Handicap: a Blessing and a Curse to the Sport of Bowling

Handicap in the Sport of Bowling is a sensitive subject to many people. Created as a means of ‘leveling the playing field’, handicap has since turned into a flawed system due to the ever changing landscape of bowling technology. From lane patterns that vary in difficulty to bowling balls that enhance ones skill, it has become increasingly difficult to properly determine a bowlers true skill level. The art of sandbagging has been around for many many years and takes place in sports other than bowling as well. With no sure fire way of determining the skill of a particular player, the rules set fourth by our association leaders can’t prevent such behavior from happening. It comes down to respect for the game by doing what you know is right, rather than doing something simply because the rules don’t say you can’t. While many people have their views and opinions on the matter, I feel as though my story is much different.

It was a cold January afternoon in East Grand Forks, MN. I sat inside Liberty Lanes patiently awaiting my first television appearance as a bowler. I was in the middle of one of the most successful seasons I have ever had on the lanes. Having worked very hard to improve my game, I felt very proud of what I had accomplished. As is the case in most tournaments, I sat around with the other bowlers waiting for the next round to begin.

While visiting with the other bowlers, the topic of average manipulation surfaced. Being a young & naive 24 year old bowler at the time, I was curious as to why someone would simply take the time to purposely lower their own average. I was always taught to give 100% in everything I do and I take great pride in my accomplishments on the lanes while doing so fairly. With my curiosity in full force, I simply asked “why?”. That’s when a ND Bowling Hall of Fame member turned to me and said, “Daren, what does shooting 700 every week in league get you? Nothing. All it means is that you are sitting at home on Sunday’s while I am out making money.” Shortly after that comment, another very accomplished scratch bowler chimed in and said: “yeah, I made over $3000 bowling handicap tournaments last year”.

The comments made that day rang loud and clear to me. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. It changed my perspective on the game of bowling knowing that my competitors were out trying to gain a competitive advantage by manipulating their league averages. Average manipulation was something I always knew was out there, but it becomes much different when a bowler straight up tells you that is what they are doing. It makes me feel bad for all of the average Joe bowlers out there who spend endless hours on the lanes aspiring to become better bowlers only to not be given a fair chance in competition.

I created NDBowling.com as a tool to promote the game of bowling by motivating bowlers to participate in competition and to improve their game. When someone takes advantage of a flawed handicap system to gain a competitive advantage, it discourages other bowlers to put in the time and effort to improve.

So people say: “Daren, instead of writing about it, why don’t you say something to the association about it?” Well, things have been said to the association about it. As a result, the association refuses to send me State Tournament Standings. When I finally get them sent to me from someone else, it just so happens that the “Handicap” column magically disappeared.

I challenge all bowlers to respect the game, work hard and encourage others to do so as well. Set goals each season and become a positive role model for beginners. Here at NDBowling.com, I will continue to promote the game of bowling in North Dakota and the surrounding areas despite those who take advantage of a broken system simply because there aren’t rules saying they can’t.


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