Topography is defined as the graphical representation of surface features indicating relative positions and elevations. It’s [now] a known fact that changes in topography adversely affect the ball’s path.
The USBC rule allows 40/1000 of an inch for crowns, depressions, and crosswise tilts.
This rule was written in 1939 for wood lanes and was created to eliminate “imposter” resurfacers, in favor of craftsmen.
Past leaders knew that flat was better, and that if bowling centers were resurfaced regularly by skilled craftsmen, lanes would remain reasonably flat,
only requiring annual “spot-checks” in a few locations on each lane. But that was for wood lanes, which were resurfaced very similar throughout the entire lane.
Synthetic lanes however require a different inspection process to ensure relative flatness, and a different type of periodic maintenance to ensure levelness.
How much does it affect the ball path...really?
A lot... but the amount is different for everyone. You see, the total effect on ball path varies proportionally according to the SPEED and WEIGHT of the ball.
Heavier Ball / Higher Speed = Less Influence
Lighter Ball / Lower Speed = More Influence
Another variable is “Slope per Board™.” Each board has a specific slope, calculated from the crosswise tilts, crowns, and depressions. The degree of this slope also has a proportional effect on the ball path. For example, a board with a 2/1000” slope will affect the ball twice as much as a board with a 1/1000” slope.
Bowlers throw balls on different boards and each ball is only affected by the slope of the board it’s on. The other slopes don’t matter to that ball because, quite simply, it’s not on them.
Everyone thinks it’s the oil
Friction has been the “force” that has been concentrated upon for decades. A “hang spot” or “hooking heads” has always been blamed on oil, while gravity is the “ignored force” in a ball’s journey from the bowler’s hand to the pins.
Oil certainly plays a part, but it’s not the ONLY factor affecting the ball.
Bowlers frequently complain to the laneman about a situation that might have NOTHING to do with friction (oil).
Gravity doesn’t care about oil, nor oil about gravity. Yet, the two affect ball motion similarly. The side-slope of a depression acts just exactly like a “dry spot.”
The side-slope of a crown acts exactly like a “wet spot.”
In fact, we have found that a “hang spot” down the lane is more likely to be a crown side-slope than it is to be an “oily” spot.
Similarly, a “dry head” is more likely to be a depression side-slope than a lack of oil. Depressed heads (when the ball is on the upslope) also cause a ball to lose energy - just like dry heads. The major result from depressed heads is poor pin-carry in a bowling center (righty 10-pins, lefty 7-pins).
Maybe the laneman “did ‘em the same” after all!
How flat are your lanes?
Perhaps a better title would be….”Are any of my lanes flat?” The answer is “no.” It’s impossible for ANY lane to be perfectly flat. What you need to determine is how “un-flat” your lanes are.
Over the past several years, with the proliferation of synthetic lane installations, bowling centers are no longer visited every other year or so by resurfacing crews (skilled and thorough professionals), to sand the wood lanes back to level.
The nature of the annual sanction certification inspection has led to “levelness atrophy” – that is, since inspections are only performed annually in three snap-shot locations, bowling lanes all over the world have become way out of specification everywhere else.
Through settling, climate change, ball abuse, and general wear and tear, a lane’s levelness decreases.
Further, though the levelness rule calls for a lane to be level and without crowns and depressions exceeding 40/1000” OVER THE ENTIRE LANE, everyone knows that levelness inspection will NEVER take place outside of the three narrow snap shot “windows.”
Lane crews, under pressure to maximize profits, have not emphasized levelness in areas they are CERTAIN, will not be scrutinized. As a result, lanes everywhere are generally not very flat.
Based on the centers we’ve measured, we suspect LESS THAN 1% of the “sanctioned” centers in this country are actually within the 40/1000” tolerance as stated in the current rule - the same rule that has been in place since the late 1930’s.
Why it’s important to you
We all know almost every center has a “mystery pair,” the one pair in the house that always plays different from the others (Just like lane 6 in the swimming pool). Yet bowlers still give it their best because they all “look” the same, even though they are not.
This IS the environment for almost every bowling tournament being held. Through the “luck of the draw,” bowlers may draw a pair which handicaps them to the extent that they can physically bowl better, and still lose.
All sports require fair play, that is, if the sport wants to attract people to play it. Every competitor should have an equal chance to win based on THEIR performance of the task that the sport requires. When the environment dictates unfairness, competitors will lose interest.
The true sportsmen in bowling have been leaving for years. Could it be possible that, even though they can’t see the unfairness, they intrinsically feel it? How long will bowlers continue to compete in an unfair environment?
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