Top bowling professional Eric Forkel lashed out this week at the West Coast Senior Tour’s decision to limit its tournament players next year to ages 60 and over.
This year, players as young as 50 were allowed to compete in most WCST tournaments.
“I am very disappointed that guys who turn 50 will never have the chance to compete in a very competitive weekend environment,” said Forkel, who turns 53 on Monday. “The money is OK, but it’s not what drives the guys to compete. It’s just their competitive nature. That is the real driving force.
“Sadly, by eliminating 50-to-60-year-olds, that chance is now gone for that group, which of course I am part of.”
Forkel, a resident of Henderson, Nev., who graduated from Van Nuys High, has been one of the tour’s strongest players through the years. The left-handed Forkel ranks fifth with 19 WCST tournament titles, one ahead of the late Barry Gurney of West Hills, one of Forkel’s best friends who died in July.
Forkel has won more than $1.2 million as a pro bowler.
Dick Sanders, the owner and tournament director of the WCST, said Saturday that the decision to ban the 50-to-59-year-old group wasn’t “done to punish them. It was just because we didn’t get their support.”
Sanders said the tour added an average of only about seven bowlers in the 50-to-59 group for each tournament when they bowled this year.
But he said he lost an average of about seven bowlers from the 60-and-older group who didn’t want to compete against the younger and often-more talented group.
Sanders emphasized that “right now every entry is critical” as the tour has been struggling to provide enough entries per tournament to offer attractive prize money.
“We had 500 members in our organization when we started in 1993-94 and now we have 70,” Sanders said.
A week ago, 25 entrants competed in a WCST tournament in Henderson, Nev. Only 18 bowlers took part in a WCST tournament in San Bernardino in April and 22 took part in a WCST event in Cabazon, Calif., in May.
Right-hander Ron Mohr, a two-time PBA50 player of the year, competed in Henderson and was the top qualifier en route to finishing second to Don Blatchford.
It was the 57-year-old Mohr’s first appearance in a WCST tournament.
“If it was OK for [Mohr] to bowl in his 50s [in WCST tournaments], the whole club would die in two tournaments. He’s that dominant and Eric’s almost that way,” said Bill Stempke, who competes in WCST events and has claimed one tournament championship.
“I understand Eric,” Stempke added. “It’s a free paycheck for him. He’s guaranteed to place in the top five and probably win. And a guy like myself in my 70s – I don’t want to compete against them.”
Forkel hasn’t won a WCST tournament title so far in 2013 and went winless in 2012. But he claimed two WCST titles in 2011.
Said Forkel: “Funny, when Dick [Sanders] tried to eliminate certain things in this club a few years ago, my late, great friend Barry Gurney spoke up and reminded Dick what this WCST was founded on and he kept things as they were.
“I know if [Gurney] was still here, he would be saying something right now!”
Said Sanders: “Eric Forkel’s got an opinion on everything on bowling because he loves the game. But he’s not facing [financial] facts.”
The WCST’s 2013 season will continue Oct. 5 with a tournament in Diamond Bar, Calif. It will be open to bowlers 60 and older.