NOT YOUR ORDINARY ALLEY THE NATIONAL BOWLING STADIUM IS STRIKING BECAUSE NO EXPENSE HAS BEEN SPARED

May 26, 1996

You can, if you're so inclined, purchase 37 varieties of
T-shirts advertising the mammoth National Bowling Stadium in
Reno, which opened in February 1995. Or, if you prefer, you can
buy an NBS leather jacket ($175) or maybe an NBS brass belt
buckle ($45) or perhaps an NBS pewter thimble ($8). You can
purchase any of 1,283 different items in the building's
Kmart-sized gift shop. Virtually all of the goods promote this
leviathan of lanes, the palace of pins, the mother of all
bowling emporiums.

But if you want to go bowling there, you're out of luck. "This
isn't a bowling alley," explains NBS executive director Reg
Pearson, crinkling his nose at the mere thought. "When people
think alley, they think dirt and smoke and beer cans on the
floor. This is a stadium. And it's the only one in the world."

The NBS is used exclusively for tournaments and
corporate-sponsored events, such as the annual multiweek,
umpteen-thousand-bowler amateur events sponsored by the American
Bowling Congress, the Women's International Bowling Congress and
the Federation Internationale des Quilleurs. If a tournament
isn't in progress, the stadium's 80 lanes stand empty.

Pearson, 59, has been ascending through the ranks of bowling
executives for 33 years, starting at a 12-lane dive in northern
California where bowling was only a minor distraction from the
bar. The NBS is his Sistine Chapel: Pearson oversaw the
insertion of every rivet in the building. The House That Reg
Built, which is owned by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors
Authority, cost $47.3 million. "Everything I love about bowling
I tried to preserve here," Pearson says. "Everything that stinks
I left out. I had to do it right--this is my last hurrah."

And what a hurrah it is. Reno, kid sister to Las Vegas, is not a
city of subtlety, and the NBS, a block from the main gambling
strip, fits in perfectly. From outside, the building looks like
a huge wedding cake, topped by an enormous disco ball and
adorned with 15,000 feet of fiber-optic lights that blink from
green to purple to orange to blue.

Everything about the place is big. A couple could get married at
one end of the stadium and be divorced by the time they reached
the other end. (Stranger things have happened in Reno.) The
arena's 450-foot scoreboard is the world's longest rigid backlit
video screen. The lobby has two glass elevators, 500 silk ferns,
a two-ton bronze sculpture of a family going bowling, and a
1940s-theme diner that sells meat loaf for $6.99 and a bottle of
Dom Perignon for $110.

Why build a behemoth bowl-o-rama when serious bowlers seem
destined for the endangered-species list? Over the past 15 years
the number of league bowlers has dropped 45%. Pearson, it turns
out, is an eternal optimist. "All the bowlers are out there
somewhere--they still love the sport, but they just don't have
time to join leagues," he says. "I knew that if I built this
stadium, the bowlers would come."

He did, and they have. The first event hosted by the NBS, the
American Bowling Congress's 1995 championships, was the largest
tournament ever held. More than 92,000 bowlers participated in
the contest, which lasted 151 days. They bowled seven days a
week, 20 hours a day. The event infused $230 million into Reno's
economy.

Despite the riches, some local folks are less than pleased with
the stadium. Reno is a bowling town--the slogan of the local
publication Sierra Strikeline proclaims Reno the amateur bowling
capital of the world--so it seems a cruel irony that the
stadium, idle one third of the time, forbids bowling by the
public except on two days a year. Pearson says he doesn't want
to harm the income of Reno's more modest alleys but admits that
the stadium was "commissioned not for the greater glory of
bowling but for the greater profits of the casinos." This means
the locals, who don't use hotel rooms and tend not to gamble,
are shut out. All the souvenirs in the world won't mollify them.

Freelancer Michael Finkel, who lives in Bozeman, Mont., is a
frequent contributor to SI.

COLOR PHOTO: ANNE D. SHERWOOD Lighting alone costs more than $1,000 a day at the glitzy Reno palace. [Entrance to National Bowling Stadium]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)