What has become the longest-running tournament in the Professional Bowling Association's South Region takes place once again this weekend at Spring Hill Lanes.
For the 25th consecutive year, the local bowling center hosts this three-day event, this year officially called the PBA Thunder Bay Builders Spring Hill South Open.
"We're happy it has gone this far. We're happy to have a sponsor this year," Spring Hill Lanes co-owner Carlos Martins said. "There have been some years, especially when we sponsored it ourselves, where there were some doubts as to whether we'd do it any longer. From a business standpoint, it's not lucrative.
"I think what's kept us going so long is, we think it's good for the sport of bowling. It's good advertising for us. We want to keep the sport of bowling alive and keep it growing. I think that's why we've made the commitment to keep it going as long as we can."
Today's practice session, from 10 a.m. to noon, kicks things off, followed by a pro-am tournament, with squad times at 12:30, 3:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m.
The cost is $30 for the Regular Division, $17 for the Junior Division and $25 for the Senior Division (age 55 and over).
"The turnout seems a tiny bit lighter than some years, but we've gotten a lot of signups lately, so I think it'll be about the same," Martins said. "We haven't raised the cost. We think the way to get good participation is to keep the cost moderate."
Saturday at 10 a.m. the pros will compete over an eight-game block. The top 16 advance to round robin match play consisting of 12 head-to-head clashes, with Saturday's pin count carrying over. The winner of each match receives an additional 30 pins.
Finally the top four will partake in TV Format Finals, employing a stepladder format.
All bowlers will have to contend with the Viper oil pattern, described as a 37-foot long, multiple-angle shot that normally yields medium to high scores.
"I think the scores are going to be good on the Viper pattern," Martins said. "On paper, it's one of the easier patterns they have. I think it blends well with the lane surface we have here. I think you'll see scores pretty high."
???With 82 entries already in as of late Thursday morning, the big news is the return of a PBA legend.
Walter Ray Williams Jr., perhaps the most recognizable name in professional bowling history, will make the trip from his home in Ocala for the second year in a row.
The seven-time PBA Player of the Year, a 1995 Hall of Fame inductee and the tour's all-time money leader, owns a record 47 national titles and 31 regional crowns.
One of those victories came at Spring Hill Lanes in 2002. Last year he fell to Spring Hill product Jason Mahr in the championship match.
Mahr, who also won in 2007, is among several former champs in the field, including four-time winner (1995-96, 1999-2000) Darin Hayes of Tampa, Atlanta's Gary Morgan (2005) and Wesley Chapel's Tom Daugherty (2006, '08).
In November, Daugherty recorded his first win on the national tour, taking first at the Bowlers Journal PBA Scorpion Championship. He is ranked 14th nationally this season.
Some other local bowlers participating include Spring Hill's Chris Polizzi, who placed 13th last year, and 18-year-old Anthony Caso of Spring Hill, as well as Eric Martins, son of the Spring Hill Lanes co-owner.
The younger Martins earned his spot by winning the June 30 sweeper at Spring Hill Lanes, shooting 1,392 over six games to best the rest of the 35-bowler field.
According to PBA South Region manager Sam Zurich, the region has had its ups and downs this season.
"As far as bowler participation, it's up a little bit, but we've lost some long-standing hosts," Zurich said.
"It's always been a pleasure (at Spring Hill Lanes). I've bowled there for many of those years. It holds a special place in my heart. My mom lives around the corner in Hernando Beach. Hernando Beach was my home for 4-5 years. It's always a pleasure to go back.
"I know the players love coming here. It's one of their favorite spots."
At a Glance
What - 25th annual PBA Thunder Bay Builders Spring Hill South Open
Who - PBA Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. headlines a field that stood at 82 as of late Thursday morning.
Where - Spring Hill Lanes
When - Practice session today, from 10 a.m. to noon, followed by a pro-am tournament, with squad times at 12:30, 3:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. The pro tournament begins with one squad bowling eight games Saturday, starting at 10 a.m. Top 16 advance to round robin match play on Sunday morning, then top four move on to stepladder TV Format Finals in the afternoon.
At stake - Payout places and amounts to be determined based on entries.
Spring Hill Open Champions
- Compiled by CHRIS BERNHARDT JR.
Year Winner Hometown
1989 D.B. Van Horn Atlanta, Ga.
1990 Jeff Bellinger Columbia, S.C.
1991 Mark Salka Tampa, Fl.
1992 Joe Viscomi New London, N.C.
1993 Bob Handley Tampa, Fl.
1994 Jason Couch Clermont, Fl.
1995 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
1996 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
1997 Jason Couch Clermont, Fl.
1998 Steve Hoskins Tampa, Fl.
1999 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
2000 Darin Hays Tampa, Fl.
2001 Don DuPree Fort Walton Beach, Fl.
2002 Walter Ray Williams Jr. Ocala, Fl.
2003 Roger Bowker Ocala, Fl.
2004 Ritchie Allen Columbia, S.C.
2005 Gary Morgan Atlanta, Ga.
2006 Tom Daugherty Wesley Chapel, Fl.
2007 Jason Mahr Spring Hill, Fl.
2008 Tom Daugherty Wesley Chapel, Fl.
2009 Vernon Peterson Winter Haven, Fl.
2010 Richard Langton Tallahassee, Fl.
2011 Mike Williams II Montgomery, Ala.
2012 Jason Mahr Spring Hill, Fl.