"This is devastating to the community."We are here multiple times a week. For me as a mom, this has been like a second home because it's where my daughter developed her love and interest in bowling; so much so she has a bowling scholarship and plans to play professionally."
FORT WALTON BEACH — Many people in the local bowling community are dismayed over the announced closure of the White Sands Bowling Center on Beal Parkway.
The Emerald Coast Bowling Association said in a social media post Thursday that the bowling alley will close in September.
Those like Charity Bauduin, whose 15-year-old daughter has been part of the bowling league at White Sands since she was 8, are unsure where to go now.
"This is devastating to the community," Bauduin said. "We are here multiple times a week. For me as a mom, this has been like a second home because it's where my daughter developed her love and interest in bowling; so much so she has a bowling scholarship and plans to play professionally."
Employees of White Sands confirmed the closure Thursday but directed all questions to former owner and manager Butch Hutcherson.
Hutcherson, who could not be reached by Thursday, sold the business to a real estate developer out of Daphne, Alabama. The new owners also did not immediately return calls.
Fort Walton Beach Bowl, only a half mile from White Sands, soon will be the only bowling alley in Fort Walton Beach. The nearest other bowling alleys are in Destin and at Hurlburt Field.
Don Dupree, owner of Fort Walton Beach Bowl, said he is considering moving his business to a larger location to accommodate the hundreds of bowlers who will need a new place to play come fall. Until then, the Fort Walton Beach Bowl will undergo a complete remodel this summer to prepare for the upcoming leagues.
"Many of those bowlers have been at White Sands for a long time, so it's heartbreaking for them," Dupree said. "We're going to do everything we can to get ready for them. We just found out about this last night."
The Emerald Coast Bowling Association had nine leagues with about 900 bowlers play at White Sands this past winter. There was also a youth league on Saturdays with 70 bowlers.
"Our association generally loses members when a center closes, such as Eglin (Air Force Base) and Shoal River (two bowling alleys that also shut down)," said Bo Hill, manager of the association. "We won't know the full impact until the late summer or early fall."
Bauduin said she believes the effect of the closure will reach further than just the leagues.
Many children, she said, have been traveling to Fort Walton Beach from Panama City after their local bowling alleys were destroyed by Hurricane Michael. Bauduin said she also is concerned about the local special needs community not having the bowling alley to frequent each week.
"It's raining today, and I passed the bowling alley and there were dozens of cars in the parking lot," Bauduin said. "Teens and young adults don't have much to do here outside of going to the beach. Not having the bowling alley is going to affect everyone in this community."