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Friday, August 12, 2005

Let the good times BOWL
Splitz puts new spin on bowling experience

By Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


Beams of light shine on the lanes and fog fills the air as Tom Burke prepares to bowl at Splitz Bowling Center in Westminster. With innovations such as “Lightning Strikes” bowling, the alley, which opened in December 2004, offers a new bowling experience.
Times-Call/Joshua Buck

WESTMINSTER — Derek Lopez hates the word hip.

There’s nothing wrong with the word, per se. Plenty of people have used the term to describe his business, Splitz Bowling Center.

But in today’s world, hip connotes an elaborately stylized trend, something that seems to go against everything many of our grandfathers told us about bowling.

Their generation, Gen 1 bowlers, played for the glory, the adrenaline rush inspired by good competition and the prospect of taking home a prize. Their sons and daughters respectfully continued the tradition by joining bowling leagues and investing in personalized balls and shoes for the sport.

Now meet generation three, a group well represented at Splitz, a state-of-the-art bowling center working to bridge the gap between each era.

“I’m not very good,” says Denise Burke, a Boston woman whose family and Colorado friend are warming up on a Thursday night at Splitz.

They fit in nicely with the evening’s other Gen 3 bowlers: multi-generational families, friends and hormonally motivated teens who laugh and shrug when they throw gutter balls. Most in this group would agree that technique plays second fiddle to entertainment.

“It doesn’t matter that you bowl 100, 200,” Lopez says. “It’s that you’re having a good time.”

To Lopez, each person who walks in is a guest, the center his elaborate living room. Beneath the 30-foot high ceilings: air hockey and video games line the entryway; to the right, a kitchen provides a full menu — from popcorn and soda to Philly cheese steaks and cappuccinos; drop-down video screens hover above the center’s 29 synthetically surfaced lanes; and in the center of the action: a fog machine, strobe lights and beams of radiating color.

Tonight Splitz offers another special feature, Heart Sick, an Arvada band preparing to play above the crowd on the center’s mezzanine.

This is a new bowling experience, courtesy Joe Schumacker, vice president of the Bowling Proprietors Association of America and president and CEO of bowling operations company Schumacker and Company, Inc. Lopez says Splitz is the first center of its kind, a test product opened in December 2004 in the former Vans Skate Park building. If successful, Splitz could spawn a nationwide outgrowth, he says.

So far, things appear to be moving smoothly, thanks to bowling innovations such as tonight’s “Lightning Strikes.”

“It’s kind of like cosmic bowling on steroids,” Lopez says of Splitz’s version of moonlight bowling.

“Lightning Strikes” begins when the lights go down. Denise Burke and her family — husband Tom and children Kyle and Samantha — and family friend Guy Melamed joke about belonging to the nine club; on more than one bowling round, all but the last of the 10 pins falls prey to their bowling balls.

As Samantha steps up for her turn, the fog machine dispenses a thick cloud.

“I’d rather have it simple,” Melamed says of the bowling atmosphere.

“I like the music, though,” Denise Burke says, listening to radio tunes from overhead speakers.

“Yeah, but I don’t like it dark,” Melamed responds.

Within minutes, Heart Sick subjects the crowd to heavy guitar riffs, drumming and screeching vocals. Kyle and Samantha Burke occasionally glance at the band. This isn’t their cup of tea.

“We know that we’re not going to please everyone,” Lopez says.

For some Gen 2 bowlers, accustomed to the crashing and yelling of league games, loud music and colorful lights are unwelcome distractions.

Those folks are coming around, though, according to Curt Dupre, Splitz’s head technician manager and an avid, Gen 2 bowler. Well aware of the fact that bowling league membership has declined since the 1970s, Gen 2 bowlers are doing their part to aid in the game’s revival.

“There’s been quite a few Gen 2 bowlers in here,” Dupre says. “Bowling is making a big turn around. It’s making a big comeback.”

League games are on the list of additions Lopez hopes to implement in coming weeks. Also on that list is a bowling skills program, professional, on-site bowling tips and lessons available during business hours, and an expansion that would add 20 lanes to the center. That addition would make Splitz the largest bowling alley in Colorado, Lopez says.

Right now he’s focusing on more immediate priorities, including coordinating Thursday night battle-of-the-bands competitions and karaoke, poker and theme nights at the center.

The Burkes, meanwhile, are wrapping up their game. It’s not even 10 p.m. Denise Burke is up.

“All right, I’m gonna bowl my last strike,” she says facetiously.

And almost effortlessly, she does.

If you go

What: Splitz Bowling Center

When: Open 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday and round the clock Friday through Sunday

Where: 10685 Westminster Blvd.

Cost: Varies depending on the time and bowling event.

More info: 303-466-7515

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319 or by e-mail at