Survivor league pits players against conditions, not each other.


Thinking about the hot beds of bowling, cities such as Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and New York come to mind. States like California, Florida and Texas have reputations for offering great tournament action.


Tennessee might not rank among your list of notable bowling areas, but it made a name for itself after Knoxville did a grand job of hosting the 2003 American Bowling Congress Championships Tournament.


Bartlett Lanes in the Memphis area added a new twist in the Sport Bowling arena. "Our guys were looking for something a little different and we wanted to give them a challenge," said Bartlett Lanes Manager Mike Monroe of his summer Scratch Sport Survivor league. "The players were really competing against the condition on the lanes and not the other guys. Everybody really seemed to enjoy that."


The tough scoring environment was the lure that kept the players coming back. "Oh, yeah," said league secretary Nathan DeCrow. "We tried to not let them know what kind of shot was going to be in advance. We used a short, heavy oil pattern or a long pattern 45 feet long and all the way across. It was difficult for the players, but you'd be amazed at how it worked out. Five or six guys would do real well, but the rest would struggle. It seemed like there was no in-between."


The singles-format league cost $20 a week. Each player drew for lane assignments each night. The 13-week league season required each bowler to bowl three "qualifying" games. Scores of 190-200 earned one point. Games of 201-220 earned two points and games of 221 or higher won three points. After three games, the top 16 bowled a fourth game with the top eight "survivors" advancing. After five games, the field was cut to the top four; after six, to the top two who bowled a final game for a $100 and $50 "bonus" prizes for first and second, respectively.


The value of "point money" was based upon the number of bowlers each week. For example, a point one week might be worth $4.10 and the next, $2.50. The payouts ranged from $359.56 by former Professional Bowlers Association Touring Player Jimbo Martin (including $200 in bonus prizes) to nothing for two players who got completely shut out.


The league grew from 30 to 45 players in the second year. The idea of paying point money on a weekly basis meant bowlers were not penalized if they were unable to bowl.


"This league kind of got me back into bowling," Martin said. "I don't enjoy the league shot because it's too easy. Last fall I averaged 210 in league with a rubber ball and this summer I shot 192 on the Sport condition. It's not like bowling in league on a house condition where you just move five boards left every six frames."


Chad Robertson led the league with a 194.7 average. Only five players in the league averaged 190 or higher. The low average was 130.5 by a player who only missed two of the 13 weeks.


"I loved it," Robertson said. "In league bowling you have all kinds of room and the lanes help you out. On the Sport shot you have to make a quality shot each time and you have to have the right speed and rotation. If you don't you get penalized." The weekly competition has paid off for Robertson.

"I go to tournaments now and my game is a lot sharper," Robertson said.


He also admitted the league was a humbling experience, but highly recommends it.


"There are people out there who average 220 who are not as good as they think they are," he said. "If you are somewhat of a serious bowler and wanted to take a step up in your game, this is what you need. Bowling becomes even more of a mental thing. It's a lot more about spare shooting and spares are not as easy."


The Sport Scratch Survivor helped all the players, DeCrow said. It may have been most beneficial to those that didn't cash very much. "Sport Bowling is great for players who don't already average 185 in league," he said. "It's great for players who just want to get better. It puts the emphasis on spares and ball placement."