Who owns the largest chain of bowling centers in the world?
You, the taxpayer. Well, the U.S. Army does, actually.
"There are currently 216 bowling centers worldwide owned and operated by the Army," said Bob Griffin, manager at Fort Meade bowling center. "And the centers are being updated."
The lanes at Fort Meadewere completely renovated for the 1991-1992 winter season, includingthe adding of automatic scoring. The center is well-lighted, has a wide, carpeted concourse, ample space in the bowling area and containsa snack bar where beer and wine coolers are served.
Only one thing seems to be missing.
"We don't have a nursery," Griffin said, "because Army regulations are very tough on operating a nursery. Rule AR 600-28 is very restrictive and too expensive. The regs call for a child-care giver for the nursery and one child attendant for every eight children. Then they would have to have separate restroom facilities and to feed them if the children are there for over two hours."
Griffin is originally from the Baltimore area and returned to live inGlen Burnie four years ago when he assumed the manager's position atFort Meade.
He's been a bowler for more than 20 years and bowls in the Monday Classic league at Country Club and the Friday Mixed Leagueat Bowl America Glen Burnie. His average is 206, and he's thrown eight 300 games and just missed the coveted 800 series; his high set is796.
"I try to run the center so that it's a pleasant place to bowl and where the lane condition remains stable. The lanes are stripped every day and conditioned twice a day, morning and evening," he said. "It takes a staff of 30 people, 11 full time, to operate the center."
Is there a big difference between running an Army center and acivilian one?
"Yes and no," Griffin said. "As in the case of the nursery, obviously yes. But in the actual day-to-day operation, the average person wouldn't notice anything different. At this time the Army isupgrading centers because they're revenue-producers and help support other activities."
Bowling centers on Army installations are expected to produce a profit. Oddly, the managers are not Army personnel. They are employees of the Department of Defense.
The local command sets prices for games. At Fort Meade, those game prices must bewithin 80 percent of existing comparable civilian bowling center prices. That makes the current price of open play $2.25 per game and league cost $2 per game at the center, which is not open to the public. You must have military identification to bowl there or be a guest of someone who has that identification.
Even though the center is on an army post, it is sanctioned by the ABC/WIBC.
"League bowlers pay their sanction fees exactly as do their civilian counterparts," Griffin said. "Our lane conditions meet the requirements of the Washington Bowling Association, but I decide what actual condition is put down on the lanes; as I said, tough but fair, and meeting both the D.C. association and the ABC/WIBC requirements."
Twenty-five youth, adult, women's and mixed leagues are in action there, drawing members from the enlisted and officers' ranks, as well as the civilian employees in the area. The population of the post is 3,500, but it is being down-sized.
"I'm constantly trying to raise the standards here at the center," Griffin said. "Training of personnel is a major concern of mine. And the Army is very big on that training right now. That includes maintenance people, the mechanics, the food service people, everyone.
"My mechanic will be going to the Brunswick corporate facilities for training, for example. The snack bar ladies will attend thefood service school at Patuxent Naval Station in the near future. And I'm in the process of having a complete pro shop in service very shortly."
At Fort Meade, bowling is alive and well and helping to support other Army activities with facilities that meet and, in some areas, exceed the facilities that exist in the civilian world.