Stars Recall Bowling Outdoors 20 Years Ago In The Villages

Stars Recall Bowling Outdoors 20 Years Ago In The Villages

Pete Weber, Chris Barnes and Jason Couch reminisce about the day they bowled for a title outdoors in The Villages, Florida, and battled the elements.

Apr 30, 2021 by Jill Winters
Stars Recall Bowling Outdoors 20 Years Ago In The Villages

Pete Weber just won another major title Thursday night at the 2021 PBA50 National Championship. But 20 years ago, this legendary player did something he had never done before in the sport of bowling. He competed outdoors for the first-time at the 2001 The Villages Sun Bowl PBA Open.

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Before a sold-out crowd that sat on bleachers, in chairs and gathered in and around Spanish Springs Town Square, the bowlers in the stepladder finals were surrounded by palm trees while competing under the hot Florida sun on two lanes.

Although it wasn’t the first PBA Tour title to be won outdoors – that happened in 1999 in New York City – it was a unique challenge for the bowlers as they battled the elements.

“I remember about 10 minutes before the TV show it rained so they had to strip and re-oil the lanes for us,” he recalled. “It seemed to me that they got a lot tighter with a lot more oil on the lanes. I threw the ball probably 10 miles-per-hour or less because I needed it to react.

Weber defeated Doug Kent in match one. Kent wore shorts, while Weber sported his signature shades and bowling glove. He noticed with the uncontrollable outside environment the oil was staying on the lanes a bit longer than usual which he felt kept the lanes from breaking down as fast.

“The biggest thing about being outside in Florida and in the humidity was keeping your hand dry,” the PBA Hall of Famer said. “They made sure the hand dryer was blowing extra hard that day.”

Weber left five nine pins over the course of his first two matches. He lost to lefty Mike Aulby in game two, and Aulby went on to lose to Chris Barnes, who was in just his third year on tour at the time. That setup a finals match between Barnes and lefty Jason Couch.

Barnes was in last place after his first two games of qualifying and fought his way all the way to the No. 2 seed.

“It sprinkled in the middle of the show,” recalled Barnes. “Everybody went on full panic for a minute because water and bowling don’t really mix very well. The lanes broke down so fast and we were all learning on the fly.”

“I still have a picture on my wall being in Sports Illustrated,” he said. “At the time that was really cool that bowling had a full double-spread. It was a very cool experience.”

Couch dominated the field in The Villages Sun Bowl en route to defeating Chris Barnes in the championship match. Couch felt the hometown support as he lived less than an hour away from The Villages.

“The first thing I remember is it was outdoors for the telecast,” he said. “It is really hard to bowl in front of your hometown fans, but it is also really cool when everybody gets behind you because it feels like you have the whole support of the community.

“It was a great environment and definitely something I will never forget,” Couch said of being able to celebrate the win with his family and his fans.

The finals were also held on Barnes’s 31st birthday.

“It would have been a great present except I gave the present to Jason instead,” he said. “I never begrudge the guy who leads the tournament winning on show day.”

Barnes, Couch and Weber enjoyed bowling in that outdoor venue two decades ago and were thrilled to return to The Villages this week to be surrounded by the largest and most enthusiastic crowds the PBA50 gets every year.

“We had fans and that is 100 times more fun for me and hopefully that changes on the other tour as well,” Barnes said. “The energy in the building matters to me and I love it. The crowds this week were fantastic like they were 20 years ago when I was here and that makes the whole experience a lot of fun.”

“The environment here is great,” Weber said after winning the 2021 Florida Blue Medicare PBA50 National Championship. “The fans here are fantastic and enthusiastic. Coming to The Villages and Spanish Springs Lanes, it’s an honor.”