Types of Bowling Leagues


Bowling leagues can be structured many different ways in order to accomplish different things. As an example, a center might promote varying leagues in order to encourage as many individuals as possible to come to the alley. Leagues can be competitive or non-competitive and can restrict player entrance by any number of specific player requirements. In this article you’ll learn about some of the different leagues and what benefits accompany each of them.

Some of the different leagues include:

  • Gender Specific: All male, all female, mixed gender
  • Age brackets:  under 18, 18 and above, senior citizens
  • Couples or pairs: Spouses, Parent and Child, Siblings, friends, etc.

Just for Fun or Non-competitive

Leagues in this category are generally less competitive, focus more on the social aspects of the game, and players are not required to have exceptional skill. In fact, many beginners shy away from leagues because of the assumption that you have to score as high as 180 or 190. But according to John Jowdy at Bowling Digital, the median average for bowlers is much lower. Men average about 165, while women average 140. Don’t let a low average keep you from joining a league. Leagues that are non-competitive are usually best suited to beginning bowlers who are new to the league system and need an introduction to the rules, a place to practice, or to test their abilities in a friendly environment.

These types of leagues allow players to have fun with family and friends. Handicap leagues generally fall into this category and allow players with less skill to compete on teams with players of higher skill. You may also be able to compete for smaller prizes, which is always a fun way to end the season.

Some benefits of these leagues are that sometimes your league fees will cover or contribute to your USBC membership and you’ll be eligible for awards and prizes through the association. Part of your league fees usually go toward a prize fund for the individual league from which prizes will be awarded at the end of the season. Sometimes leagues use the funds to provide food, drinks, shirts, etc. You should always ask for a breakdown of what you league fee is going to.


Competitive leagues are usually more focused on scores both individually and as teams. If you want to push yourself to do better, competitive leagues provide more motivation through award systems and bigger championship tournaments. Such awards can include prizes of significant cash value or other items. Within competitive bowling, there are generally two categories: professional or amateur.

Professional bowlers are usually members of the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) and earn a living bowling. Some professionals may have regular careers, but bowling makes up an equal part of their total salary. While you may not currently have the skills to compete against professionals, you can compete in PBA sponsored pro-am tournaments that pair professionals with amateurs so it’s a good idea to have a little knowledge about them.

Amateur bowlers are not members of PBA and compete in amateur tournaments that professional bowlers are not permitted to participate in. Amateur tournaments typically have high payout for winners and amateur bowlers can make a living this way as well. As you get better, you may start winning some of these sought after funds too.

Interesting note: both professional and amateur bowlers are currently permitted to play as representatives on the United States Olympics bowling team.


Currently, there are two main bowling associations. The United States Bowling Congress (USBC) is essentially the amateur’s regulating body. The USBC regulates all aspects of bowling including:

  • Lane conditions – oil application, lane specifications (such as length and width), pins and pinsetting machinery, ball return, and balls.
  • Rules of Play
  • Certifications – leagues, tournaments, coaches
  • Championships and awards
  • Regulating amateur status among youth bowlers

The Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) is exactly as it sounds. The association is, in essence, the equivalent of Major League Baseball or Professional Golfing Association. Its members are considered professional bowlers. Much of the PBA’s involvement in bowling is promoting it as a professional, spectator sport through televised championship tournaments and tours much like in professional golf. The PBA, like the USBC, regulates all aspects of competition to ensure equal play between competitors.




Types of Tournaments



Bowling tournaments can be formatted a multitude of ways but, generally, tournaments fall into three parent categories: Regular, Moral Support, or Modified. No matter what the selected format is, all tournaments must follow USBC rules and lane requirements if the resulting scores are to be counted toward USBC competition. Some formats are used more or less by different leagues depending on what the league wants to accomplish. In this article you’ll learn more about some of the various formats and their benefits.

Regular Format

Regular tournaments consist of at least two or more teams, or two or more individual entrants participating as singles. To qualify for USBC certification, the entire tournament must be played in the same location so that all entrants face equal conditions. Conditions of lanes must follow the USBC guidelines for that particular year. Most bowling associations run tournaments in this traditional format. Generally speaking, the tournament will consist of both team events as well as doubles and/ or singles events. Each event requires teams or individuals to complete a three game match and winners are decided by overall pin fall. Some may be conducted through single or double elimination brackets.

