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Bowl Opinion - March 2017


By Jim Goodwin

Last month in this column, I referenced Brian Kretzer winning the 1997 Mini Eliminator Tournament. It was part of a few items I found and commented on in Genie and Tony Franklin’s Bowling News.

The problem was, it was not the Mini Eliminator . . . it was the International Eliminator, as our friend Mike Kaufman was nice enough to point out. It was an honest mistake made by two bowling publications, and thanks to Mike, I am happy to correct the record.

Kaufman, who is now the Director of Bowling for the Boyd Gaming Group, was manager of Boyd’s Sam’s Town Bowling Center in 1997, and many years before that. Kaufman is practically a Las Vegas icon who has seen as much big time bowling action as anyone who ever followed the sport. Today, you will find him in his office at Boyd’s Orleans Hotel/Casino/Bowling Center, and he still presides over numerous tournaments, such the recent USBC Masters, and Jeanette Robinson’s Golden Ladies Classic this month.

In 1994, Kaufman teamed up with Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour President John Falzone and his staff to create the International Eliminator. It was an event and a partnership that gave Norm and Brad Edelman’s High Roller Tournament, being held at the Showboat Bowling Center at the time, some healthy competition.

No one would argue that the High Roller was the cream of the crop and the event that probably invented the term ‘megabuck,’ but Kaufman’s International Eliminator was an incredible event that was very popular during its five year run from 1995-99. And it produced the very successful spin-off event operated by Steve Sanders and Pinacle Events, the Mini Eliminator.

A Hollywood script writer could not have penned a better ending for what actually happened in the televised finals of that first Intl Eliminator in ‘95.

On a very tough tournament condition, Dave Guindon, Niagara Falls, NY, defeated James Strong, Newington, CT. 300-185 to win the $100,000 top prize. Strong earned $50,000, and an additional $5000 bonus went to Guindon for the perfect game.

Because I was working with the LPBT at the time, CJ and I were there to witness the historic finals. I have seen many 300 games over the years, and this one still stands out as the best given the condition, the circumstances, and pressure Guindon was under that day. The next highest game in the five player stepladder televised finals was a 214. All of the other games were under 200.

If my memory serves me, Mike Kaufman had to get permission from his bosses during the final game to pay the bonus. It was not announced in advance because no one thought it was possible.

Brian Kretzer finished fourth in that event, then went on to win in 1997, and again in 1999. The 1996 event was won by Cincinnati’s Don Scudder. In 1998, a 34 year-old bowling center mechanic, Kurt Bogner, won the $100,000 top prize.

What made The International Eliminator so great, aside from the huge money, was that it was highly organized and highly promoted. Maybe the best promotion of the event came from members of the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour, who talked up the event from coast-to-coast because their organization was involved. They were also eligible to bowl it; and although none of them ever made the finals competing against the men, they cashed plenty of checks.

One phenomenal aspect of the International Eliminator was its 3 in 4 cash ratio. We haven’t seen another tournament before or since that had that kind of guarantee.

And the event truly lived up to its ‘International’ label, drawing bowlers from dozens of countries around the world. Players from Germany had a particular affection, bringing a group of 47 people to Vegas in 1998.

At their peak in the late ‘90s, megabuck events like the High Roller, International and Mini Eliminators, Super Hoinke, (in Cincinnati) and perhaps a few others, gave the PBA reason to take notice. Many great players either did not turn pro or delayed membership because they could and did make more money by remaining an amateur and rolling in the short format or matchplay events rather that the grinding long formats of the pro tour.

A few times, megabuck champions earned life changing money. Just from memory, I recall that at least two of the High Roller events paid the winner $200,000 or more. Initially, only one event of this type was held each year by the promoters involved, but as they grew in popularity, that expanded to several, and for a few years, top amateurs almost had their own tour if you counted all of the megabucks and other events like the National Team Challenge, where player brackets often paid more than the event itself.

It took a national disaster, a bankruptcy, and a near bankruptcy to kill the momentum of the megabuck events. The disaster, of course, happened on September 11, 2001. After that dark day, travel became very difficult, and very few were even in the mood to travel to Vegas or anywhere else.

In 2001, the PBA came very close to going out of business; but was saved by a group of internet moguls. In 2003, the PWBA ceased operation. We believe that these milestones changed the collective thinking of the whole industry; and few would argue that they made obtaining sponsorships much more difficult to obtain.

Is now the right time for a megabuck renaissance? It certainly is a much different world now than it was when the originals were born, but there seems to be much optimism about the economy these days, and that might be a sign that sponsors are more willing to step up to the plate. We also cannot help but notice that the professionals are not making much money these days.
Megabuck Tour anyone? Anything is possible.
Article was posted with permission from Stars & Strikes, America's Bowling Newsmagazine.