Published Friday, Jan. 9, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2009 | 11:10 a.m.
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Beyond the Sun
An estimated 150,000 people will come through Las Vegas over the next six months as part of a competition that will temporarily turn a portion of Cashman Center into one of the largest bowling centers in Las Vegas.
The U.S. Bowling Congress Open Championships — considered the world’s largest grass-roots sporting event — kick off with a Masters exhibition of professional bowlers Feb. 9-15. Competition among more than 85,000 bowlers on 17,200 teams begins Feb. 21 and runs 154 straight days through July 24.
After the Open Championships, Cashman will play host to the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Women’s Championships July 25-Aug. 3.
With thousands of teams participating, the event will be the second largest in the 106-year history of the tournament. Only an event in Reno staged when the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium opened in 1995 had more participants with 17,285 teams.
The Bowling Congress stages its championship tourney at the downtown Reno stadium every third year. This year’s Las Vegas event will easily surpass the non-Reno record of 13,222 teams that participated in Baton Rouge, La., in 2005.
The 85,000 bowlers and estimated 65,000 friends, families and supporters who visit Las Vegas will represent an estimated $75 million to $100 million boost to the local economy, said Matt Cannizzaro, media relations manager for the Bowling Congress. Cannizzaro said most teams and their boosters spend an average of 3 1/2 days in Las Vegas when they compete.
“Las Vegas is a very appealing location for this event as you can see by the number of teams that have registered,” Cannizzaro said. “And a lot of the time they will spend here will be doing things in town.”
That’s because bowlers will spend a total of only about 10 hours in competition and preparation for the event for five-member teams and in singles and doubles competitions on a separate day.
“Taking the tournament to the entertainment-rich environment in Las Vegas has shown the popularity of the Open Championships and the strong draw that is Las Vegas,” added Jack Mordini, the Bowling Congress’ vice president of tournaments and events.
The championship will be staged at a Cashman Center convention hall, where work began Dec. 15 to build a 60-lane bowling center. Workers are using enough wood to build five three-bedroom homes and six miles of wiring on the temporary center.
The 2009 event will feature never-before-used scoreboard technology. The new scoreboards will be similar to big screens in sports venues and arenas nationwide and use technology that can stream video with 4.4 trillion colors. It’s considered the largest mobile scoreboard of its kind and the setup will include a 12-by-9-foot high-definition video display screen over the center’s fabled Center Aisle, where bowlers are introduced to music as they take their positions for matches.
It will be the first significant scoreboard modification for bowling since 1979, and the Bowling Congress says it’s the biggest change for the sport since synthetic bowling lanes were introduced in 1980.
The 60 lanes will be the largest temporary tournament venue outside of Reno for the Bowling Congress, which in the past has set up 56 lanes for the competition.
Most bowling centers in Southern Nevada are in hotels and range from 24 to 72 lanes. Centers at Red Rock Resort and Sunset Station are the largest with 72 lanes each.
Cannizzaro explained the rigorous bowling schedule would be too demanding to contract out to an existing commercial bowling center. Once competition begins, the Cashman lanes will be in use from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day.
Bowlers of varying skill levels are expected to participate.
Bowlers are divided into two divisions — those with averages of 180 a game or less and those with averages of 181 a game or more. Cannizzaro said the high-division bowlers would need to roll a series of more than 800 to compete for the top prize. Last year in Albuquerque an 832 series was tops. A perfect series — 12 consecutive strikes in all three games — would score 900.
Competitors will come from every state and several countries. Bowlers range in age from 16 to 96 with scoring averages of 95 to 250 per game.
One participant will be Wooster, Ohio, resident Les Berry, who will be making his 66th appearance in the tournament.
Bowlers will be competing for $7 million in prize money. Cannizzaro said because of the different divisions, about 46 percent of the participants get some money for their efforts.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based Bowling Congress staged its open championship tournament in Las Vegas once before in 1986, and it was a record-setting event. At that tournament, 10,019 teams participated, the first time that the 10,000 level was surpassed.
Richard N. Velotta covers tourism for In Business Las Vegas and its sister publication, the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at 259-4061 or [email protected].