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Professional bowling is making a return to Wilson this weekend.
Westview Lanes will be the site of the PBA50 Richie’s Automotive South Open, which begins Friday with a practice session and a pro-am event before concluding Sunday with a one-game championship. The main event, open to professionals only, projects to pay out a purse of $2,000 to Sunday’s champion.
It’s believed to be the fifth all-time regional event to be hosted by Westview Lanes and is the first PBA50 South region event of the 2020 season.
But there’s one important distinction with this return.
“It’s the first time this bowling center has hosted a PBA event,” Westview Lanes co-owner Leon Lamm said. “Before, it was a normal event, but this is an actual senior event.”
A total of 50 to 55 players have signed up as of Monday morning, according to Lamm. Additional bowlers — and surprise names — are still a possibility.
“We wanted to bring another one back,” Lamm said. “I’ve gotten older since then, and a lot of people recognize the names of the older ones. We’re glad to have them back.”
While it’s been erratic at best over the years, PBA players have prowled the lanes at Westview for off-the-trail events in the past. Walter Ray Williams Jr., the PBA’s all-time leading money winner, came to Wilson in 2017 and won the 12th annual King Pin Scratch Open at Westview.
Even though that wasn’t an official PBA event, Williams, who is still active on the national PBA50 tour, said at the time that he still enters smaller events to supplement his income. With career earnings of $4,839,684 over a span of what is now a 50-year career, Williams said in 2017 that he is not “independently wealthy.”
The last regional event at Westview took place in 1991, when the Southern Regional Open enjoyed a brief run and brought in a number of noted professionals of the era.
Among the names currently committed to this weekend’s event are Tom Baker, who resides in King and has amassed over $2 million in career earnings. Elected to the PBA Hall of Fame in 1999, the 65-year-old Baker became the oldest player to win the PBA World Championship in 2004 and enjoyed a three-year string of being the PBA’s Senior Player of the Year from 2005-07.
He’s been to Westview before, losing in the aforementioned 1991 Southern Regional Open title match in a 213-203 roll-off to Guppy Troup.
Lamm expects professionals hailing from South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Florida and Tennessee, in addition to North Carolina. Wilson-area bowlers that have been competing in other PBA50 regional tournaments are also expected to fill out the competitor list.
Unless senior bowlers have the urge to compete in Tracy, California next weekend for a PBA50 West event, Wilson will be the scene to get the 2020 campaign underway. The PBA50 National Tour, where the likes of Williams and Baker still prowl, doesn’t get underway until the middle of April.
“This is the place you’re going to have to do it,” Lamm said. “It’s the only one available from Virginia, all the way down to Florida and as far west as Mississippi and Louisiana. It encompasses that big of a region.”
The participants will bowl an eight-game series Saturday, with the top 16 scorers advancing to bracket style match play in a three-game series format down to the championship, which will be a one-match affair. All 16 Sunday qualifiers will finish in the money.
Lamm, an accomplished bowler in his own right who has authored 300 games on the Westview oil, has designs on bringing additional PBA dates back to town after this weekend.
“We’re looking to put our name in the hat and do more of these in the future,” he professed.