Hurricanes playing havoc with bowling centers



    By Dick Evans

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpgBowling centers from southeast Texas to the Florida Keys must feel they have gone 12 rounds with Rocky after being staggered by seven hurricanes in the past two years with Wilma delivering almost a knockout punch to Broward County last month.

    "I believe that natural disasters like hurricanes have a severe impact on open bowling in the "short term" and a potentially far more dramatic and lasting impact on league play," said Jeff Boje, president of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America.

    In most bowling centers, league business is essential to financial survival.

    Roger Dalkin, CEO of the United States Bowling Association, estimates that the 2005 hurricanes alone have resulted in the loss of 20 to 24 thousand league bowlers.

    He also revealed that the "New Orleans association offices was wiped out by Katrina and they will have to rebuild the association. We are working with them on the database but bowling is not a priority for them right now."

    When Wilma went through South Florida on Oct. 24 it appeared to do the most bowling damage in Broward County. And the hardest hit bowling center was Sawgrass Lanes, which lost its roof and may not be up running again for at least six months.

    Jerry Walters, president of the Broward County Bowling Association, and Dave Driscoll, a licensed real estate broker who specializes in bowling centers, and Pam Luther, executive director of the Florida proprietors, helped supply the following information about damage to individual centers:

    Bird Bowl: Lost power.
    Kendall Lanes: Lost power.

    Don Carter Lake Worth: Water damage.

    AMF Pembroke Pines: Water damage.
    AMF Davie: Lost power.
    University: Lost power.
    Don Carter Tamarac: Sustained roof and water damage.
    Brunswick Margate: Lost power, had trouble with phones.
    Holiday Lanes: Lost power.
    Holiday Springs: Roof damage.
    Manor Lanes: Minor structural damage.
    Pompano Bowl: Lost power.
    Strikers: Lost power.
    Sawgrass: Closed, rebuilding the business.

    Woodside and Beacon Lanes both suffered damage and expected to open in mid-November.

    In addition, Joe Schumacker (next president of the BPAA) was located adjacent to Sawgrass Lanes and his Schumacker & Company suffered extensive damage. But for that matter, so did many of the businesses in Miami and Greater Fort Lauderdale. Three weeks after Hurricane Wilma they still are struggling to either get open or to lure business back.

    The closing of Sawgrass Lanes is a giant blow since it has been the home of United States and world amateur tournaments plus pro tournaments. The 64-lane complex located in Sunrise is due to host the 19th South Florida International Tournament April 1-8 and the Lee Evans Tournament of the Americas in late summer.

    Paulette Watson, tournament director for both events, said the International will be postponed until late April or May "depending on the completion date of the rebuilding of Sawgrass Lanes. "According to Glenn Wagner, general manager, the center will have to be gutted down to the concrete floors and all new lanes and equipment must be installed," Watson said.

    No matter, the lack of a firm tournament date will discourage international bowlers who want to make early airline reservations into Fort Lauderdale and may hurt the entries. Dalkin said if Sawgrass is not up and running by early July then the USBC's Junior Gold and Pepsi events probably would be moved to Don Carter's Boca Raton Lanes for their July 8 start.

    It is estimated that hurricanes have cost bowling centers over 2,000 lost business days in the past two years plus 10 million in lost revenue. Fortunately some leagues in closed bowling centers found temporary homes in other bowling establishments.

    "Open bowling ultimately will recover in areas where a center is damaged but then reopens," Boje said. "But it may take longer when the economy of an area is severely damaged. People simply need time to put their lives back in order before they can begin thinking about recreation of any type.

    "League play is often the hardest hit. If a league takes more than a few weeks off it becomes very difficult to hold the structure together. League bowlers are creatures of habit. Once a habit is broken it is very hard to get the momentum back. In many cases, it is like starting out with a new center only this time you don't have the glitz and glitter of a "new center."

    "Let's face it, real estate is very valuable down in South Florida. If a new center is built with today's prices, league bowling could be double what is being charged at the current centers.

    "As for BPAA, we are up in membership again this year despite the lose in centers around the country. In the long term the declining center base will catch up with us but in the short run we continue to grow. The most encouraging growth is among our small center base. I'd love to take full credit but it has very much been a team effort.