Bumper Bowling

Young Boy Bowling 5
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There is not much sadder in a bowling center than seeing a wee lad or lassie just a few years old have his or her excitement dashed by an inability to avoid throwing a gutter ball. The wide-eyed enthusiasm with which they enter the bowling center is immediately shut down with tears of frustration. They just aren't physically able to keep the ball on the lane consistently enough to hit any pins.

If Only We Could Do Away With Gutters...

Enter bumper bowling. When the gutters are eliminated from play, every shot has a chance to knock down some pins. No more tears over yet another gutter ball. No more kids quitting the game before they have the strength to actually give it a real chance. Bumper bowling makes the sport accessible to countless people who would've previously loathed it or even not tried it. Strikes and spares are still hard to find, but they should be, right? That's yet another bowling debate for another time.

Phil Kinzer is credited as the inventor of bumper bowling, first using cardboard tubes to block the gutters at his bowling center (Jupiter Lanes Bowling Center in Dallas, Texas) as an attempt to keep his own son from sobbing with frustration over another gutter ball.

Business soon exploded both there and around the world. Bowling parties for school events and adults with special needs became a big source of revenue for bowling centers, and the popularity of bowling in general increased.

Evolution of the Bumpers

After Kinzer's cardboard tubes, bowling centers acquired inflatable tubes that could be placed into the gutters for those requiring bumpers and easily removed after their sessions.

When inflating and deflating those tubes became too much maintenance, a more practical upgrade was in store. Retractable rails that can be raised directly out of the gutter (patented by Kinzer) are now the most common bumpers seen in bowling centers around the world.

Bowling for Everyone

Bumper bowling helps get people excited in the sport who wouldn't otherwise give it a fair chance. Many kids start with bumpers and make it a goal to hit the pins without hitting the bumpers, ultimately working toward bowling without bumpers.


As with just about everything in bowling, there is a group of people who are opposed to bumper bowling. They contend it takes away from the purity of the game and is a disgrace to bowling in general. The problem with those arguments is they tend to lose validity when talking about people who simply could not hit a single pin without the help of the bumpers.

No score bowled with bumpers will ever be sanctioned as a real bowling record. No accolades will be thrust upon a guy who masters the art of the bank shot. But, if bumpers help get more people involved in the game (most of whom will eventually grow out of using the bumpers), then it seems bumper bowling is here to stay.

Regardless of whether you never use the bumpers, start on the bumpers with the intent of moving past that phase or intend to always use the bumpers, bumper bowling was a very important innovation and the main reason bowling is the top recreational sport in America. Without bumper bowling, it's safe to say there would be many less bowling centers operating successfully around the world.