Handicapping has been defined as: “the practice of assigning advantage through scoring compensation or other advantage given to different contestants to equalize the chances of winning.” Handicapped bowling tries to equalize the competition by giving pins to the lower averages in an attempt to “level” the playing field, to spread the chance of winning more evenly among all contestants. Most, if not all, league play is handicapped. See the BowlingQuest article on why there are no scratch leagues. The most popular handicapped bowling tournament is the Amateur Bowlers Tour.
Pros: Handicapping allows more participants more chances to win. Gives person with lower average a better chance to beat higher average bowler.
Cons: Lower incentives to improve game. Highest scoring bowler doesn’t always win. Say a bowler with a 170 average and a 30 pin handicap bowls 220. If your average is high, you will have little or no handicap. It takes score of 250 to beat him. And there is the question of sandbagging.
Scratch bowling is when all bowlers are credited with only their original score (no handicap). Many, if not most, tournaments are scratch tournaments. Tournaments like the Midwest Scratch Bowlers Series and Senior All Star Bowling Association (SASBA) are major scratch tournaments.
The Pros and Cons of scratch bowling are the same. If you don’t bring your game, you don’t win. Scratch bowling is like any other sport where the highest scores win.
As to which is “better” is a personal choice. I like scratch bowling but also played Amateur Bowlers Tour, where, even though handicapped, there seems to be a bigger collection of higher skilled bowlers than leagues. At the same time I won’t play leagues at all because of handicapping as well as other reasons. Individual stuff, yknow.