How Do Bowling Tournaments Work?

Bowling Tournaments

Bowling is an inclusive sport that is beloved by many. Bowling is fun at all skill levels, and it allows bowlers’ competitive sides to shine through. There are several levels of tournaments; the three main categories are amateur, college, and professional. Each of these categories of tournaments has different requirements and rules.

How Bowling Tournaments Work

A bowling tournament is a competition held outside of a league. Tournaments are played by multiple competitors and include one or more bowling matches during a day or over a set period of days, according to the USBC Official Rulebook. The most common scoring method used in bowling tournaments is the total pin count, with the bowler that knocks down the highest total number of pins winning the tournament.

Bowling Tournament Format

The number of matches played is typically decided based on the level of competition in the tournament. However, all games have a minimum 10 frames. Youth tournaments and amateur tournaments typically are shorter, only a single or few days on average, and only consist of four to five games. College tournaments are three days long and consist of 10 to 15 individual games, while professional tournaments take place over one to three days and can consist of more than 20 matches, depending on the tournament.

Youth Amateur Tournaments

All officially recognized youth tournaments are sponsored and regulated by the USBC, which is the governing body for the entire sport. They have specific guidelines for who may and may not participate in any recognized tournament; this means that all youth tournament players are not required to have a prior existing USBC Youth Membership or pay the tournament fees to participate. The tournament must consist of two or more teams, and if it is a singles tournament, there must be at least two or more individual entrants. Teams may consist of at most five members.

Youth participants cannot wear any kind of apparel or use bowling equipment depicting alcohol, tobacco, or an illegal substance and perform or use any inappropriate language or gestures during the competition. If these rules are broken, they are given a warning, and if they are broken again, the player is disqualified. The scoring is done using standard USBC rules. Youth tournaments typically are shorter, only a single or few days on average, and only consist of four to five games. The tournament winner may not win more than $500 in prize money.

Adult Amateur Tournaments

The main difference between youth and adult amateur tournaments is the requirement for all adult bowlers to have an active USBC membership and pay associate member fees (or pay a participation fee). All USBC regulations are followed in adult tournaments, including basic rules, scoring format, two-match maximum per competitor, and maximum of five competitors per team. Prize money for these tournaments has no limit and depends on each tournament. Winnings for adult amateur tournaments can range anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of the tournament.

College Tournaments

When it comes to collegiate bowling, there are two main tournaments, the ITC and the ISC. The Intercollegiate Team Championships, or ITC, brings together the top 16 men's and women's teams in the country to compete for a national title. To qualify, the team must have won a conference or been a top-ranked team in the country that year. The Intercollegiate Singles Championships or ICS includes the top 24 male and female collegiate bowlers, and they are only allowed to participate by advancing to the ISC through sectional qualifying matches.

Tournament style is also different in collegiate tournaments, with a unique three-day event format. The three days consist of five Baker matches per day. Baker format games differ from a typical USBC match in that each doubles team member bowls five frames, and the score is the total of their frames, rather than each member of the game bowling ten frames individually. This is then followed by a day of five classic matches and a final day of a best-of-seven Baker championship bracket, based on the previous two days' results. The winners of both the ISC and the ITC are both awarded national titles.

Professional Tournaments

Professional tournaments have their own set of rules. To even qualify to participate in a PBA tournament, the bowler must either be a PBA member or average at least 200 in a USBC-sanctioned league or 190 in a sanctioned Sport or PBA Experience league.

The format for professional tournaments has each bowler rolling 18 qualifying games in three blocks of six games. The field is then roughly cut in half based on the top scores, and an additional eight qualifying games are played, culminating in the top 24 moving on to match play. Match play, where the bowlers play ten frames individually, follows the same format as a regular tournament. This includes tie-breakers, which involve tied players taking one throw each with one that knocks down the higher number of pins awarded a win. Prize money is awarded based on finishing place and can be as high as $250,000, which was the first-place award for the 2021 PBA Players Championship Tournament.