By TAD SOMMERS
For the first time in nearly 20 years, professional bowling is coming to Kailua-Kona.
KBXtreme will host the PBA Kona West/Northwest Open regional tournament Monday and Tuesday.
Featuring roughly 40 bowlers competing for a $2,000 top prize, the event will showcase local athletes Rudy Ancheta and Jim O’Brien, who earned their entries during three qualifiers held recently on Hawaii Island.
Kailua-Kona’s O’Brien said he once “strongly considered” joining the professional bowling tour. An “off-and-on” bowler for 40 years, O’Brien was in the field the last time the tour stopped at what was then known as Kona Bowl. One of his best memories of that late-90s tournament was competing against Walter Ray Williams Jr., a pro with a similar bowling style as himself, O’Brien said.
“Kona Bowl has done a good job of promoting the sport,” he said. “Pro bowlers like coming here.”
Ancheta is no stranger to high-level play, having bowled at several national amateur competitions on the mainland. The Waimea resident said he averages 220 at KBXtreme and qualified by rolling 1,044 in five games last Sunday.
“My chances (of winning the tournament title) are one in a million,” he said, “but, there’s always a chance.”
Ancheta’s favorite bowler, Norm Duke, is expected to compete at the Kona Open, as well as other pros including Scott Norton, Josh Blanchard and Missy Parkin.
Duke was named to the PBA Hall of Fame in 2009. His career earnings top $3 million, and his 37 career wins are tied for third in PBA history.
Norton owns four PBA regional titles. He won the Earl Anthony PBA Players Championship March 24.
Blanchard was named the 2011-2012 PBA Rookie of the Year. He amassed four top-10 finishes during that season.
Parkin currently leads the World Tenpin Bowling Association World Bowling Tour. In 2004, she became the first woman to join the PBA. She is the first woman to win two PBA regional titles.
Rhino Page, who has three PBA Tour wins, is also set to compete in the Kona Open. Together with Williams, Page led a clinic at KBXtreme in December. Though details are still being finalized, Elaine Higashi said Page, Duke and other pros are expected to hold bowling clinics April 24.
Higashi, one of the event’s coordinators, said, “We’re proud to bring this world-class event to Kona, and we hope everyone comes to watch them compete.” She added, “These are the bowlers you watch on TV week after week, and they’re coming to our center.”
A practice session is slated from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday. During this time, Higashi said, fans will be able to “get up close and personal with them, get autographs and tips.”
The Kona Open is set to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. After recording eight games, bowlers will break for lunch, then return to complete the tournament from about 2 to 7 p.m.
Admission to the practice session and main tournament is $5 per day. Alternatively, spectators may attend by bringing two cans of food to donate to The Food Bank. Higashi said seating at the bowling center will be set up to accommodate roughly 400 fans.
Admission to a pro-am event, slated to begin at 7 p.m. Monday, is free.