Guide #5 - Last updated October 2020

Professional Bowling

1. What is professional bowling like?

The Professional Bowler's Association (PBA) is the pinnacle of bowling competition internationally. As a PBA member your first step will be to compete in one of the over 100 PBA Regional Tournaments. There are seven PBA Regions. Once you are cashing in the tournaments held in your Region, you will want to compete in one or more of the national tournaments of the PBA Tour or the PBA50 Tour (for those 50+). The best bowlers of those on the national tour compete to be the PBA national champions.

The are more stringent restrictions for PBA tournaments. Competitors are limited to using bowling balls, footwear, shirts, and accessories that are registered with the PBA. Only nine bowling balls are allowed in the locker room. Coaching is not allowed except during the televised portions of competition. And so on.

Membership requires average of at least 200 in an USBC sanctioned league or 190 in a sanctioned Sport or PBA Experience league, or to have cashed in one of the PBA's Regional Tournaments, PBA Tour Qualifying Rounds, or open PBA tournaments. In all cases you must be a USBC member in good standing (or World Bowling for international bowlers). You can compete in tournaments at the higher, non-member fee but will be required to join the PBA after you have cashed in a tournament.

One drawback of PBA membership is that the USBC nationals tournaments limit teams to just one professional. Another is that certain private tournaments exclude those who have cashed in PBA tournaments, and others exclude PBA members altogether. One example of the latter is the popular True Amateur Tournaments, popular because the tournament prizes are generous. If you are aware of a top-level bowler who does not have his "PBA card", this may be why.

2. Can women bowl in PBA tournaments?

Yes, although generally only the very best women bowlers stand a chance of winning given the physical advantages of men, not to mention the sheer number of men competing. Missy Parkin was the first PBA member and now holds three PBA Regional Titles, Liz Johnson was the first to win a PBA Regional Tournament and is the first to advance to two different televised PBA Tour finals, and Kelly Kulick is the only woman to have won the PBA Tournament of Champions.

3. Is there a women-only professional tournament series?

Yes. The Professional Women's Bowling Association (PWBA) tour re-launched in 2015 as a joint effort of the USBC and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (BPAA). The tour has more than 16 stops around the country with the stepladder finals for each stop either broadcast via livestream or on national television.

The PWBA has stringent restrictions governing competition and what equipment can be used that are similar to those of the PBA. Membership is open to USBC members in good standing with a 190 average or better.

As with PBA membership, there are drawbacks to consider. The USBC limits its national tournaments to just one professional (PBA or PWBA) member per team, and being a PWBA member or having cashed in a PWBA tournament may result in you being ineligible to compete in certain other private tournaments.

4. I am passionate about bowling. It is my life, and I would bowl all the time if I could. Can I make a living by competing on one of the professional tours?

Probably not. Only the very top professionals can. Many others find they need to supplement their income, and the most common way they do is by running a pro shop. PWBA tour tournaments are intentionally compressed into the weekend so that players can maintain other responsibilities. A look at recent PBA player earnings and PWBA player earnings shows why it's not so easy to make a living on bowling alone.

Guides you may also want to read:

Singles Bowling Tournaments

Why You Can't Count on an Oil Pattern Always Playing the Same Way

Bowling's Mental Game

When You Are Sidelined from Bowling

Resources for Serious Bowling