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Ten pin bowling isn’t just a game, it’s a sport

3 men in pink shirts smiling
Drew Charlton (right) with bowling mates (photo supplied by Drew Charlton)

Amidst the sound of crashing pins and cheers of elated bowlers, there is one man who stands at the helm of the ACT Ten Pin Bowling Association: Drew Charlton.

With a deep love for the inclusive nature of ten pin bowling, Drew has spent over three decades in the sport, both competing and administering.

As the current Director of the association, Drew is responsible for the high-performance and representative teams, but that’s not all. Any junior development, disability leagues or seniors teams in the association are under his watchful eye.

Drew’s passion for the sport is as clear as the sound of a perfect strike, and his experience and dedication are second to none.

I sat down with Drew to talk about the history of his bowling career, where he is at now, and why 10 pin bowling really is for everyone.

Q: When did you start bowling, and what inspired you to take up the sport?

A: I started in 1989. So dad used to bowl league which was organised competitive bowling weekly. Back then it was at the Civic Bowl which is named Olympic Bowl, just across from the civic pool.

I got introduced to bowling in Woden and I joined as a junior when I was about nine. It’s been one of those things that I’ve stuck with and made a group of friends. I actually met my partner, my wife through the bowling centre. So definitely some lifelong friendships

Q: What is your training routine like? How often do you practice?

A: When I was properly serious about bowling, I would train two to three times a week to practice. I only bowled league once a week to socialise and have a bit of fun. But yeah, I would aim to bowl four times a week.

You tend to ramp up and ramp down around the time of the tournaments. These days I do it more socially, so I would bowl once a week and also practice once a week if there was a comp coming up or something like that.

Q: What do you love most about the sport of bowling?

A: I think it’s mostly because it’s for everyone. You can compete individually or in teams and it really doesn’t matter what age group or gender, boys or girls, younger or older, special needs, it doesn’t matter, they can all bowl. It’s a really accessible sport.

Sometimes it gets a bit of a bad rap, you know with a lot of movies that come out of the States where you’ll see the old cliches of burgers, beers and cigars. It’s not like that. I just really like it because it has lots of adaptability and you can play in teams too. It’s great to go away with your mates, that’s the part that I enjoy the most, getting to go and be with others.

3 rows on multi-coloured bowling balls
Q: Are there any misconceptions about bowling that you would like to dispel?

A: There’s definitely a reasonable level of physical fitness needed for bowling. Once you’re actually a tournament bowler, for some of the more competitive, elite levels, you can be on your feet and bowling at the tournaments for 10 hours. So there is that level of physical fitness needed, but absolutely a high level of mental fitness and adaptability.

That’s the challenge that the sport has facing it, to move from this perception of a social activity to recognise that it is actually a sport. That’s something where the barriers will continue to get broken down.

Q: How has bowling impacted your life personally?

A: It has probably introduced me to my best friends, and to my wife. I started work bowling as a junior and even started my first job at AMF Woden back in the day. I thought that was going to be my one job forever, but I have since grown up and got a different job and gone through a few different careers. But what’s stayed with me that whole time is the relationships and the friendships I’ve forged. And they will endure once I stop bowling, I’ve got no doubt about that.

Group photo of a podium with lots of people with medals from a bowling competition
Drew (upper middle) and his team winning a gold medal at the Walter Rachuig Trophy Tournament (photo supplied by Drew Charlton)
Q: Can you describe a particularly memorable game or competition you have been a part of?

A: Yes, that’s an easy one. There is a tournament that is named after a gentleman who helped establish bowling in Australia which is called the Walter Rachuig Trophy Tournament. What that is, is the states and territories come together once a year, as teams, to compete for that trophy. It’s been happening since the 1960’s, so for over 60 years and the ACT won for the first time in 2016, and I was a part of that team. It was pretty special.

Q: What do you think the future of 10 pin bowling looks like?

A: It’s been a challenging time. It’s a really crowded market for people’s attention and I think a lot of sports are suffering from the same thing. Like every sport there’s been modernisation in the way it’s played.

For us, there’s been a boom in what’s known as two handed bowling. That’s what Jason Belmonte is all about, he has almost been the pioneer about that kind of stuff. The junior adaptation of that sort of change in style has really started to make the sport take off again in Europe and in the US. And I think Australia is typically the followers of the US in a lot of ways as far as what’s happening in the sport of bowling.

In Australia we’ve gone through a bit of a lull. It used to be massive back in the 80s and early 90s. It’s always been huge in Asia, and I think it will start to see a resurgence in the next few years with kids being a bit more captured as we let go of the old notions of what bowling is, to seeing guys like Jason who are throwing the ball different from the way our parents and our grandparents did.

I think it will just take off again. We’ll start to see a few more different formats in different opportunities and different ways the sport is played.

photo of a bowling alley with lanes, a call, some seats and tvs with scores on them
Zone Bowling in Tuggeranong
Q: What are the competition formats at Tuggeranong Zone Bowling?

A: At the moment we’ve got our generally week to week social competitions which have different structures. On most of them it’s either really social leagues, which is not terribly expensive to play in, and they play for trophies, or a dinner at the end of the year.

Some of the other leagues are quite competitive and they play for money, and that is reasonably a big prize attached to that, depending on what the deal is and what the constructions of that are.

Male bowler in a khaki jumper bowling
Social bowler George

Locally we’ve got championships. The Canberra Open is coming up in December this year. Then they play typically progressive to regional events. You might go away to NSW or Victoria, four or five times a year, with what we call major tournaments. Things like the Australian Open, Australian Masters, NSW Open, all sorts. This is where you typically get the open category bowlers, where there’s no restriction on age, sex, or any of that stuff. But you get no help. It’s all in, you’re against everyone in that one.

Still locally our two strongest cohorts of bowlers would be our senior and disabilities leagues. There are about 20 lanes of disability league players that come together every week. Then seniors is those that are over 45, even though that’s not really old! They’re definitely our strongest demographics.

Male bowler in a blue tshirt bowling
Social Bowler Carl
Q: What would you say to someone who wants to take up 10 pin bowling?

A: I think give it a go. Don’t be afraid to approach someone if you think they’re actually a competitive bowler. We all might be off in our own little land but we’re all quite approachable. If you need to know anything we’re more than happy to help.

Because it can be, like anything like walking into a gym, or bowling centre or any sort of sporting facility, it can be daunting. But once you’re in the bowl and want to get some pointers from someone or see what you want to do next, or anything like that, don’t be afraid to ask.

Give it a go. The benefit of bowling is that its weather independent, you don’t need to worry if its rain hail or shine, the lanes are there. Most of the time the air-conditioning works, it’s a good experience.