in Ballet)" (1962-10-05), Fred goes so far as to take ballet lessons in order to improve his game, which leads to his nickname "Twinkletoes". The nickname of "Twinkletoes" stuck with him when Fred attended a local college and became eligible to play on their football team, and it became his call sign.
    • In "Seeing Doubles" (1965-12-17), Fred and Barney have a bowling game on Friday night, the night that they are to take Wilma and Betty out to dinner. After failing to convince the wives to let them go bowling, The Great Gazoo makes two robots that look like Fred and Barney. The robots can only say "yes" and "no" and they take the wives to dinner while Fred and Barney go bowling. The robotic impersonators, however, take Wilma and Betty to the most expensive restaurant in town and cause havoc the entire night. It's up to Fred and Barney to round them up and bring them back to Gazoo in order for them to be snapped out.
  • In episode 86-4.14 of Roseanne, titled "The Bowling Show", Dan Conner (John Goodman) and Arnie Thomas (Tom Arnold) try to bring their bowling team out of last place in their league.
  • Bowling featured prominently in Laverne & Shirley; Laverne (Penny Marshall)'s Italian-born father, Frank De Fazio (Phil Foster), runs the Pizza Bowl, a local hang out featuring pizza, beer, and bowling.
  • In episode 221 of The Andy Griffith Show, titled "Howard the Bowler" (originally aired September 18, 1967), Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson) fills in on the bowling team and rolls a perfect game.[19]
  • Bowling is the main theme in the JDrama The Golden Bowl.[20]
  • In episode 29 of Smile PreCure!, titled "The PreCures Are Sucked Into a Game!?", Cure Peace challenged Red Oni to a bowling game. She eventually won because of her lightning skills.
  • Bowling is featured in episode 19 of Dokidoki! PreCure called "Betting the Crystals! Jikochu's Game!". In the episode, the Cures challenged Jikochu for the crystals with bowling as the second game. The Selfish Trio also played bowling during the series' run. Ai also played bowling in episode 38 of the series called "Beel's Scheme! Ai Becomes a Jikochu!?".
  • The Simpsons episode 89-1.9 episode, "Life on the Fast Lane," has Marge Simpson taking up the sport in a fit of pique when her husband, Homer, thoughtlessly gave her a bowling ball engraved in his own name for a birthday present. In doing so, she finds herself attracted to an amorous player and finds her marriage in jeopardy.
  • One episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood features Fred Rogers and Mr. McFeely playing the game.
  • In episode 1.7 of The Golden Girls, ("The Competition"), Dorothy (Bea Arthur) and Blanche (Rue McMcClanahan) bowl a game against Rose (Betty White) and Sophia (Estelle Getty). If Sophia and Rose win, Dorothy will allow Sophia to go back to Sicily for a visit with an old beau; if Dorothy and Blanche win, Sophia will give Dorothy a pair of antique earrings.
  • In Japan, Bowling Revolution P-League is an 18-player tournament, played in rounds of three bowlers and aired on a weekly basis.

In video games

Introduction to Ten Pin Bowling

Bowling alley under UV-light.

Bowling Centers

A bowling center (more commonly known as a bowling alley) is a facility that is equipped to play the game of bowling. Bowling centers usually have at least two lanes with larger centers having over 80 lanes. Depending on the building, lanes may be laid all on one floor, across multiple floors, or a setup with a group of lanes facing one direction and another group of lanes facing another direction. Bowling lanes are laid out in married pairs with each pair sharing a ball return rack, automatic scoring console, and in some cases a bowler seating setup. Weekly league sessions are normally contested on one married pair of lanes with equal play for each participant on each lane. In a tournament, one game will be played on a married pair of lanes and bowlers will change to a new pair of lanes after every game.

