North American Bowling News


The Game of Kegel

A Kegel Alley (Photo courtesy 'Kegelbarn.com.au')

Oh, how much we learn from cartoons! Back in the heyday of duckpins, circa 1960—THAT was the age of awareness. Who would’ve thought that when Barney Rubble asked Fred Flintstone if he wanted to go “kegeling”, the animators of “The Flintstones” at Hanna Barbera, and the voices for said characters (Mel Blanc and Alan Reed) already knew something that we would only today just be learning? When Flintstone questioned Rubble about the term “kegeling”, Barney, just in passing, said “It’s another word for bowling.”

“Kegel” is indeed more than just another name for bowling. Moreover, it’s an intriguing variation, ultimately credited with being the forerunner of tenpin bowling.

Kegel, or Kegeln, is a German variation of bowling, played on a lane that is 19.5 meters (about 64 feet) long and 1.3 meters (approx- imately 51 inches) wide. The pins are set in a diamond pattern, (as in the game of Skittles) but much wider spaced than tenpin bowling.

There are two types of balls, which are made of a very thick, solid wood. The most common one has two holes—one for the thumb and one for the middle finger, while the more advanced player may use a ball with no finger holes. The balls come in two basic weights: 6 lbs. and also 4 lbs (for smaller children).

The approach and foul line are similar to that of conventional bowling, except there is a thin rope at the foul line which spans the width of the lane. The rope is 22 centimeters (about 8½ inches) off the floor, and the ball must be rolled on the lane in front of the foul line, in order to pass cleanly under the rope. If the ball does not touch the track (center delivery strip on the lane) before the line in Kegel, a foul is called, and no points will be awarded, regardless of how many pins fall.

The lane for a kegel alley is made out of hard wood that is concave in shape, that is, the lane gets wider the farther down the lane you go, which makes it more difficult to manage the ball. If your ball falls off into the gutter, or Pudel Lane as it is called in Kegel, you lose 1 point, instead of no points being awarded, as in conventional bowling.

A bowler rolls a maximum of 3 balls per frame. There are no dedicated bowling shoes, so a player can participate in street shoes.

There are no markings on the lane apart from a line for the foul-line on a Kegel track, unlike tenpin lanes which have the arrows. A fully automatic machine resets the pins using string setters through a computerized control system and the balls are automatically returned via a gravity fed ball return system.

There are several variations of Kegel in regards to scoring. In some methods, a player might bowl 3 balls per frame in which the pins are completely reset after each ball. Other games allow a bowler on a team only 1 ball per frame. Also used is the standard method of using 3 balls per round to completely knock down one set of pins. Most games have 9 rounds (frames).

How to Hold the Kegel Ball

Kegel balls range from 5-1/2" to 7" in diameter (Photos/Info courtesy 'Kegelbarn.com.au')

The History of 9-Pin Bowling

Kegel belongs to one of the oldest and most popular kinds of leisure sports. It had it’s origin in Egypt, where part of the game in today’s form was discovered in a child’s grave.

Stone-throw-games can be seen as the forerunners of the modern Kegel. In Europe, the early version of today’s Kegel developed only in the 12th Century. It was played as a luck or betting game and large amounts were won and lost. It did not take long until violence and fraud entered the game and it was outlawed in Germany in 1335 with penalties of heavy fines and even jail.

A private Kegel club in Australia. Note the electronic overhead scoring system for this one-lane alley (Photos and info courtesy 'kegelbarn.com.au')

England followed and King Edward III outlawed it with the death penalty. The French also outlawed it, but not until 1454. Only in 1468 was Kegel again allowed, but under strict control and only at special events, such as yearly markets and special church celebrations. By the 17th Century, it was difficult to find any special events that did not have a Kegel competition. The first official mention of Kegel is in the chronicle of the German city of Rothenburg in the year 1157. In 1265, the citizens of the towns of Xanten and the monks of the monastery St Victor formed a “Kegelorum”, the first Kegelclub. The Kegel game lost it’s bad reputation at the end of the 16th Century and the game of luck was played purely as a “spare time activity”. This occurred when the nobles and high society discovered the game. The first rules date back to 1786. The start of the 19th Century saw the registration of the first official Kegelclubs in Germany. Some German migrants introduced the game into the USA in 1840, but because of the associated gambling, drinking and cheating it was outlawed by the Governor of New York.

With typical American ingenuity they added another pin to get around this law. As a result, the American version of tenpin bowling was invented in 1868. A number of Kegelclubs united in Krefeld, Germany in 1884 to establish the first Kegel association. This union was the beginning of Kegel and Bowling as 'sports'.

Currently, about 21 million people 'kegeln' for fun each year in Germany with more than 4 million on a regular basis. Because of this huge success, Kegel is now the biggest “people sport”. Also 276,000 players are registered with sporting clubs.

There are now 18 organizations that regulate about 10,000 clubs. Kegel is played on three different track designs with the 'classic' design (9-pin skittles pin configuration) being by far the most popular.

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