Tom Daugherty hails from outside Tampa, Florida. None of the fellow Professional Bowlers Association Tour players he asked had been to Maine, the site of a pair of two-day Tour events held Saturday through Tuesday night at Bayside Bowl in Portland.

“Honestly, at first we were like, Maine?” Daugherty said Tuesday. “I don’t know anybody who has been here before.”

After a weekend of being treated like a rock star, Daugherty, 40, has a newfound appreciation for the state.

“Now the consensus is, we can’t wait to come back,” he said. “And that’s across the board. It was unbelievable.”

The Maine Event, which consisted of an eight-team weekend tournament and a subsequent 64-man bracket, proved so successful that PBA Commissioner Tom Clark promised a return next year.

“Something else could stop it, not the PBA,” Clark said of a return next spring. “Our full intention is to come back.”

Daugherty was a member of the team champion Silver Lake Atom Splitters and reached the quarterfinals of the Extra Frame Maine Shootout before falling to two-time and reigning Player of the Year Jason Belmonte of New South Wales on Tuesday.

“It was by far the greatest experience I’ve ever had in bowling,” said Daugherty, a 15-year pro. “That was more fun than actually winning a title. It was awesome.”

Like Daugherty, Belmonte knew next to nothing about Maine.

“I’d heard about the lobster,” he said. “That’s about it.”

A two-handed bowler with spiked hair and perpetual five o’clock shadow, Belmonte, arrived Thursday for a pro-am. What he discovered, as soon as he walked through the door, “blew away my expectations.”

“The place was packed,” he said. “It was loud. I could tell immediately this was going to be an exciting week.”

All the events took place inside Bayside Bowl, a 12-lane facility tucked into an industrial area next to a salt and sand shed in Portland near the main post office. On Saturday morning, some of the 600 local league bowlers began tailgating well before the first match pitting five-member teams.

By the time the Elias Cup was decided Sunday night, with bleachers constructed over half the lanes to create an atmosphere somewhere between a WWE wrestling extravaganza and a European soccer match, Belmonte couldn’t even hear a question posed by ESPN sideline reporter Kimberly Pressler, standing next to him.

“She had to tell me beforehand what question she was going to ask,” said Belmonte. “I had no idea what she actually said because it was so loud. I just hope she asked the same question because that’s what I answered.”

Clark, whose shaved head and black-rimmed eyeglasses fit right in with Bayside’s urban hipster vibe, answered any doubters within the bowling community about his choice of a small facility in a small city outside the traditional venues of the PBA Tour. Through his association’s marketing firm, the Portland-based Shamrock Marketing, Clark had visited Bayside Bowl and loved the Cheers-like atmosphere with its younger demographic.

“I kept telling people, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Maine and you’re going to love it,’ ” Clark said after the quarterfinals of the Shootout. “And they were all like, ‘What? We’ve never been there before.’ This is one of those occasions where everybody’s saying, ‘You were right, you were right.’ ”

Ten Maine bowlers joined the 40 PBA Tour pros, and 14 other regional pros and amateurs in the 64-man singles tournament Monday and Tuesday. Two Mainers – Terry Robinson of Gray and Scott Moore of Lewiston – won their opening matches Monday and Moore even advanced to Tuesday morning’s Round of 16 before falling to Osku Palermaa of Finland in two games, 226-224 and 212-191.

The overall winner was Josh Blanchard of Gilbert, Arizona, who’s on a bit of a roll. This was his second career win; his first came nine days ago in Germany.

Blanchard won $10,000 for defeating Belmonte in three games. Belmonte earned $6,000.

Moore, an inventory control manager at Hancock Lumber in Brunswick who also runs Moore’s Pro Shop in Lewiston, won $1,500 for winning two matches. One was against Sean Rash, a former PBA Bowler of the Year who was the top pick in a draft to fill the eight five-man teams that competed Saturday and Sunday. Moore had been one of those cheering for Rash over the weekend.

“They were like royalty to us this weekend,” Moore said.

On Monday afternoon, they were matching frames, with Moore emerging victorious in a three-game match.

“You can’t say enough about the pros, they’re just classy guys,” Moore said. “It’s a pretty good feeling for a pro to come up to a local guy and say, ‘Hey, great bowling this week.’ ”

A Tour press release predicted an estimated $1.55 million impact to the Greater Portland economy. Lynn Tillotson, president of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that estimate may be slightly conservative, considering the shows to be televised over the next three Sundays on ESPN. (The first one from Saturday’s first-round Elias Cup matches was shown Sunday.)

“There’s been a significant amount of rollover from this event,” Tillotson said. “Promoting Portland at this time of year is an amazing, amazing thing.”

Tillotson said 80 percent of Maine tourists are repeat visitors. The challenge is to attract them in the first place.

“Once we get them here, they come back,” she said.

Clark announced to the crowd Sunday night that the Elias Cup trophy – decided the previous two years in New Jersey and Indiana – would remain at Bayside Bowl until the tournament could be held again in Portland. The resulting eruption of cheers was almost as loud as when he announced the Tour, to thank all fans in attendance, would buy a round for everyone to celebrate the Maine Event’s success.

Charlie Mitchell, co-owner of Bayside Bowl, said he plans to add eight lanes and another bar, dining area, function room and roof deck that could be under construction as early as June.

“We’d love to have them back,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a natural fit. All the players are saying they want to come back. You heard all the accolades. They think this is one of the best events they’ve ever had. We don’t have anything to compare it to. We just know it was great.”


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