The lane bed is built from either wood or phenolic. A wood lane uses maple for pin decks, the ball impact zone and the approach while pine is used for the second half of the lane after the impact zone. The measurement from the foul line to the center axis of the head pin is exactly sixty feet. In ten pin, the pins are either Surlyn-coated maple or a plastic composite. For small ball bowling, all pins are now made of plastic composites. The pinsetter varies by game, but have two foundations — string and free-fall. Most ten-pin, candlepin, and duckpin centers are free fall while five-pin and soft belly duckpin centers are dominated by string pinsetters. String pinsetters have a lower operating cost. The ball return consists of a ball tray and an up-ramp. Most ten pin centers and some small ball centers use a power lift to raise the ball to the tray.

A bowling center requires a lot of space. A single lane requires a footprint of about 620 square feet including the lane bed, gutters, pit end, pinsetter, ball returns, and approach area. This does not include space for seating, party rooms, arcades, the concourse, kitchen, administrative areas, fire safety systems, and other building requirements.


The most common bowling is ten pin bowling. In ten pin bowling, matches consist of each player bowling a "game". Each game is divided into ten "frames". A frame allows a bowler two chances to knock down all ten pins. The number of pins knocked over in each frame is recorded, a running total is made as each frame progresses, and the player with the highest score in his/her game wins the game. Scores can be greater than the actual number of pins knocked over if strikes or spares are bowled. A "strike" is scored when a player knocks down all pins on the first roll in the frame. Rather than a score of 10 for the frame, the player's score will be 10 plus the total pins knocked down on the next two rolls in the next frame(s). A "spare" is scored when all pins are knocked down using both rolls in the frame. The player's score for that frame will be 10 plus the number of pins knocked down on the first roll in the next frame. A player who rolls a spare or strike in the last frame is given one or two more rolls to score additional points, respectively.

Two consecutive strikes is known as a "double" (also known among older bowlers as a hambone, prior to Pro Bowling Association/ESPN announcers changing it). Three consecutive strikes is known as a "turkey". Four consecutive strikes is known as a "hambone" (PBA announcing in 2009/2010) or "four bagger". Five consecutive strikes is known as a "five bagger", "dropping the nickel", or "Yahtzee" (PBA). Six consecutive strikes is known as a "six-pack" or "Six bagger". Seven or more follow the "-pack"/"bagger" rule, or is simply called (number of strikes) in a row. A perfect game consists of 12 consecutive strikes, one for every frame and two more on the extra rolls in the 10th, and results in a score of 300. A clean game is filling every frame with either a spare or a strike. In many forms of indoor bowling (specifically ten-pin, candlepin, and duckpin), the highest possible score is 300. In five-pin, the highest possible score is 450.

A common variation of the game is no-tap, a form of bowling where a specific number or more pins knocked down counts as a strike. Nine or eight pin no-tap is most often used. No-tap in five-pin awards a strike if the first ball leaves one of the corner pins. Standard only two people plays in the international tournaments.


Types of pins

Five main variations are found in North America, varying especially in New England and parts of Canada:

  • Ten-pin bowling: largest and heaviest pins, bowled with a large ball with finger holes, and the most popular size in North America
  • Nine-pin bowling: pins usually attached to strings at the tops, uses a ball without finger holes
  • Candlepin: tallest pins, thin with matching ends, and bowled with the smallest and lightest (at 1.1 kg) handheld ball of any bowling sport
  • Duckpin: short, squat, and bowled with a handheld ball
  • Five-pin bowling: tall, between duckpins and candlepins in diameter with a rubber girdle, bowled with a handheld ball, mostly found in Canada


Bowling balls vary, depending on the type of bowling game. Ten-pin balls are large, up to 27 inches in circumference (approximately 8.59 inches diameter), and have as many as twelve holes, typically three holes. The balls come in various weights from 6 to 16 lbs, with the size and spacing of the finger holes often smaller on lighter balls to accommodate smaller hands. Different kinds of balls are available for different styles of bowling. There are balls for hook shots and balls for bowling straight. The bowling balls meant for hook shots have different core shapes and different chemical covers. There are a few types of chemical covers that allow a bowling ball to hook more. One of these types of covers is a resin cover. This resin cover is designed to move and absorb the oil on the lane to create a path for the bowler where there is less oil, increasing the amount of hook of the bowling ball. Balls for other games vary, e.g., candlepin balls which fit in the palm of the hand need no holes. Unlike most sports, the ball can be different weights based upon the player.

