What The Heck Is Duckpin Bowling And What Do Ducks Have To Do With It?

duckpin_02I used to love to go bowling and I was pretty good at it.  I had to quit when I developed a bulged disc in my neck.  When it’s aggravated, I can be in pain for months so I figured it was more important to avoid anything that would make it mad.

Yesterday, I went with the family to a place in Nashville that had duckpin bowling.  The best way I can describe this game is it looks like a hybrid of bowling and skeeball.

It was different.

So what is duckpin bowling and why is it called “duck” pin?

Duckpin bowling has rules similar to ten-pin bowling. In a 10-frame game, bowlers try to knock down pins in the fewest rolls per frame. Bowlers have three balls per frame, instead of two as in ten-pin bowling, to knock over a set of 10 pins. If a bowler knocks down all 10 pins with their first roll in a frame, it is scored as a strike. If all the pins are knocked down in two rolls, the bowler has made a spare. If all the pins are knocked down in three rolls, it is scored as a ten, with no bonus. If pins are still standing after the third ball, the bowler gets one point for each pin knocked down.

In the case of a strike, the bowler gets 10 points plus the total number of pins knocked down with the next two balls rolled, for a maximum of 30 points. In the case of a spare, the bowler gets 10 points plus the number of pins knocked down with the next ball, for a maximum of 20 points. If it takes three balls to knock down all 10 pins, the bowler gets 10 points, with no bonus. A bowler’s final score is the sum of the points earned over 10 frames (a spare or strike in the tenth frame earns one or two rolls respectively). The maximum possible score of 300 points, which is accomplished by rolling 12 strikes in a row, has never been achieved under official conditions.  According to the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), there has never been a perfect 300 game bowled in duckpin bowling.  A Connecticut man named Pete Signore Jr. came closest in 1992, bowling a 279.

The sport of duckpins was born at the old Diamond Alleys on Howard Street in Baltimore, Maryland sometime in the 1920s. Diamond Alleys was owned by a couple of members of the old Baltimore Orioles minor league club — Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw.

During one of these matches, Frank Van Sant, the manager at Diamond Alleys, was drawn into a conversation about the small balls. Someone suggested that a set of his old, battered tenpins could be made over into little pins to conform to the six inch ball. Several days later, an old set was sent to John Dettmar, a wood-turner in Baltimore. About ten days later, Van Sant gathered all his regulars and dumped the new little pins in front of them.

Within minutes, the little pins were set up on the tenpin spots and the first unofficial “small ball” game was underway. Only two balls were used, as in tenpins, and score was kept in the same way. When Robinson and McGraw (whose other hobby was duck hunting) saw the pins fly as the ball plowed into them, they remarked that the pins looked like a “flock of flying ducks.” Bill Clarke, a sportswriter for the Baltimore Morning Sun, wrote a story on the fascinating new game and christened them “duckpins.” The name has stuck ever since.

Seriously?  THAT is why it’s called duckpin bowling?

Believe it or not, there is a professional duckpin bowling association and a pro tour.  The Duckpin Professional Bowlers Association (DPBA) even has a professional tour with stops mostly in the Northeastern United States.  Steve Dryer is the 2019 Bowler of the Year as he finished the season with 561 points.  He has played 106 games with an average of 147.764.   The women have the Women’s National Duckpin Association (WNDA) with Amy Sykes at the 2019 Bowler of the Year with 377 points to lead the women.

There are variations of duckpin bowling such as rubber band duckpins which which the pins are circled with hard rubber bands to increase action and scoring and mini duckpins where the lane is shorter than a standard duckpin lane, and the width of the lane is not standard.

For more information about duckpin bowl, you can visit the National Duckpin Bowling Congress website here.


Duckpin Bowling Lanes in Nashville, Tennessee

For me, duckpin was not bowling but it was better for me than traditional bowling.  You don’t have to find a 10-13 pound ball with the right drilled holes or wear special shoes to do it.  It was less stress on my back and neck as long as I didn’t go crazy with it.  I’m not going to quick my day job or join the professional tour but it is now an option of bowling for me.




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