Tom Baker enjoyed the gravy train that was the Professional Bowlers Association Senior Tour.
Then some of the best players in history got older and crashed his party.
"When I came out here, it was a good time," said Baker, four-time player of the year on the PBA50 Tour, the new name for the older set. "There weren't as many big names and I snuck in a few wins. I bowled pretty good, but now you've got the greatest bowlers of all time, not just this era. It's a lot tougher now. Instead of finishing first, second, third, you might finish fifth, sixth, seventh."
First is still an option, it turns out.
On Wednesday, Baker captured the Northern California Classic in Brentwood, Calif., his 11th senior win. A 10-time winner on the regular tour, Baker is ninth in all-time earnings with nearly $2 million.
He'll get a chance to add to his victory total this weekend when PBA50 brings many familiar names back to southern Oregon.
The Grants Pass Open will be at Caveman Bowl today through Monday, giving fans in the region a chance to catch up with the likes of Hall of Famers Baker, Walter Ray Williams Jr., Amleto Monacelli, Johnny Petraglia, Wayne Webb and Dale Eagle.
Also entered are two-time PBA50 player of the year Ron Mohr and Ernie Schlegel, who has won twice on the senior circuit and seven times on the regular tour.
The PBA Tour made Medford a regular stop for eight years, the last coming in 2009. It was regarded by many players as a favorite event on the circuit, in part due to fan support.
One of the Medford winners, Bryan Goebel, is in the Grants Pass field. He defeated Danny Wiseman for the 2003 title at Lava Lanes.
PBA50 regular Kevin Croucher, the owner of Caveman Bowl and the driving force behind the event, was alternately competing this week in Brentwood and checking on preparations at his center.
"Everything's going good," said Croucher, who was 14th on the points list before Brentwood, where he made it to the Round of 24. "The crew is getting the bowling center ready. It should be great."
Festivities began Thursday with a charity golf tournament, and there are three pro-am sessions today.
PBA Hall of Famer Marshall Holman of Medford was to take part in both but won't be in the tournament. He no longer bowls professionally.
Players will have a practice session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. today.
The tournament begins Saturday with eight games of qualifying from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and eight more from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. The squads will flip-flop Sunday and each will bowl eight more games at the same times.
The top 24 advance to match play on Monday, going at noon and 3 p.m. with best-of-five matches.
The final eight will bowl best-of-three matches at 6 p.m., with the semifinals and finals — one game each — following.
There is no admission fee. Patrons will be encouraged to make donations to Our Foster Kids, a Josephine County nonprofit that addresses needs of area foster children.
Baker, who bowled a 300 game in 2004 in Medford during qualifying, has fond memories of the region.
"The people were always really nice and the fans showed up pretty good," he said. "I look forward to coming back."
Williams is coming back and admitted he has an affinity for the area. As a child, he lived in Winston in the mid-1960s.
He went on to become the all-time PBA Tour leader in victories (47) and earnings (nearly $4.5 million) and continues to bowl on the regular tour as well as PBA50, like many of the game's top players.
The PBA50 points list reads like a Who's Who of the sport: Norm Duke, Pete Weber, Williams, Baker, Parker Bohn III, Monacelli and Brian Voss.
"A lot of us are still bowling the regular tour," said Williams, who has cashed in only one of four PBA events. "You might not notice it by my results, but I'm actually pretty much bowling in every national tournament that I'm able to.
"Unfortunately for me, the kids are pretty good and keep beating me. I still enjoy bowling against them. I haven't given up on that, but I know that day is coming."
Name and face recognition with the PBA50 roster makes it a popular circuit.
The demographic of league bowlers, said Croucher, is older, and many are fans who followed the sport when it was regularly on national TV.
"You're getting the guys who were on TV repetitiously every week," he said. "Everybody got to see them and got used to seeing their faces."
In the PBA50 UnitedHealthCare Sun Bowl at The Villages, Fla., in April, Baker said fans told him it "was the greatest show of all time. If it was on TV, people would want to see that."
Baker led much of the way in that tournament and lost in the championship to Duke. Weber was third, Bohn fourth and Williams fifth. Croucher did himself proud by placing sixth.
Duke, Weber and Bohn won't be in Grants Pass, but, said Williams, "there will be enough of us. We'll put on a good demonstration and show that some of the older guys can actually bowl."
Williams has been on a hot streak of late.
The reigning two-time PBA50 player of the year won his first Senior Masters title recently in Las Vegas and followed with a strong opening at Brentwood before losing to Eric Forkel in the Round of 8. Williams has eight career PBA50 victories.
"I feel like I've been bowling really well," he said. "I've had some good tournaments. The competition is getting a little stiffer."
Williams competed every year in Medford. His best finishes were fourth and fifth.
One of the things he enjoyed about the stop was a chance to visit with Holman. He watched the likes of Holman and Mark Roth on TV, and when he got a chance to meet the Medford Meteor, he told Holman he wanted to come out and compete with the best.
"Marshall said, 'Good luck, kid,'" said Williams. "And I know what he was talking about. I have people come up to me and say, 'I want to be like you.' It's a nice desire, but unfortunately it's not easy to be one of the top players."
Following the Grants Pass Open, the PBA50 heads east. The Dick Weber Super Senior Classic begins July 18 in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Grants Pass Open
1230 Rogue River Highway
A & B squad practice, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Pro-ams squads: 3, 5 and 7 p.m.
(8 games of qualifying)
A squad: 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
B squad: 3 p.m. - 8 p.m.
(8 games of qualifying)
B squad: 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
A squad: 3 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Monday, June 23
Noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m.
Followed immediately by semifinals, final
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org