All bowling centers provide bowling balls (house balls) - their usage is included in the bowling fee. For ten pin bowling, the center will provide a fleet of house balls in varying weight and standard grip sizes while idle lanes have empty ball return racks. Customers that use house balls will pick a ball that fits from the house ball fleet and place it on the ball rack at the designated lane. When done, the customer should return the house ball to the house ball racks. In small-ball games, each ball return contains a quantity of house balls — usually in at most one or two color patterns.


Bowling shoes are designed to mimic any style of flat shoe from regular dress shoes to athletic shoes. The sole of the non sliding foot is generally made of rubber to provide traction, while the sliding foot's sole is made of a smooth and flat material that allows a bowler to slide into the release with a rubber heel to allow for braking. Rental shoes are typically leather and rubber on both feet for durability. These shoes can be bought, but most casual players rent the shoes each visit to a facility. Players must be very careful while wearing them that the soft material does not get wet or excessively dirty; if it does get wet or dirty, it will not slide properly, and could damage the approach surface.[21]

Depending on the bowling center, shoe rental may be included in the cost of bowling or be added as a separate fee. To discourage theft, bowling shoes are often painted in highly distinctive patterns so that anyone who does steal them will not be able to wear the shoes in public without making the theft obvious.[22]

Hand Guard

A full-fledged bowling glove

A bowling guard is a metal wrist support to attain a certain angle to the wrist when releasing the ball; to hook the ball. There are different types of hand guard, including those with a full metal finger design and ones with an uncovered portion for the middle and ring fingers. There are also wristguards. They allow a bowler to keep their wrist locked into place to generate revolutions on a ball or assist with position and/or weak wrists.[23]


Traditionally, personal bowling balls are carried in special zippered bags, along with shoes and a polishing cloth. Some bags are only large enough to fit shoes, while others can accommodate multiple balls, resembling roller bag luggage.[24][25]

Ball release techniques and delivery styles

Ball Release

There are typically two different ways to roll a ball down the lane.

  • Straight
Beginners commonly just bowl the ball straight down the lane, hoping to hit the 1 and 2 pocket or the 1 and 3 pocket. When bowling straight like this, people often hold the ball with their hand in a "W" shaped form.
  • Hook/Curve
The hook or curve ball is commonly used by more advanced players. As the bowler releases the ball, the ball starts out straight and then "hooks" because of the rotation the bowler puts on the ball during release. When curving, most people use two fingers and a thumb.

Delivery Styles

There are three different types of styles used when releasing the ball onto the lane. The three styles are the stroker, cranker and tweener styles.

  • Stroker
People who use the stroker style usually keep their feet square to the foul line. Stroking lessens the ball's spin rate and therefore decreases its hook/curve potential and hitting power. Strokers use finesse and accuracy.
  • Cranker
Crankers try to create as much spin as possible by using a cupped wrist. Bowlers that use the cranking method often cup their wrist, but open the wrist at the top of the swing. Crankers often use late timing, meaning the foot reaches the foul line before the ball does; this is called "plant and pull", hardly using any slide on their last step and pulling the ball upwards for leverage. Crankers rely on speed and power.
  • Tweener
Tweeners are bowlers that release the ball in a way that falls somewhere in between stroking and cranking. Tweeners often release the ball with a higher backswing than is normally used by a stroker or a less powerful wrist position than a cranker.
  • UFO
The UFO style was create by Taiwanese and widely used in Asia. Unlike other different types of styles, the flat of UFO's rotation is parallel to the ground. The ball is spun in a counter-clockwise manner (right handed) and enters the pins close to the middle of the lane, deflecting and causing pins to scatter rather than fly around. A ball weighing 10-12 pounds is used.

Bowling safety

Bowling balls are heavy with varying weight ranges; to avoid back and wrist injury, they should be picked up with both hands. It’s also recommended to bend one’s knees while picking up bowling balls to avoid back injuries. Most bowling ball return mechanisms use a power-lift that includes a spinning wheel, and it is recommended that bowlers should keep their hands clear of it. Bowlers should also warm up their fingers before inserting them into a bowling ball, to ensure that their fingers do not get stuck in the ball.[26][27]

Even in small ball bowling, balls should be picked up with one hand on each side of the ball — small balls return to the rack with enough force to smash fingers.

