Second time's the Charm By Fred Groh


    IBI Cover Story

    Republished courtesy of International Bowling Industry (August 2008)

    Fernando Gutiérrez went to the AMF World Cup in 1992, and made the decision then and there. He wanted to host it someday. In fact, he wanted to host it at his bowling center as soon as possible.

    Given the prestige of the World Cup, this was not such an unusual ambition. It is the largest single-sport competition in the world, marking its 44th year this November. But it was an unusual request when Gutiérrez made it of the AMF powers-that be who had come to Le Mans in 1992, because Gutiérrez did not own a bowling center and never had.

    On the cover: The family Gutiérrez at Bol 300. Sons Daniel, Fernando and Gerardo stand behind parents Fernando and Maria del Carmen. Photos courtesy of QubicaAMF, Fernando Gutiérrez and Ricardo Pacheco.

    He started bowling and working as a pinboy at age 11. The center where he played was in Mexicali, the capital city of Baja California, just across the border from Calexico, CA, and about 90 minutes from Palm Springs. Eventually he became one of northern Mexico's top bowlers and, in 1970, a civil engineer.

    A few years later he started a construction company with his father, but, he says in flawless English, "I always dreamed of having my own bowling center."

     After the senior Gutiérrez died in 1986, the responsibilities in running Miramar Constructura dropped squarely on Fernando's shoulders. Still he refused to let the dream go. When vacation times rolled around, he and his wife, Maria del Carmen, spent them visiting bowling centers, 80 or 90 of them, he judges, all over the world. They took note of what they liked, what they didn't, "making our project," he says. By 1992, the design was finished–on paper. He knew what he wanted to do, but not where.

    Hosting the Bowling World Cup in 1994 was such a pleasure, Fernando Gutiérrez and son Daniel decided to do it again.

    While Gutiérrez mulled over locations, he got in touch with AMF to request a routine quote for 24 lanes. In the course of discussion, he was invited to the '92 Cup in France.

    "If we give you the World Cup, you will have to have a bowling center," AMF Bow ling Inc. vice president Bent Petersen told him in Le Mans.

    "I know. How much time?"
    "You have eight months to do it."
    "So I came back, bought the land, and in eight months I was operating my own bowling center."

    It didn't happen quite that fast, but the project was a speedy one. The land was on the outskirts of Hermosillo, headquarters for Miramar and capital of the Mexican state of Sonora. In 1993, the metro area, about 40 miles south of the border with Arizona, was home to Fernando and another 500,000 or so. Today, it's half again as large. Ford has a plant there where Lincoln, Ford and Mercury models are assembled.Maria had been skeptical.

    Hosting the World Cup, he replied, was reto—a goal that must be reached, something you can't give up. Once when he was a boy he told his mother he wanted to compete in the Cup one day. He never made it to the finals for the Mexican contingent, but if he couldn't go to the Cup he could bring the Cup to Hermosillo. Gutiérrez also thought he could do a better job, stir up more local support, than he had seen in Le Mans.

    "Everything was done very fast, with top-of-the-line equipment," he remembers about building Bol (phonetic spelling of the English word) Satelite. The whole family got involved. The architect was Fernando's brother, Javier. Maria, a painter and decorator, did the decor. The couple's four sons, in their late teens and 20s, helped out via the construction company, which built the center.

    It was certainly a right move in view of the market. Bol Satelite was built on the edge of the city (today Hermosillo surrounds it), yet more than 200 people stood in line at 6 a.m. to reserve a lane on opening day in July 1993. A 10-hour waiting list persisted for six months, seven days a week. In his first four months, Gutiérrez made enough money to buy another eight lanes.

    "It's a large city," he surmises, "and there was no bowling center. There used to be one, many years ago, so people knew about bowling. They wanted to have a bowling center, and this was a very nice bowling center."

    It was state of the 1993 art—32 lanes, bar, restaurant, snack bar, pro shop—with one notable exception: portable aluminum seating on the concourse for 300-400 spectators. Bol Satelite was built not only for the World Cup, but to host major national tournaments, which it does to this day. It is also a heavily leagueoriented house, with room for open play on weekends only.

    Gutiérrez had been right about "local support." He calls the 1994 AMF World Cup—which saw the first 300 game in the event's 29 years—"a great party for 10 days. Our governor, our mayor, everybody got involved. All the city was excited about it." That included 600 of the Bol Satelite regulars who attended a reception for the competitors to shake their hands and, often, to invite the players home for lunch or dinner while they were in town.

    The event was a surprise. "The quality of the people that compete—we had never seen so many good bowlers [from] all over the world. And to have different cultures, different languages, to see the way they relate to each other, that was a good feeling.".

    Gutiérrez did not become a celebrity, which suited him fine. "That's not what I was looking for," he says, not modestly but matter-of-factly. "Everybody knew me in the bowling center, of course. That's what a bowling center is for: to make friends and to have a nice time there, besides working hard."

