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Big names entered in Florida tournament featuring traditional and string pinsetters, which may be the next big thing in bowling

JEFF RICHGELS | Posted: Sunday, June 21, 2020 1:00 pm

I have wanted to write about string pinsetters for some time, but have never bowled on them so that made it impossible for me to do any kind of review.

And I haven’t really seen the point since they are mostly a recreational thing for the U.S.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic dealing bowling (and so much else) an economic gut punch, I am hearing rumblings of USBC getting ready to certify string pinsetter bowling, since the machines are far less costly than traditional pinsetters. That would instantly make them relevant to competitive bowling.

To that end, on Saturday, July 25, HeadPinz Naples in Naples, Florida, is hosting a combined string and traditional pinsetter tournament called the Some Strings Attached Invitational at the center, which features 24 traditional lanes and eight string lanes.

The center is part of the southwest Florida chain of Pat Ciniello, QubicaAMF chairman and president and CEO of the 6-center Bowland and HeadPinz Entertainment Center chain in three counties in southwest Florida.

QubicaAMF, which I believe is the world’s leading producer of string pinsetters, is adding $2,000 to the prize fund for the tournament, which has a $300 entry fee and a guaranteed first prize of $5,000, according to the tournament Facebook page and tournament director John Hough.

The format will be eight games of qualifying split evenly between string and traditional pinsetters, with the top quarter of the field advancing to a 3-game round and then a top 5 stepladder all of string lanes.

Qubica/AMF also is putting up $5,000 for a perfect game in the semifinals or stepladder, Hough said. 

The event will be webcast by Craig Elliott of BowlstreamTV here and on the following day Sunday, July 26, the “Some Strings Attached” Open will follow the same format with the 48-player field open to the first 48 to pay the $100 entry fee. First will be $1,500 with a total prize fund of more than $5,000.

The number of spectators will be limited, on-site webcasting will enable spectators to spread out and watch the event from various areas within the facility, and bowlers will bowl three per lane to ensure social distancing during play.

“I am extremely excited to host the world’s first combination string and free-fall tournament! This is shaping up to be a fantastic event and should prove to offer some outstanding competitive play. We are expecting a lot of big names on Saturday, including some of the men, women and senior pros,” Ciniello said in this news release. “We have EDGE String pinspotters installed in several centers here in Southwest Florida. I am looking forward to seeing this caliber of bowlers compete in this first of its kind format.”

Hough, who invited me knowing I wouldn’t make the trip, has some of the biggest names in bowling entered, including Walter Walter Ray Williams Jr., Norm Duke, Amleto Monacelli, and Jason Couch. And, the talent doesn’t end there: Verity Crawley (PWBA), Tom Daugherty (PBA), Ashley Galante (PWBA), Nate Garcia (PBA), John Janawicz (Team USA), Chris Keane (PBA60), Matt McNeil (PBA) and David O’Sullivan (former Team USA) also are entered.

The lane pattern is 40 feet featuring 29.55 mL of oil. The ratios are 4.11-1 middle-outside track, 1.26-1 middle-middle track and 1-1 middle-inside track. 

So what are string pinsetters like?

“I think ‘traditionalists’ would like as it takes away some of the power game,” Hough said. “No messengers. Light mixers tough to carry as well.”

Here is an extended video with George Frilingos from a string center in Australia. The video is several years old, so I’m not sure if some of the problems he has pointed out have changed.

The biggest thing I saw in the Frilingos video that bothered me was the string taking out the 10-pin on what would have been a ring 10. However, it's nice to see flush hits not resulting in solid 8-pins, and I bet lots of people will love the lack of messengers, though they can happen.

And here is a video from PBA Tour player Gregory Thompson bowling on a string lane in Arizona.

And here is a story from TalkTenpin.net of England.

Finally, earlier on Sunday I asked this on Facebook: “Anyone bowled on string pinsetters? What did you think? Close to regular bowling?”

That produced this lengthy string of comments that ran the gamut from love to hate, covering a lot of ground. They included videos showing messenger strikes, split pick-ups and pins bouncing out of the pit.

Al Leiendecker may have summed it up best with this comment:
"They are getting better...hear all the manufactures are investing a lot in perfecting them because they know it's the future. If you and your opponent are both playing the same game...what difference does it make really? I do know if the sport is going to survive we need to keep cost down."

If I lived near Naples and there wasn’t a pandemic going on, I would have loved to compete in the tournament. I’ll definitely be interested in the results and reactions.

It's worth noting that World Bowling now has an exclusive relationship with QubicaAMF, and certainly the lower cost of string pinsetters could help the growth of bowling globally. The question is whether it's the growth of the sport, or not, as the comments in my Facebook thread note.

Canadian bowling executive Rob McNaughton on Sunday after my story posted sent me a letter he had sent on his experience with string pinsetters starting with 5-pin bowling.

"Strings do make it more affordable to operate and maintain but in this case did not 'save' the 5 pin game in Canada," Mcaughton said in a message exchange. "And the string 'perception' led a lot of 5 pin bowlers to convert to tenpins. Back in the day I used to run high school clinics. We'd offer the choice of either 5 pin or tenpin. Honestly, the younger generation then almost always chose tenpins."

