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The sport of bowling has special cultural significance in the United States. Professional bowlers reach their audience of course, but bowling is largely a participant sport, and quite a social one at that. American bowling takes place in indoor bowling alleys that provide lanes on which groups of bowlers compete. Tenpin bowling is the most popular variety in the United States, although varieties such as ninepin, candlepin, and duckpin exist in the New England states and parts of Canada. The object is to roll a heavy ball down the lane and knock over as many pins as possible. Consistency rather than brute strength or athletic prowess is the key. Regular, non-athletic people can become good bowlers, if they put work into the sport. Even though bowling is on the face of it a competitive sport, most bowlers tend to compete against themselves, striving to improve their performance over time. Many recreational bowlers, male and female, are members of organized leagues sponsored by employers. The weekly bowling night becomes a major event, the bowling trophy proudly displayed in home or workplace.

Today’s full-service bowling alley serves food and drink, including alcoholic beverages, and frequently contains a shop that sells equipment, specialized bowling shoes, and colorful bowling clothing. The sport itself is less important, however, that its place in American culture. The game is affordable, and particularly suitable to socialization. It has sometimes been termed “the great cultural leveler” because of its ability to bring people together. As a sport, it is associated with the average American, the “working class.” The “bowling shirt,” a rather formless but comfortable garment stereotypically (and proudly) exhibiting the owner’s first name stitched onto a breast pocket, is an American cultural icon. It speaks working class, stolid, unpretentious. Bowlers are proud to be bowlers. By contrast, participants in more “upscale” sports like golf and tennis are strongly conscious of being non-bowlers. Bowling fits into a well-defined, if rather large, American cultural continuum.

The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is the major sanctioning organization for professional bowling in the United States. In addition to overseeing professional bowling alley owners, teachers, and equipment suppliers, it runs a series of sponsored professional tenpin tournaments including the PBA Tour, the PBS Women’s Series, the PBA Senior Tour (for bowlers aged 50 and over) and a number of PBA regional tours. In contrast to many major American sports, spectators and television viewers of these events are likely to be themselves proud devotees of the game.

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