Bricen Smith of Moberly, Missouri
Bricen Smith of Moberly, Missouri, had the chance to meet someof his bowling idols at the US Open bowling tournament, hosted at Sun Valley Lanes in Lincoln, Nebraska, this year. Smith, 13, drove 6 hours to make it to the three-day tournament. Photo by Alli Davis.

For the first time in nearly 50 years, Lincoln hosted one of bowling’s most prestigious competitions: the Professional Bowling Association’s 2020 U.S. Open. 

The United States Bowling Congress deemed the 32 bowling lanes at Sun Valley Lanes the perfect host for the event, even though larger alleys are typically chosen to host large events like the U.S. Open. 

Last year, Victory Lanes in Mooresville, North Carolina, hosted the tournament at its 40-lane facility.According to Derek Bombeck of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau, many bowling alleys are following a trend that is turning them into more inclusive fun centers, instead of just bowling alleys.

U.S. Open spectators noticed the construction equipment outside Sun Valley Lanes this weekend. The facility is adding several more features, such as laser tag, sand volleyball, indoor golf and arcade games. 

Bombeck said the USBC wanted to test out smaller facilities that are following a trend similar to Sun Valley Lanes. 

“We’re kind of a test marker right now for the bowling world,” Bombeck said.

Sun Valley Lanes owner and operator John Losito said the smaller venue changed the format of the tournament, which accepted only 108 players this year. Last year, 144 bowlers were listed on the roster. 

However, he said the smaller size helped the tournament focus more on elite players, the “best of the best.”

“It’s really who’s who in bowling today,” Losito said.

Bricen Smith of Moberly, Mo., had the chance to meet some of those bowlers this weekend. The 13-year-old bowler and his mom, Bonita Smith, drove 6 hours to make it to the tournament by 8:30 a.m. on Friday. Tickets were limited, and “there’s a chance you might not make it,” Bonita Smith said.

Bricen Smith met bowlers like Jason Belmonte of Australia, who won the tournament, and Brad Miller, who Bricen knows from watching the professional bowler’s YouTube videos. Bricen bowls at his local bowling alley every Saturday, and even holds the record for number of games played in one day, his mom said.“Bowling is just different than any other sport,” Bricen said. “There are so many things that go into it.”

For example, there’s the shape, size and weight of a bowling ball. Every single one is different, and every single bowler must know how to use each one to the best of their advantage.

Bombeck said the major impact on Lincoln was the fact that Sunday’s championship round was broadcast live on Fox. The alley looked completely different that day, with arena-style seating added around the two championship lanes.

“Any time we can get Lincoln, Nebraska, on a major network television for the world to see, that’s the economic impact we’re looking for,” Bombeck said.

Even though Lincoln has hosted major bowling tournaments before, such as the World Youth Championship in 2016, the U.S. Open was the most prestigious event of all. 

“We just know how to do major events,” Losito said. “We know how to treat people. We know what the competitors are looking for.”