John Davis and the people at Kegel have been studying bowling's playing field and running “thought experiments” for many years; asking themselves questions like, “Why?” and “How is that possible?”.

You see, something just wasn’t adding up. Our goal was to make two lanes play the same and, with the invention of Sanction Technology™, this was now attainable. What was puzzling is that we KNEW the oil was applied the same, but ball reaction would still be much different on certain lanes, pairs, or sides of a house. Why?

The answer was determined by a very competent man - Sir Isaac Newton, and his Laws of Gravity tells us why. The cause was topography.

It’s simple when you stop and think about it. All lanes look flat, but they really aren’t. Over the course of 60 Feet, the ball can be traveling uphill, downhill, or on a side slope. And guess what, the ball sees and feels these slopes, which affect the ball’s path to a certain degree. So, lanes with different shapes in a bowling center, oiled identically, will always play differently.

Our aim has been to dig deep into this variable so we can understand it entirely. In doing so, we developed tools to simulate, measure, study, and prove what role slopes on the lane surface play in the bowling environment. But, “understanding” wasn’t enough. We also needed to develop methods for eliminating slopes in the lane surface, to finally make ALL the lanes play the same.

For a short time we had a division at Kegel dedicated to just that, and now lend our support to those in the field making lanes play similar in any one bowling center.


So how can we actually see the lane?

Introducing The Kegel LaneMapper ™

Just like the Brunswick Lane Reader finally gave us a way to “see the oil” on the lane, the Kegel LaneMapper™ now gives us a fast and efficient way to really “see the lane” in three dimensions. The Kegel LaneMapper is able to measure crowns, depressions, crosswise tilts, and lengthwise level to an accuracy of 1/1000”.

It can measure at any distance interval and across every board, including the pin deck area; and can record 744 measurements in about 12 minutes per lane. This is almost 70 times the number of measurements taken during lane certification, in the same amount of time.

We also developed state of the art software for the Kegel LaneMapper that allows us to build custom reports for the bowling center or lane inspector.



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, but until today the inspection for synthetic lanes remain the same as it did for wood lanes.

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/or 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, and rightly so as slopes on the lane surface were minimal because the ABC Annual Resurfacing Rule prevented severe slopes on the lane surface. 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 in today's game 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 uphill side-slope of a depression acts just exactly like a “dry spot” to the bowling ball. And the downhill 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!

During our lane topography study with Storm staffers, Pete Weber, Norm Duke, and Rhino Page, this video highlights Pete Weber bowling on two different shaped lanes using the same oil pattern.

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 professional skilled resurfacing crews 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 always 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.”

Therefore, lane crews, under pressure to maximize profits, have not emphasized levelness in areas they are CERTAIN will not be scrutinized. As a result, synthetic lanes today are generally not very flat.

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 graphic). 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?


Topography: What does it all mean?  by John Davis

Weather, Topography, and Ball Motion by Ted Thompson

What a Shock - Newton Correct! by Lou Trunk

Kegel's Revolutionary Slope Graphs by Ted Thompson

Sir Isaac Newton Knows Bowling by Ted Thompson

History - Flattening Bowling Alleys by Fred W. Tuerk

History - Annual Resurfacing Rule Produces Results by E.M. Baumgarten