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Challenges abound for builder of outdoor bowling lanes

Rob Sabo

Shawn Butler figures to have some long nights when he visits Reno in late June.

Butler, national service manager for Brunswick, won’t be up late playing slots in local casinos. He’ll be overseeing construction of four bowling lanes at the Reno arch on Virginia Street for the finals of the U.S. Women’s Open bowling tournament, which concludes with a five-person final under the night sky on June 27.

It won’t be the first time Brunswick has built lanes outdoors, Butler says, but pulling the event off in downtown Reno presents a host of challenges.

Foremost is an extremely short window for construction.

The Great Eldorado Barebecue, Brews and Blues Festival wraps on Saturday, June 23, so construction of the lanes can’t begin until early Sunday morning.

The entire setup, including pin returns, approach and bowler staging area, is about 100 feet long, Butler says. Bowling lanes are 60 feet long from the foul line to the head pin. To expedite construction, Forest Park, Ill.-based Brunswick will build 6-foot-wide by 12-foot-long modular lanes from its Muskegon, Mich. facility and ship them to Reno on flatbed trucks.

Butler expects to work two shifts to set up the lanes in time for the Wednesday evening final on June 27. The finals will be televised July 3 on ESPN.

“We have such a short time span to get it all set up,” he says.

Brunswick will install the lanes and pinsetters, but lighting and bleacher seating are contracted to other firms. Brunswick has installed outdoor lanes at Milwaukee Stadium for a professional event, on a beach in the Bahamas and in Central Park in New York City, Butler says.

Although the four lanes look joined, the company actually will install two lanes on the east side of Virginia Street and two on the West side in order to compensate for the crown in the paving, Butler says.

“That will help us flatten them out to within .020 of an inch,” he says.

Weather is another concern for the construction team. Butler says that the Farmer’s Almanac shows late June as one of the driest periods in northern Nevada, but that forecast may get tossed out due to winter’s extremely late start.

The plan, he says, is either to build the lanes under a tent that will be removed just prior to the start of the bowling finals, or to have a large tent on hand in case of inclement weather. As a last resort the finals could be moved to the National Bowling Stadium.

“We are crossing our fingers right now,” Butler says.

The company is extremely familiar with building bowling lanes in desert environments, he notes. Brunswick has built between 600 and 700 lanes in Las Vegas over the past 15 years. The all-wooden modular lanes will be trucked to Reno several days prior to installation to let the wood acclimate to the dry desert environment and reduce the potential for shrinking.

“Once they are acclimated, we don’t foresee any issues with changes in the specifications of the lanes,” Butler says.

Another minor concern? The lanes will be built over the train trench, and vibrations from mile-long freight trains could shake the lanes ever so slightly and knock them out of tolerance.

Fresh oil will be applied just prior to the start of the event, so bowlers won’t have a problem with the dry desert air affecting lane surfaces.

And Reno’s often gusty wind conditions? Every bowler will face the same lane conditions and oil patterns, says Steve Johnson, executive director of the Bowling Proprietor’s Association of America, the tournament organizer.

Stefanie Nation, a 28-year-old professional who placed 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open in 2011, says bowling outdoors will be intimidating. Lanes typically run the length of a cozy, enclosed bowling alley rather than dropping off on each side. The exposure, crowds, and potential for dust and wind all will weigh on the final five bowler’s minds, Nation says.

The BPAA annual Bowl Expo conference, which brings in about 5,000 conference attendees, will be held at the Reno-Sparks convention center the same week as the U.S. Women’s Open. Brunswick crews will be setting up a booth at the convention center at the same time they are working on Virginia Street. Brunswick also will be constructing 46 lanes at the convention center for the U.S. Women’s Open events in 2013 and 2014, since the men’s tournament will be at the National Bowling Stadium.

“We have a lot going on in Reno in next year or so,” Butler says.

Johnson says the BPAA decided to bring the event and the Bowling Expo to Reno because of the city’s longstanding ties to professional bowling. About 400 women bowlers from nearly 20 countries are expected to compete in the premier event for women’s bowling. About 8,500 people attended the event in 2011, which was held on the 50-yard line at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“I brought the convention here to pay Reno back,” Johnson says. “Reno is committed to bowling, they have invested in bowling, and it needs to continue to have return on its investment.”

“We love coming to Reno, and this event is going to showcase the city in a real positive light. It is good for bowling, it is good for the city, and it is good for women’s bowling.”

The event also brings some high-profile exposure to Reno, says Glenn Carano, director of marketing for the Silver Legacy. The tri-properties venture of the Eldorado, Silver Legacy and Circus Circus plans to bring in some big-name entertainment that week, Carano says.

“We will have the Reno arch seen worldwide, and that is just phenomenal,” he says.