Time for a Change at Bowling’s Top Level?

By Michael Cousins

How many of you watched the Masters Tournament this weekend? For those of you that did, how many of you seen celebrities playing in hopes of garnering publicity and ratings? How many of you saw the commissioner of the PGA Tour lobbying with fans, talking about other sports, and live tweeting the tournament on social media?

I can tell you that I personally watched the tournament. I seen no celebrities playing on Sunday; Terrell Owens and Mookie Betts made no appearances from my vantage point. The PGA Tour commissioner was nowhere to be seen or heard. He was in attendance, I am sure, but he wasn’t trying to let it be known.

It was golf, at its purest form. And it was golden. It was competitive. It was captivating. It was emotional. It was everything sports should be, and then some. It was great. But at the end of the day, it was golf. Nothing more, nothing less. Just golf.

The reason I bring this up is probably pretty apparent by now. If not, let me just say it: the PBA, the highest level of our sport – even though they hate being compared to golf and other sports – needs to learn from other professional tours.

They need to make professional bowling about bowling again. They need to make it professional. They need to make it about the professionals. They need to make it about our athletes. The best bowlers in the world.

Golf’s Masters tournament didn’t have gimmicks. It didn’t have celebrities. It didn’t have anything outside of the world’s best golfers, competing for one of the world’s most prestigious golf titles, at one of the sport’s most iconic venues.

Why should bowling be any different? Why should the PBA not be 100% focused on itself and its professional athletes?

Instead of trying to market our sport utilizing greats from other sports, why not market and promote our own athletes? When was the last time the PGA Tour tried getting a ratings boost by having celebrities participate? And please understand that their ratings are down, too.

In fact, this year’s Masters Tournament was one of my favorites in recent memory. It had everything you could possibly want in a sporting event, but, still, their ratings were down. In fact, it had the lowest ratings of any Masters tournament since 2004.

Yet still no mention of celebrities. Their leaders aren’t on social media publicly comparing their ratings to that of other sports. They have no televised celebrity invitational on the immediate horizon. All that is coming up is golf. Pure golf. Nothing more. Nothing less. They know who they are, what they are, and who they want to be. And they stick to it. The PGA has never tried to make golf about anything other than golf.

Again I ask: why should our sport be any different?

I think the PBA’s leadership means well. Truly, I do. There is no part of me that questions their passion for bowling or their character. But, at the end of the day, if what they’ve been doing isn’t working, and I don’t think there is a very strong argument to be made to say that it has been working, maybe it is time to try something else?

Look at the USBC, for example, what they have done recently is extraordinary. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily agree with everything the USBC does or doesn’t do, but the recent changes, primarily the ones made to the US Open (limiting the field) are exactly what our sport needs. They’re bringing back a level of integrity that hasn’t been seen on the competitive level in quite some time. Kudos to them.

Maybe it is time for the PBA to simplify things. To purify the sport, if you will. Get back to the way it was before. Limit fields. Make it harder to compete. Don’t open every event to every bowler that pays the entry fee. Make the PBA tour a truly elite field week in and week out. Just like it was back in the day with the exempt tour. If bowlers want to compete at our sport’s highest level, make them earn it. The USBC is doing it right. It is time for the PBA to follow suit.

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