You’ve probably heard of the five most common types of bowling: 10-pin bowling, 9-pin bowling, 5-pin bowling, candlepin bowling, and duckpin bowling. Perhaps you’ve even tried your hand at a few of these games with your friends or family; most people have at least gone once to their local ten-pin bowling alley for a round or two.
You might be surprised to learn, though, that there are other types of bowling you might not yet know about. One of the most interesting of these alternative types of bowling, which is popular in Detroit, is called Belgian Feather Bowling. In this article, let’s discuss what Belgian Feather Bowling is, its history, how to play, and where you can get in on the fun for yourself.
What Is Belgian Feather Bowling?
If you’ve never heard of Belgian Feather Bowling, you might have a lot of questions about the sport. How does it differ from regular bowling and what exactly does it have to do with feathers? While Belgian Feather Bowling bears some similarities to other types of bowling (and does make use of feathers), it is its own unique sport with its own rules and community surrounding it.
In short, Belgian Feather Bowling was created (as you might expect) in Belgium, as a casual and fun pastime in the Middle Ages. The sport involves throwing cheese-wedge-like balls down a lane to attempt to land as close as possible to a feather. The team who gets more balls closer to the feather wins.
Conceptually, you can also think of Feather Bowling like some other bowling and boules games like Bocce, Curling, Horseshoes, etc.
History Of Belgian Feather Bowling
Though you might not have heard of Belgian Feather Bowling until recently (perhaps even today), the sport has been around for a long time. In fact, people in Belgium played feather bowling as early as the Middle Ages, according to art from the 15th century depicting the sport! The game was conceived around the same time as other games like Bocce ball - which is one of the oldest known sports in the world.
As you might guess, Belgian Feather Bowling has its roots in Belgium - Flanders, Belgium, to be exact. In Belgium, the sport of Feather Bowling is called Trabollen. While Feather Bowling is a decidedly Belgian sport in its origins, it actually isn’t very popular in Belgium, with few people playing or watching the sport there nowadays.
Belgian immigrants brought Feather Bowling to Detroit in the 1930s. The sport quickly caught on among locals and has become a key part of the local sports and entertainment scene. After the game’s success in Michigan, several other feather bowling locations have popped up nationwide.
How To Play Belgian Feather Bowling
Feather Bowling has been around for a long time, but it isn’t hard to get started playing the game. Playing Belgian Feather Bowling is fun both for beginners and veterans to the sport.
A typical Belgian Feather Bowling setup involves a long dirt lane with a feather sticking out at the end. Players are divided up into teams and then equipped with large wooden balls shaped like cheese wheels. Each team must roll six balls down the lane and attempt to land as close to the feather as possible.
After everyone has thrown their balls, players are given a set amount of points determined by how close their ball landed to the feather. Players can knock one another’s balls further from the feather during their turn to maximize their own score and ensure their opponents don’t gain too many points. The team with the most points wins the game!
The average Belgian Feather Bowling game takes about 45 minutes to an hour, but a match can take longer or shorter depending on players’ skill level.
Playing Strategies for Feather Bowling
While Feather Bowling is played mostly for fun, there is a competitive scene. In fact, there are active Belgian Feather Bowling leagues in Detroit. Competitive Belgian Feather Bowlers engage in dedicated strategies and tactics to attempt to win the game.
Typically, the first team will try to throw their balls as close to the feather as possible, essentially building a “wall” around the feather. This makes it more challenging for the second opposing team to reach the feather with their balls. The second team, then, tries to avoid those balls and land even closer to the feather than their opponents.
Players are usually not allowed to throw or toss their balls (they must roll them) - though some locations do allow this - but they may knock others’ balls out of the way with their own ball during their turn. If you’ve ever played Bocce ball or Curling, think about how you must knock other players’ balls or stones out of the way to win; Belgian Feather Bowling is played in a similar way. The players on the first team have the advantage because they have a clear playing field and minimal obstacles, but the team that goes second can easily knock the first team’s balls out of place.
Belgian Feather Bowling Rules
There are a few rules to Belgian Feather Bowling that players must follow to ensure a fair and competitive game. Here are just a few of the rules that players must follow in a real Feather Bowling game:
- There are two teams. There is no maximum number of players per team.
- Each team receives six balls to throw.
- Players may or may not be allowed to throw balls instead of rolling them, depending on the location.
Some Belgian Feather Bowlers might also include house rules, such as a set number of points to win, allowing each team to throw more balls, or even switching up the rules entirely to allow teams to take turns throwing balls.
Where To Play Belgian Feather Bowling
You might expect that you would need to pack your bags and travel for a weekend to Belgium if you want to try out Belgian Feather Bowling, but this could not be further from the truth. In fact, while Belgian Feather Bowling did originate in Belgium, the sport is rarely played there nowadays.
