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A Short History of Five-Pin Bowling



Along with the sports of basketball, lacrosse, hockey, three-down football, and extreme curling, Canada is also responsible for giving the world five-pin bowling. No one in the rest of the world actually plays five-pin bowling but then they didn't really play hockey in Southern California for a long time either. You just wait.

For over 7,000 years bowlers have been throwing a large heavy ball at ten pins and trying to knock them down. In 1880, an American took the sport indoors and set up lanes. In 1909 along came Canada's Tommy Ryan. He owned Toronto's highly exclusive Toronto Bowling Club. It featured the standard ten-pin game. It also had the cream of Toronto society as members. While Canada's rich elite wanted to bowl, they had other things to do and couldn't wait around all day for pin boys to manually set up ten whole pins.

Tommy Ryan had an idea.

The game could be played twice as fast if you got rid of half the pins. It was a brilliant insight. Because Ryan's clients were of the leisured class, he made the ball lighter. He reduced it from a ten-pound ball to a smaller rubber four lbs ball. Ryan also lathed down the size of the pins. He added a third throw. Why should the elite be relegated to only two tosses of the ball? Give 'em three. They've earned it.

Another modification Ryan made to the game was to assign each pin a different point value. In ten-pin bowling, each pin is equal. Ten pins. All equal. The very idea of pin equality smacked of Bolshevism to Ryan's elite clientele. In five-pin bowling the foremost pin is worth five points. It's two flankers are worth three points. The two in the back are worth only two points. For a strike you add the total of your next two balls and for a spare you add the total of your next ball. Five-pin bowling stuck with the ten frame system. There are some traditions you don't change.

In five-pin a perfect game therefore is 450 points. 250 points is considered an above average score. Bowling a perfect game is rare. The first officially recorded perfect game took place two decades after five-pin bowling was invented. That honor goes to Joe Heenan of Toronto, Ontario who bowled the a perfect game in 1932.






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Copyright 2002 Karl Mamer

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