It is very common in bowling to warm up in other sports by stretching the arms and legs. Some ways bowler stretch is by using the bowling ball as a sort-of medicine ball. They pick up the bowling ball and put the ball behind their head and stretch their arms. Normally bowlers squeeze the bowling ball. They also stretch their quadriceps by lifting their leg behind their back. "A warm up should begin with some light activity to increase blood flow to the muscles" (called "bowling stretches")[28]

It is imperative to keep the soles of bowling shoes dry. If the bowling shoe sole gets wet, it can stick like glue on an approach and result in the bowler suffering a wipeout or blown knee. The most common causes of wet bowling shoes tend to be spilled beverages, drips in washrooms and near concessions, and snowmelt or rainwater tracked into the bowling center. Outdoor footwear should be removed at the bowling center entrance. All spills should be reported to bowling center staff and cleaned immediately. A shoe cover is sold in most pro shops for bowlers who still want to wear bowling shoes while walking around the alley, in the washroom etc. Removable soles are sold with higher end bowling shoes to combat when a bowling shoe does get wet.

The lane surface carries a high amount of oil (lane conditioner) and is extremely slippery. A bowler should never cross the foul line at the approach. Only authorized personnel should step past the foul line, even if it is to pick up a loose item that fell onto the lane.

When cleaning lane conditioner from the bowling ball, care must be taken to ensure that the bowlers fingers don't slip into a finger hole while turning the ball over since it is possible to break a finger.


Four-lane candlepin bowling alley in Windsor, Vermont, USA, about 1910

Major tournaments

Multi-sport events

See also


  1. ^ United States Bowling Conference
  2. ^ Crystal-Mark (2010). Laws of the Sport of Bowls. World Bowls Ltd. p. 9. 
  3. ^ Help with Bowling: The History and Origins of Bowling
  4. ^ a b Pretsell, James M. (1908). The Game of Bowls Past and Present. Oliver & Boyd. p. 1. 
  5. ^ Pretsell 1908, p. 2.
  6. ^ Bowling in ancient Rome
  7. ^ Springdale USBC Site
  8. ^ "Roseland Cottage — Historic New England". Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  9. ^ Munro, J.P. (1951). Bowls Encyclopedia. Melbourne Australia: Wilke & Co. p. 167. 
  10. ^ Linney, E.J. (1933). A History of the Game of Bowls. Edingburgh Press. p. 22. 
  11. ^ Fit4FunKids site
  12. ^ AMF Bowling Pinbusters! for Nokia N-Gage
  13. ^ - How to Lose Weight by Bowling
  14. ^ Ability Magazine: IKAN Bowler’’"". Retrieved 2012-04-06. 
  15. ^ "From bowling green to silver screen". BBC News. 2003-08-28. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Stinnett, Chuck. is latest reminder that animated films are thriving"Rango". Evansville Courier & Press, March 8, 2011
  18. ^ "The Flintstones Frequently Asked Questions List". Retrieved 2010-07-20. 
  19. ^ Howard, the Bowler at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ "Golden Bowl". Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  21. ^ "Using bowling shoes". Retrieved 2010-02-15. 
  22. ^ Imponderables, David Feldman, 1986.
  23. ^ Bowling Forum, 15 February 2010.
  24. ^ Broughton, Cristy (January 13, 2011). "Top five cheap bowling bags". Yahoo! Canada Sports. Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  25. ^ Gornstein, Leslie (August 22, 2012). "Mad Men Star Christina Hendricks'...". Fashion Police. E! Online. Retrieved 31 August 2012. [..]somewhere between the ‘60s and yesterday, bowling totes evolved to look like roller bags[..] 
  26. ^ BellaOnline - Personal Bowling Safety
  27. ^ Pinboy's Guide To Better Bowling
  28. ^ Bowling stretches. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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