Here is McNaughton's letter:
Thanks for your recent email regarding tenpin string machines.
I'd like to add some comments based on my experience both as a former proprietor/manager as well as a former Bowl Ontario (BPAO) director and Past President.
My background also includes both tenpin bowling as well as 5 pin bowling over the years.
HISTORY:
I was involved in the discussions back in the early 70's, as a 5 pin proprietor, regarding the approval of 5 pin string machines.
At that time 5 pin bowling was by far the most popular game of bowling in Canada. Unfortunately for the 5 pin game, it was only bowled in Canada.
As such, the Canadian marketplace was not a large enough market for the 2 major freefall 5 pin machine manufacturers, Brunswick and Double Diamond ( owned by Philips Electronics at the time). Brunswick decided that they were only going to focus on the much larger international tenpin bowling market with regard to manufacturing pinsetters. Double Diamond pinsetters were Philips Electronics only venture in bowling and in the early/mid 70's decided to discontinue manufacturing.
As a result, Professional Bowling Service (PBS) developed the 5 pin string machine. This project was the brainchild of Canadian Oscar Kinsler. Oscar had previously worked with Schmidt pinsetters in Germany which was a small manufacturer of tenpin and string pin machines in Europe. The Schmidt tenpin machine ultimately was purchased by Brunswick in the mid '80's and it evolved into today's Brunswick GS series tenpin machine.
As a result, Canadian 5 pin proprietors didn't have many options regarding 5 pin setting equipment.
An upstart Canadian company, Strickland, developed a freefall 5 pin machine but could not gain foothold in the 5 pin marketplace as the 5 pin string machine was a much lower cost machine to purchase and much less costly to operate and maintain from a proprietorship standpoint.
There was a tremendous amount of controversy regarding the approval of the 5 pin string machines from both bowling proprietors and from the Canadian 5 pin bowling associations across the country for many of the reasons you highlighted in your email and on the video. People from both sides, proprietors and bowlers were very concerned about the integrity of the sport being diminished.
Due to the lack of freefall 5 pin machines and parts, the 5 pin string pin machines were ultimately approved.
As replacement parts supply for both Brunswick and Double Diamond machines disappeared, some existing centers converted to the PBS 5 pin string machine while many centres closed rather than replacing their existing pinsetters.
The 5 pin string machines only allowed the 5 pin game to continue to exist. The introduction/approval of 5 pin string machines was a result of not having any other options for pinsetting equipment.
At just about the same time in the '70's, Brunswick and AMF developed the first versions of computerized scoring for tenpin bowling. This was the WOW factor for tenpin bowling. 
Here in the HDTBA in the '70's, we saw big box bowling centres spring up featuring this new computerized scoring...Burlington Bowl, Hamilton Mountain Bowl. In the GTA...Brunswick Mississauga Bowl...TransWorld in Brampton...Brunswick Frederick St in Kitchener. And many of these centre's NEW customers were people who had previously bowled in 5 pin centres. 
As computerized scoring developed and improved in the 80's, we saw the growth of tenpin bowling with more big box tenpin bowling centres...Woodbridge Bowl....Club 300...World Bowl...Southland Bowl. And most existing tenpin centres had installed computerized scoring into their centres.
The dynamics of bowling shifted from the game of 5 pins to that of tenpin bowling.
The advocates of 5 pin string machines strongly felt, at the time, that the string machines would "save" and expand the sport of 5 pin bowling. This did not happen. It only allowed some existing proprietors to continue.
MY TECHNICAL CONCERNS OF TENPIN STRING MACHINES
First let me say that I understand that the newly developed tenpin string machines are far more advanced than the 5 pin string machines.
However, the area actually covered by the pins on the pindeck itself in tenpin and those in 5 pin is virtually the same. 
This means that there are twice as many pins AND STRINGS on the pindeck in tenpins as there are in 5 pins. The probability of the influence of strings causing "false" pincount is doubled.
Did the bowler's shot knock down the pins or did a string coming in contact with ANOTHER STRING create the pinfall? And if so, what happens then?
1. On a freefall machine, the pins themselves are set by random order in the pinsetter. With string machines, the pins are set in the EXACT same order and position each frame (i.e the headpin #1 is ALWAYS the headpin...the 7 pin, 10 pin are ALWAYS in the same positions).
2. Unlike the game of 5 pins where each pin has a rubber band, tenpins does not have rubber bands on the pins. With string tenpin machines, there will be CONSTANT wear and tear on the wooden pins in the 1-3 pocket...the 1-2 pocket without the protection of a rubber band as in 5 pin bowling. The same goes for 7 pins and 10 pins as they are probably the most frequent spare shots. If a centre does not rotate the pins manually, the bellys of the pins, especially the headpin, will deteriorate in no time, creating less pin carry, lower scores and lower averages! While it's fine to say that centres will have to rotate the pins on string machines on a regular basis, WILL THEY? One of the "sales" pitches from manufacturers of string pin machines is that much less maintenance is required to service these machines. From my experience with 5 pin string machines, many, if not most, centers eliminated pinsetter mechanics/technicians when they installed 5 pin string machines. So who is going to rotate the pins on a regular basis.
3. The constant pounding of the ball on the same WOODEN belly of the pins in tenpin string machines is going to create another situation. I'm guessing that centres will move from using WOODEN pins to using PLASTIC pins. This has already happened in 5 pin bowling even with rubber bands protecting the belly of a 5 pin.
4. Is there a place for tenpin string machines? Yes, I believe there is but NOT in centres that promote, encourage and operate the SPORT of bowling (leagues, tournaments etc). 
5. Lastly, while World Bowling, the sport governing body, encourages and supports tenpin string machines, would they do so if they were not FINANCIALLY supported by the various manufacturers of tenpin string bowling machines? Follow the money!!!!! I would also like to see comprehensive, INDEPENDANT, in depth studies from World Bowling that confirm that string tenpin bowling machines do not influence scoring compared to freefall pinsetters for the SPORT of bowling.
Rob
Rob McNaughton
President & Founder
GoBowlNow & GoBowlNow.com