Three game matches may also be used as qualifying rounds before the actual tournament. Tournament participants are often grouped into divisions based on their qualifying scores, in an effort to keep competition between bowlers of similar skill level.

Moral Support Format

Moral support formats are generally organized by charitable groups in order to provide some form of outreach to those within the group. In order to be considered a moral support format, tournament entrance is granted on a limited basis to affiliates of the supporting organization.

Groups that qualify for moral support formats include:

  • Civic groups
  • Fraternities or Sororities
  • Benevolent groups
  • Military Organizations
  • Unions
  • Religious Groups

Additionally, moral support tournaments must also meet all of the USBC requirements that Regular formats are subject to including any USBC player suspensions in affect. Players under suspension are not allowed to bowl in these tournaments even though they may be an affiliated member.

Modified Formats

These alternative formats allow for more social games and provide greater variety than the more traditional formats. Bowling centers will often elect to host tournaments with these varying formats to increase interest within their leagues. These formats, however, cannot be used in National Championship tournaments. The following are some examples of modified formats.

9-pin No tap and 8-pin No tap

In No Tap tournaments, bowlers must hit a designated number of pins (typically 8 or 9) or hit all 10 pins on the first ball to be scored a strike. Any other unspecified pin count is added as a normal value. Generally, you will always be required to strike the headpin to receive a strike for downed pins. This format allows for higher scoring games, which are usually more interesting.

3 – 6 – 9

When bowling under this format, all bowlers receive strikes in the 3rd, 6th, and 9th frames of the game. The act of giving strikes levels the playing field between all participants and builds confidence for bowlers who may have less skill. This format can also benefit those who are particularly good at picking up spares (but maybe less so at getting strikes), because the value of the free strike will apply to a spare occurring directly before or after the free frame. Another benefit is that the games are completed faster and players suffer less fatigue.

Baker Format

In this format, bowlers only roll two frames for each game, which produces a faster paced match. This format is especially popular with doubles tournaments as the games place more importance on team effort rather than an individual’s ability. In some Baker tournaments, teams are made up of five players and members will follow immediately after each other in a single game. This is illustrated below.

Example of Baker format. Image created by C Gideon. 







One of the major benefits to the Baker format is the team work that is inherently needed for the team to progress and win. This provides a lot of motivation for individuals to get better for the greater good of the team. Teams must work well together both in play, and in preparation. For instance, teams must decide who is going bowl the 10th frame which allows for three ball deliveries in the event of strikes.

Scotch Doubles

Scotch doubles, like the baker format, forces teams to work together more closely. This format is popular for pairs, such as father-son, mother-daughter, couples, siblings, etc. Unlike the Baker format, in scotch doubles each player bowls half of each frame in a single game, and will complete matches consisting of three games. Bowler 1 will bowl the first ball of each frame and Bowler 2 will bowl whatever pins the first ball left standing. If Bowler 1 strikes, he or she will continue straight into the first ball of the next frame and, theoretically, could finish an entire game without their partner ever needing to deliver a ball. To ensure both partners have a chance to play, Bowler 2 in the first game becomes Bowler 1 in the second game and bowls the first ball.

Scotch Doubles
Example of Scotch Doubles; only first 2 frames shown. Created by C Gideon

Best Ball

Similar to Scotch Doubles, Best Ball is scored exactly the way it sounds. Both bowlers will bowl a single ball and the roll with the better pin count is the only one counted in the team score. The exception is the 10th frame in which each bowler is given the number of ball rolls normally required in a traditional game. This method requires that the pins be completely reset after every ball roll.


This format is typically used in tournaments after a traditional format has been completed. This format relies on “seeding” in which a designated number of “top seeds” are chosen and will compete against one another for the final winner title. Seeding is usually determined by initial qualifying status and overall tournament pin fall. The lowest seed will play the next lowest seed and the winner of that game will play the next seed, until one player has either made it up the “ladder” or the first seeded player beats their final opponent. One disadvantage to this format is that lower seeds must play more games to ‘climb’ the ladder, while the top seed must only win one game.

For example:



Additional Information on tournaments can be found at:

Types of Tournaments by USBC (pdf)

Frequently Asked Questions PBA