     The idea of hosting the 2008 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup this November was not Fernando's. It came from his youngest son, Daniel Ivan, 29, who had been co-managing Bol Satelite with his father for three years. Like Fernando an enthusiastic bowler, Daniel is also a businessman who can read trends. "We need a new bowling center," he told his father. It had to have an FEC format, and to help promote it, "I would like to have a World Cup like you had."

    Fernando at the building site with Ian Holland, QubicaAMF Vice President, Asia, Australasia and Latin America (center), and Luis Javier Iserte, general manger for QubicaAMF Mexico.

    Hosting the World Cup was reto—something you can't give up.

    "I put my money [on] his enthusiasm and his capacity of managing," Fernando says, and became the second proprietor to host the World Cup twice. Sonny Lim of Thailand did it in 1990 and 2001.

     Bol 300, like Bol Satelite, rose on the outskirts of town. Like Satelite, Bol 300 has 32 lanes but otherwise a much different personality. Three restaurants (Gutiérrez leases out the space) offer Argentine, Italian, and traditional bowling cuisine ("those sorts of things you take with beer"). The bar seats 25 or 30 plus additional seating on the 60-foot-wide concourse. There are no VIP lanes but there are private billiard rooms. Two hundred cars can park under cover. At 80,000 square feet, the building is twice the size of Bol Satelite.

    There are no party rooms. Party customers don't want to be by themselves, Gutiérrez says. "Last Friday we had eight First Communion parties, about 200 children. They wanted to be in the concourse area. They like to shout and hear each other."

    For himself, Fernando likes the wide open look and feel that are traditional in a bowling center, and the investment required for a boutique bowling module would not have been justified by the demand for it.

     Billiards, on the other hand, did justify the expense. It's a matter of local, not national demand, Gutiérrez reports. Pool players in and around Hermosillo like their privacy and are willing to pay a premium for it; Bol 300's VIP billiard rooms are the nicest place in town to play.

    Unheard of in American FECs, Bol 300 has no games. Even for patrons at a family entertainment center, the allure of bowling is such that young people want to spend their time bowling and not in an arcade when they come, Fernando says. Thus the anomaly of Daniel's naming the new FEC after a term in competitive bowling. "He is associating [the name] with 'perfect,' a perfect day or a perfect place to bowl," his father explains. Thus also the notion of promoting the FEC by hosting the World Cup there, and of moving future tournaments from Satelite to the new house.

     When we talked with Fernando, preparations for the Cup were well underway. His weekly meetings on center business with Daniel were including two other sons, Fernando (named after his father) and Gerardo, who have taken over the construction company. They were reporting smooth progress toward the scheduled July opening of Bol 300, almost completed when it was photographed for this story (The fourth son, Carlos Alberto, is in Rome to complete his training for the priesthood next year.)

    In addition to World Cup business, Fernando (senior) and Daniel were reviewing the hiring of 30 or so who would be needed for the new center, perusing the daily financial reports on Satelite, and discussing upcoming tournaments. Among the events scheduled, Satelite's fifteenth anniversary (July 2008) would be celebrated with an open tournament in August so as not to take the shine off the grand opening of Bol 300. Then tournaments would be moved to Bol 300, including the Mexican Cup in September.

     Seventeen committees were in place for handling all the details connected with hosting the Cup, including a reception at the airport, shuttle transportation between the host hotel and Bol 300, and press and public relations. Social events, also in the hands of various committees, will be highlighted by a welcome reception, victory dinner, and "Mexican Night."

    "We're thinking some dancing typical of our country—Oaxaca, Jalisco and states that are in the center part of our country, and our Indian people. And of course the mariachi with tequila," Fernando laughs, talking about Mexican Night. The event will be a taste of Mexican culture for visitors from other lands.

    The opening ceremony, to be staged at the center, was requiring preparations for "many speeches," so the entertainment program would be a short 15 or 20 minutes: some dancing, the national anthem of Mexico, wine and canapés. World Cup manager Anne- Marie Board was anticipating at least 90 countries and probably a record-breaking 100. Fernando and Daniel were preparing for a minimum of 180 bowlers.

     A few employees at Satelite are helping with the committees, but 90% of the 70 or so staff for hosting this biggest of all single-sport events are volunteers from the ranks of Satelite bowlers.

    "Many of our bowlers experienced the last World Cup," Gutiérrez says. "They just cannot believe they will live this experience again, so they are as excited as I am and Daniel is. You can see [on] the faces of children or little bowlers that they hear about the World Cup and they want to participate, bowlers that are 14, 15, bowling at a very high level, [who want] to be the Mexican representatives there."

    Getting their chance to stand where Fernando Gutiérrez always wanted to be.

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