Hosting a PBA South Region event may have become old hat for Spring Hill Lanes, but this time around the 24th annual tournament offers some fresh intrigue.
This weekend the local bowling center plays host to the Cheetah Open – formerly the Spring Hill Open – sponsored by Samuel Adams.
The name change has to do with the tournament becoming part of the region's "animal pattern" series, and it will utilize the high-scoring Cheetah oil pattern.
There are further format tweaks to explain, but the bigger story is who is scheduled to attend.
Over the past three years, logistical conflicts have prevented some of the more well-known pros from the national tour from attending.
However, this year will mark the return of Hall of Famer Walter Ray Williams Jr. An Ocala resident and perhaps the most recognized name in the sport, Williams captured this event in 2002 and last competed in 2007.
"When you get a big name like that, basically a legend, it's always a huge plus," Spring Hill Lanes owner Carlos Martins said. "That's something we hope attracts people coming in. I think you always get a better fan turnout when they know he's coming."
Williams headlines a field that stood at 72 as of Thursday morning, but he is not the only national pro expected.
Dade City's Rhino Page, ranked 11th in the PBA points standings, is seeking his third straight victory in this region.
Another Williams – no relation to Walter Ray – defending champ Mike Williams II, of Montgomery, Ala., was not on the list of attendees.
Wesley Chapel's Tom Daugherty, the 2006 and 2008 champion, is one of the entrants, along with other recent winners Vernon Peterson (2009) and Richard Langton (2010).
Locally, Kevin Williams, owner of Kevin's Pro Shop in Spring Hill Lanes, will compete after placing seventh last year.
Youth bowler Anthony Caso of Spring Hill earned a spot by finishing second in Sunday's sweeper tournament, posting a 1,142 total over five games. Any winnings Caso receives would go into a scholarship fund.
Peter Hernandez won the sweeper, bowling a 1,191 series.
Aside from cash prizes, a free berth into the PBA World Series of Bowling will go to the highest finisher who opts to pay an additional $50 entry fee, as well as to the bowler who accumulates the most points across the region's "animal pattern" series.
To that end, this tournament has gone to a "retro format," according to new South Region manager Sam Zurich.
"We wanted to make it a little more of a challenge to be up in the top position," Zurich said.
After two squads bowl eight games apiece Saturday, at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., instead of 1/3rd of the field advancing, only the top 16 will move on.
Sunday, starting at 9 a.m., the remaining competitors will bowl 12 games in a match-play format.
Pin count from Saturday will carry over and continue to accumulate throughout this portion of the tournament. Match winners receive an additional 30 pins to their score.
Finally, rather than a 16-man bracket the top four go into a stepladder playoff to determine the champion.
Though these tournaments used to draw over 100 bowlers, this year's total is on par with the 71 who took part in last year's Spring Hill Open, as the economy takes its toll.
"It is what it is," said Zurich, a former bowler on the tour who once called Hernando Beach home. "The one thing I know I can expect, the bowling center is a fine-tuned organization. They're (the Martins) a wonderful family and I'm really excited about going back to Spring Hill. They're a great host."
An interactive part of the event is the pro-am held today.
There are three squad times (12:30, 3:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m.) and three divisions: Regular, Junior and Senior (age 55 and older).
The cost for this 9-pin no-tap, handicapped tournament is $30 for Regular, $25 for Senior and $17 for Junior.
Cash and trophies will be awarded to adult bowlers; trophies will be given out to youths.
Though Martins admitted that entries have come in slowly this year, he hopes for a late push to draw the numbers close to the 277 from 2011.
"This is not really a money-maker for us," Martins said of the PBA coming to town. "We give money to the prize fund, plus we don't get any lineage. For us, it's like advertising. That's why we keep doing it.
"The bowlers enjoy participating with the pros, and there are less and less regional tournaments in Florida. It gives an avenue for dedicated bowlers and some not so much to see bowling at its highest level.
"Hopefully we can build on it and get not only bowlers who have been bowling for a while but a younger generation to pick up a ball."
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.