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Duckpin Bowling (Everything You Need to Know)

Duckpin Bowling

Do you love bowling? There’s a game out there that you might not be familiar with, but it’s been around close to a century. We’re talking about Duckpin bowling and while it sounds strange, it definitely has a dedicated fanbase.

Duckpin bowling has similar rules to bowling, only it is played with smaller balls and with 10 short, fat pins that you’ve got 3 throws to take down. It’s even got a rich story behind it, which we will share with you today.

If you love bowling, then settle in for a good read as we tell you about Duckpin bowling, it’s origins, where to play, and more. It’s definitely not the bowling that your used to, as you’re about to see!

Does Duckpin Bowling Still Exist?

Duckpin bowling still exists, but it’s a lot harder to find these days. There are only currently 41 Duckpin bowling alleys which are officially approved by the Duckpin Bowling Congress, while there were as many as 450 back in 1963 and as many as 4000 in 2018.

It’s definitely suffered from a decline.

Another strong indicator that this game may one day be gone is that there is only one company that manufactures Duckpins – and they are only available for lease, rather than purchase! Duckpin bowling has been around for close to 100 years now, however, and many venues are trying to promote it again so a comeback is quite possible.

As far as finding an alley, Duckpin bowling alleys may be found in 11 states (barring private alleys) and we have listed them below:

  • Connecticut
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Massachusetts
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Nebraska
  • Rhode Island
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania

If you are not in one of these states, be sure to Google your location along with ‘duckpin bowling’ just to be sure. This sport has been around for a long time, so you never know when a new lane might be springing up!

Why Do They Call It Duckpin Bowling?

There’s a story to it, of course, though it may just be a tall tale and we’ll explain at the end of this section. The story goes that the sport and the name originated at a bowling alley called Diamond Alleys in the early 1900’s.

Bowling leagues of the day liked to meet in winter, so many lanes would close out during spring and summer months – but not Diamond Alleys.

Now, Diamond Alleys just happened to have a set of smaller, 6-inch balls that were used for other bowling type games at their location, such as one called Five Back that used only the 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 pins for the game.

During one of these games someone suggested to the manager, a man named Frank Van Sant, that he could remake some of his old pins into smaller pins that would better match the smaller balls. Van Sant was intrigued and had his pins sent to a wood turner, and days later he presented his new, smell and squat pins.

As legend has it, two Baltimore Orioles players frequented Diamond Alleys, and their names were John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson. Both avid duck hunters in their free time, upon seeing the pins flying away as this new game was played, both Orioles agreed that they looked like a flock of flying ducks.

Soon an article was published in the Baltimore Sun by a reporter named Bill Clarke who had apparently heard the gossip, as he described the fascinating new game and referred to it as ‘Duckpins’.

While this is a great story, we should note that there is evidence of the term being used as early as 1894, but if history has taught us anything, then it’s this – the best story is the one we’re going to keep!

Is Duckpin Bowling Popular?

While the number of Duckpin alleys has declined, The National Duckpin Bowling Congress still holds yearly tournaments every May, with the 90th Tournament having been held on May 16th of 2021 in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Next year it will be held in Shenandoah, Virginia, but beyond these tournaments the sport is mostly popular in Maryland, Connecticut, and Rhode Island – being only available to play in 8 other states.

Even so, there is still a large network of Duckpin bowlers that keep these lanes busy and many venues are attempting to revive the sport, citing that the smaller balls and minimal space requirements that the sport is accessible to players of any age and easy to style for the advertising of interested investors.

Whether it will take off again remains to be seen, but it’s made it a century so far so we wouldn’t count them out just yet!

How Do You Play Duckpin Bowling?

These days Duckpin bowling is played with balls that measure 4 ¾ – 5 inches in diameter and 10 squat, fat pins. These pins are arranged into a triangle, much like standard bowling, but in this game, you are more likely to get spares rather than strikes – no one in Duckpin history has scored a perfect 300, in fact.

Instead of 2 throws like regular bowling, with Duckpin bowling you get 3 throw to take out as many pins as you can. If you do manage to get all of the pins in one throw, then you’ve got a strike, and a spare if you get them all in two rolls, but if you get them all in the 3rd roll, then it’s called a ‘ten’.

If there are still pins remaining, then the player gets 1 point for each of the pins that were knocked down.

Now, unlike regular bowling, if you roll and get a strike, you can still roll the other two balls, and you will get 10 points plus one point for every additional pin that you get – up to 30 points. With a spare, you get 10 points plus 1 point for each pin you knock down on your final roll.

The game is played for 10 frames with a maximum possible score of 300 and they go very quickly, with an average game between two players lasting 30 minutes, while 5 players can play within an hour’s time… and now you know how Duckpin bowling is played!

How Long Is Duckpin Bowling Lane?

A Duckpin bowling lane measures 60 feet from the official ‘foul line’ to the first pin in the front and center. It has a width of 41 inches and there are gutters, just like you would see with standard bowling, except these gutters are smaller in width and shallower to accommodate the smaller balls used for Duckpin bowling.

Incidentally, a standard bowling alley is the same, measuring 60 feet in length but one inch wider, at 42 inches, and with larger gutters. With Duckpin bowling the change is in the size of the ball and the pins.

Do You Need Bowling Shoes for Duckpin?

One of the perks of Duckpin bowling is that you do not have to wear special shoes that other people have been wearing for years. While some lanes will give you the option if you’d like to wear different shoes, the only requirement if you bring your own is to wear soft soled shoes with closed toes so that your footwear is easy on the lane.

Can Kids Play Duckpin Bowling?

Duckpin bowling is actually great fun for kids. The smaller size of the balls makes them perfect for children ages toddler and up. The balls themselves don’t have holes, like bowling balls, and they only weigh about 2 pounds so kids can definitely play Duckpin bowling with relative ease.

Due to this, in places where Duckpin bowling is popular it is touted as a family game, and the smaller size of the balls even makes it playable for senior family members who might have trouble with a standard bowling ball.

Call it what you will, the game is designed to be accessible, and so it definitely has some dedicated fans!

Final Thoughts

Today we’ve told you all about the elusive sport of Duckpin bowling and we hope that you’ve enjoyed the narrative. With its accessibility to players of all ages and rules close to standard bowling, this sport has hung on tenaciously for almost a century now, but it’s definitely on the decline.

Still, nostalgia is a powerful thing and many venues are pushing this sport, so it might well be ripe for a comeback. If you would like to give Duckpin bowling a try yourself, be sure to take advantage of Google to search out an alley. You never know when one might be right around the corner.

Just remember to bring your own soft-soled shoes and a group of friends to share in the fun of this lost variant of bowling. With a little luck, Duckpin bowling will catch on again and if we’re lucky we might just get another century of this most charming of games!

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