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Style Master 300 rolling toward $50,000 finale

When Tampa's Dennis Higgins bought the Style Master 300 tournament last year, he already had in mind its ultimate destination with an ultimate payoff: the Showboat Hotel, Casino and Bowling Center in Las Vegas and a $50,000 guaranteed payoff to the winner of the handicap singles competition.

Higgins is a sharp, high-energy guy with important contacts in and out of bowling. In the past months, he has called on them to get his idea off the ground, and he hopes for a successful conclusion Aug. 11-16.

To say Higgins, tournament director Chuck Halling and aide Debra Wolfe have worked hard to bring about this event and all that leads up to it would be an understatement. The wonder is that they did it in such a short time.

"While I was bowling last year in the seniors High Rollers in Vegas, I was intrigued by the bowling operation, and I had the thought of putting our tournament there on a national basis," Higgins recalled. "I talked with Bea Goodwin, the new general manager, and she got the ball rolling right away, her first big promotion since she took the job. Then, the real work started, and I've been running from pillar to post ever since."

His next move took Higgins into deeper waters. He scheduled five regional events leading up to the Las Vegas extravaganza at centers from Jacksonville to Tampa Bay. The first is May 21-24 at Tampa's Crown Lanes; the last is July 17-19 at AMF Altamonte Springs near Orlando. In between, the stops are at White Sands Bowling Center in Fort Walton Beach June 12-14, at Bowl America Southside in Jacksonville June 26-28, and at Seminole Lanes in Pinellas County July 2-5. Higgins calls it the Style Master 300 Bowlers Tour.

The top five placers in each regional handicap singles competition are guaranteed payoffs, with the winners earning $5,000. Regional winners also earn a seed and a paid travel package to Las Vegas. Entry fee is $69 for each regional, re-entries at $39.

Optional scratch singles and handicap doubles are offered at each regional, with a $30 entry fee and $1,000 to the winners. The winners of the five scratch singles events will compete in a roll-off July 19, with that winner also earning a Las Vegas seed and expenses-paid package.

An added attraction at the Las Vegas tournament is the handicap doubles, with the winners splitting $20,000.

The Style Master 300 tournament was conceived by Steve and Trudy Lavoie in Tampa eight years ago and was immensely popular with Tampa Bay area bowlers. The format, concentrating on handicap bowlers, offered moderate paying events in Suncoast centers and included an annual $10,000 winners payoff event to attract even more competitors.

Higgins purchased Style Master 300 in July after it had struggled for some time under previous owners. He re-established the event to the satisfaction of area bowlers, scheduling regular weekend tournaments. He added a $20,000 winner-take-all handicap singles jackpot that drew more than 1,500 entries from the South and East.

Early on, Higgins crafted a letter to prospective bowlers, explaining his goals and tournament ideas. It worked, and many disenchanted bowlers returned.

"I'm done with my past profession (automotive industry) and entirely into bowling," said Higgins, who also is negotiating to buy two Pinellas County centers. "I'm completely convinced our Las Vegas tournament will be highly successful, then we'll go international."

ABC UPDATE: There were no leader changes last week in the ABC Championships Tournament at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nev., but Daniel Grady of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was presented with four new "leaders" at home.

Grady's wife, Kim, assured him that their expected quadruplets would wait until he returned from competition. She was wrong and delivered four girls, two sets of identical twins, while he was gone.

Mike Balough of Palatine, Ill., rolled a 299 in his final team game, the third in this year's tournament.

Most of the leader board changed at the WIBC Championship Tournament at the Quad Cities last week. (See leaders below.)

BENEFIT SET: Largo Lanes will host a benefit bowl for Christian Tyler Brigham-Morissette on May 16 beginning at 7 p.m., with all proceeds going to defray medical expenses. He is the son of Gregg Brigham and Heather Morissette and is suffering from Wiskott Aldrich Syndrome, which requires chemotherapy and bone marrow treatments. Cost is $10 per bowler. For information, call 584-5370.

AROUND THE LANES: Noel Karp recorded a 300-774 at Sunrise Lanes. Dick Rounds nailed a 300-728 and Bobby Redmond rolled a 299-711 at Liberty Lanes. Largo Lanes offers another Poor Boy singles tournament Saturday with a $10 entry fee and $100 to the winner, and Gary Hampshire stages an eight-game scratch sweeper Sunday with a $45 entry fee and $350 to the division winners. Bob Daniels, co-owner of Shore Lanes with his wife, Hazel, is recovering from an illness in a Mesa, Ariz., hospital. Wally Thompson broke the state men's scratch series mark last month with an 879, rolled in Orange Park near Jacksonville. Hudson's Ken Frymoyer held the previous mark of 878 rolled two years ago at Hudson Lanes.