There are a few locations across the United States that offer this sport for those who are interested. Most places that offer Belgian Feather Bowling are bars, breweries, cafes, restaurants, and other gaming establishments and retail businesses that offer food, drink, and alcohol alongside the bowling experience. Some locations might also offer other popular bar games alongside Belgian Feather Bowling, such as ten-pin bowling, pool, air hockey, pinball machines, arcade games, Bocce ball, and more.
The Cadieux Cafe (Detroit, Michigan)
At least in the United States, Belgian Feather Bowling is most popular in Detroit, so it makes sense that The Cadieux Cafe is located in the metropolitan area. This location offers Feather Bowling to the public for $30 per hour per lane Monday-Thursday and $50 per hour per lane on Friday-Sunday.
The cafe also hosts a Belgian Feather Bowling league. League play takes place two nights a week, making it the only public location in the United States where you can play true competitive Belgian Feather Bowling. There is also a yearly championship, during which a trophy is given to the victor of the league.
Randolph Beer (Brooklyn, New York)
Randolph Beer is the first and only location in New York to offer Belgian Feather Bowling. This location offers everything one could want for a casual and fun evening out with friends - house brews, self-serve beers, outdoor seating and games area, and more. This location is 21+, so while you can enjoy a night out at Randolph Beer playing some Belgian Feather Bowling, you won’t be able to bring your kids along with you.
The Painted Duck (Atlanta, Georgia)
The Painted Duck brings Belgian Feather Bowling into the deep United States south with its two Belgian Feather Bowling courts located in Atlanta, Georgia. This location offers Belgian Feather Bowling, duckpin bowling, knuckleball, indoor horseshoe pits, and various other games for people to enjoy. Like Randolph Beer, The Painted Duck is a 21+ location, as they serve alcohol.
Bath City Bistro (Mount Clemens, Michigan)
Just thirty minutes north of Detroit, you’ll find Mount Clemens, home to Bath City Bistro, which hosts another three Belgian Feather Bowling courts in Michigan. Bath City Bistro is not only popular for its games, but for its food, too; they serve alcohol and offer a separate lunch, dinner, brunch, and happy hour menu. Unlike many locations, Bath City Bistro welcomes walk-ins, though availability cannot be guaranteed. Belgian Feather Bowling is available on Wednesdays through Thursdays when the lane rental fee is $30 per hour, and from Friday to Sunday, when the lane rental fee is $50 per hour.
Why You Should Play Belgian Feather Bowling
Belgian Feather Bowling might not have taken off yet across the entire United States, but there are a lot of great reasons to get involved with Belgian Feather Bowling. Whether there is a Belgian Feather Bowling location near you or you want to find a way to bring Belgian Feather Bowling into your own home, let’s go over a few reasons why Belgian Feather Bowling should be all the rage these days.
Encourages social interaction
Getting involved with the sport of Belgian Feather Bowling is a great way to start getting social with others, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ll get to play on a team of other players who are interested in the same things you are, and you can even develop friendships with those on the other team. Belgian Feather Bowling is a great way to socialize and be around other people in a low-stress environment and have some fun.
Promotes physical activity
If you’re trying to get more active, but high-intensity sports like American football, soccer, or hockey don’t appeal to you, Belgian Feather Bowling can be a great way to get on your feet and break a sweat without overwhelming yourself. While Belgian Feather Bowling doesn’t require a ton of physical effort, it will no doubt get your heart pumping, and you’ll be able to get more steps and more exercise in.
Allows you to try a new hobby
It’s always a great idea to try new things, as you never know when you will find a passion you never knew you had! Even if Belgian Feather Bowling doesn’t sound like “your thing,” you should give it a try at least a few times to get a taste of the sport and determine whether it’s for you. You might just find that you’ve found your new favorite hobby.
How To Get The Belgian Feather Bowling Experience At Home
If you aren’t able to go to one of the locations where you can enjoy Belgian Feather Bowling in the United States but you’ve taken an interest in this great sport, you might be wondering if you can bring the experience home. Unfortunately, it is much easier to play Belgian Feather Bowling at an in-person location with authentic courts like The Painted Duck, Randolph Beer, or The Cadieux Cafe, but there are a few ways you can play this game under your own roof.
Purchase a dedicated court
The reason Belgian Feather Bowling cannot be played just anywhere is that you need a custom-built court with alleys. You’ll also need other materials like the special balls used.
If you have the money and the space, you can always build a dedicated Belgian Feather Bowling court for your home. This is a good option if you are truly dedicated to the sport of Belgian Feather Bowling and you plan to play frequently with friends or family.
Belgian Feather Bowling has been around for about as long as Bocce ball, which was one of the first games ever played. Though it has been around since the Middle Ages, Belgian Feather Bowling just made its way to the United States in the 1930s, after which it spread to more locations across the nation.
There are a lot of great benefits to getting involved in Feather Bowling; playing the sport regularly will help you become more athletic, interact with more people, and try out new things. Thankfully, it’s not hard to get started with this awesome sport. You can either find a Belgian Feather Bowling location near you or bring the fun home with a dedicated court.