ARLINGTON, Texas - The South Point Bowling Plaza in Las Vegas quickly has become one of the sport's premier facilities, and now it will welcome the best bowlers from more than 40 countries for the 2017 World Bowling World Championships.
Nearly 400 competitors will compete for medals in singles, doubles, trios, team, all-events and Masters competition from Nov. 24 until Dec. 4. The final two days of competition will be broadcast live on the Olympic Channel to a worldwide audience.
Among those headed to Las Vegas is 2017 QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup champion Jakob Butturff of Tempe, Arizona, who is days removed from celebrating his Team USA debut by hoisting the coveted cup in Hermosillo, Mexico.
The 23-year-old left-hander has enjoyed continued individual success and is hoping to parlay that into a memorable stint at the 2017 World Championships as part of a talented Team USA contingent.
Butturff will be joined in his World Championships debut by veterans Chris Barnes of Double Oak, Texas, and Tommy Jones of Simpsonville, South Carolina, Marshall Kent of Yakima, Washington, and a pair of fellow first-timers - AJ Johnson of Oswego, Illinois, and two-hander Chris Via of Springfield, Ohio.
"I know I've accomplished some things individually, but I'm still considered a rookie on this team, and like with any sport, the younger players are looking to go out and prove they can compete with and against the best," said Butturff, who owns two Professional Bowlers Association national titles and 13 regional victories. "Being able to do that as a member of Team USA is an incredible honor."
While he does feel expectations might be a little higher after his recent win at the World Cup, getting to compete in front of his hometown friends and family will add some comfort. Butturff grew up in the Las Vegas area before moving to Arizona a few years ago.
"I feel like I'm going to be back in a home environment, not only in the United States, but in Las Vegas, where I grew up," Butturff said. "It helps that I've bowled well at South Point, but it also will be nice to have such great local support."
Team USA returns five of the six women who claimed the team gold medal at the 2015 World Women's Championships in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and much of the cohesive group boasts more than a decade together on the lanes.
Stefanie Johnson of McKinney, Texas, will make her seventh consecutive appearance on the World Championships stage, and she will be joined for the sixth time by Shannon O'Keefe of O'Fallon, Illinois, and Shannon Pluhowsky of Dayton, Ohio. Kelly Kulick of Union, New Jersey, will join the group for the fourth consecutive time and fifth time overall, Danielle McEwan of Stony Point, New York, returns for the second straight time and five-time Team USA member Josie Barnes of Nashville, Tennessee, will make her tournament debut.
"We have a really strong team, and we've prepared quite a bit for this event," Johnson said. "I think the experience we have together only makes us stronger, and it's an honor to represent your country with a group of ladies who share the same passion."
In two previous opportunities to represent the United States at the World Championships on her home soil - the 2009 and 2013 events both were held in the Las Vegas area - Johnson claimed gold medals in singles (2009) and doubles (with O'Keefe in 2013), but the true focus always is standing atop the podium as a team.
The Team USA women fell short of that goal at home in 2009 and 2013, falling to Korea in the final both times, but heading into this year's tournament, the group is not looking at past results or adding pressure because of the location or because they are the defending champions.
"We've enjoyed some success as a team, generally speaking, but there's always more work to do," said Johnson, who helped Team USA to team gold medals in 2011 and 2015. "We've worked incredibly hard to be ready for this moment and the chance to represent our country, but the preparation hasn't been any different than other years. The goal is to win, no matter where we are or how we did in the past."
Kulick and McEwan also are the defending doubles world champions.
Opening ceremonies will take place Friday at 10:30 p.m. Eastern, and competition will get underway with singles Saturday at noon EST.
The 2017 World Championships will be a combined men's and women's event, which happens every four years.
The 2013 World Championships at Sunset Station also was a combined event. Along with Korea winning the team gold medal on the women's side, Finland downed Team USA for the men's title.
In 2014, the World Men's Championships was held in Abu Dhabi, followed by the World Women's Championships in 2015.
Countries scheduled to participate this year in Las Vegas include: Aruba, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, Ukraine, Venezuela and Wales.
For more information on the 2017 World Championships, visit 2017wc.worldbowling.org.