Story: Bowls, pétanque and tenpin

Page 5. Tenpin bowling

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Tenpin bowling is an indoor game in which a player bowls a large ball down a wooden or synthetic lane bordered on each side by a gutter. At the far end are 10 pins, and the bowler attempts to knock down or skittle as many of the pins as possible.

A commercial activity

The distant origin of the game was the long-standing British pastime of skittles, which was occasionally played in colonial New Zealand. The modern form of tenpin bowling originated in the United States, which developed the technology that made the game popular. Automatic pin-setting came in during the 1950s and computerised scoring in the 1980s. Since an indoor rink using such technology is expensive, all tenpin bowling alleys in New Zealand are businesses. They began in the 1960s and in 2012 there were about 30 commercial alleys, with eight in Auckland, five in the Wellington urban area, three in Christchurch and an alley in most major provincial centres.

Tenpin Ed

When the first tenpin bowling alley opened in Britain in 1960, mountaineer Edmund Hillary was invited to bowl the first balls. By 2010 there were 322 bowling alleys in Britain and world-wide tenpin bowling was the second most popular sport in terms of participation after football.

Bowling alleys are primarily commercial entertainments (a game cost about $12.00 in 2012 for an adult) and the alleys invariably offer food, alcoholic drinks and sometimes other commercial attractions such as gaming machines and video games. Since tenpin bowling can be played by men and women, young and old, it is a popular group pastime. Tenpin bowling is a common attraction for birthdays or corporate functions.


Most people who play tenpin bowling do so as a relaxing and informal night-out, but there are competitions. Most alleys organise social leagues for weekly competitions. There are also more serious competitors. In 2012 there was a national bowling tour with eight stops around the country and a final. There were also more than a dozen other tournaments usually for singles, doubles and teams. The tournaments, under the auspices of Tenpin Bowling New Zealand, include competitions for seniors (aged 50 and over), youth (aged 20 and under) and juniors (aged 18 and under), and also for women.

New Zealand tenpin bowlers also compete in international competitions in Australia and Asia, but with little notable success. The sport was included in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, but not since. However five Commonwealth Tenpin Bowling Championships have been held subsequently and the sixth will be held in Auckland in February 2013. New Zealand’s best result was a share of the bronze by Jason Waters and Craig Nevatt in the men’s doubles at the 2006 championship in Melbourne.

How to cite this page:

Lindsay Knight, 'Bowls, pétanque and tenpin - Tenpin bowling', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 July 2024)

Story by Lindsay Knight, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jan 2015