by Fred Eisenhammer
LAS VEGAS – It’s not accurate to say that Russell Booth moved from Van Nuys to Las Vegas this year just so he could hit the lanes again with bowling buddy Charles Kenny. But it would be accurate to say that Booth’s departure drained another elite bowler from the Los Angeles-area.
The 72-year-old Booth has been one of the L.A. area’s foremost league and tournament bowlers for decades – and now he happens to have reunited with Kenny, who moved to Las Vegas last year.
“I see Charles once or twice a week and we practice or have dinner together with his wife,” said Booth, referring to Kenny’s longtime girlfriend, Celia Ramirez.
The L.A. bowling community is still mourning the loss of Kenny, who was inducted into the North Los Angeles County United States Bowling Congress Hall of Fame last year.
Kenny moved from Northridge to Las Vegas in August and a few months later drilled his 100th perfect game. It came at Texas Star Lanes inside Texas Station Casino in North Las Vegas.
Booth, who carries a 221 book average, also has been a perennial top performer, having won numerous tournament titles. He won the Harry Grant tournament at nowdefunct Encino Bowl twice in the 1970s, claiming the $1,000 top prize each time, Booth recalls. He also won four tourney titles decades ago at long-closed Imperial Bowl in El Segundo.
“He’s like Clark Kent until he steps onto the bowling alley and then he becomes a tiger,” said fellow horse-racing aficionado Tom Martino.
For now, Booth has been adjusting to life in his new surroundings since he’s moved to Vegas in January. He’s living in a senior community about a mile away from the Las Vegas Strip, where the grandiose hotels reside.
But Booth isn’t one to make frequent visits there. “I hate the Strip,” he said with a snarl. “It’s too stinking busy. It seems like anyone who lives here tries to stay away from there.”
Instead of the Strip, he often appears at Texas Station, where former Valley resident and five-time PBA Tour champion Eric Forkel works in the pro-shop.
“Eric’s been very nice to me,” Booth said. “He’s given me good advice about my bowling and drilled a ball for me.”Booth has returned to the Valley only once – briefly – to take care of his income taxes.
Explaining why he left his home in Van Nuys for Las Vegas, Booth said: “I didn’t like taking care of the house; I did it for so many years. And bowling seemed to have deteriorated around the Valley.
“There weren’t many bowling houses left. And Vegas has quite a few bowling houses around. So, I thought it was time to come here.”
Asked what Vegas is like, Booth said, “It’s different. I’m still getting used to it. One problem with Vegas is that there are an awful lot of buffets. Every place around has a buffet.”
Booth admits to having been suckered into those all-you-can-eat meals, although he’s trying to show some resistance.
“I don’t want to look like the Michelin Man,” he said with a laugh.
The slightly built Booth is unlikely to reach anywhere close to that Michelin Man mark. But he has been on target with his Vegas bowling, averaging 217 before a knee injury slowed him down.
Booth said his goal is to bowl another 800, of which he has four with a high of a blistering 858. He’ll have to prep for that magical score without his weekly practice sessions at Winnetka Bowl.
“I miss the people I practiced with in the afternoon and they know who they are,” Booth said, “and of course [proshop operators] Rusty [Bryant] and Karl [Kurtz].”
Known for being a fierce competitor, Booth said he hasn’t lost any of his fire.
“As you get older, you never lose your competitiveness,” he said. “You just lose your physical ability, but you always have that drive.”