The Cornerstone - Volume 1 - The President's Letter

The Foundation Newsletter - Summer 1998

What Happened?
The Crisis is upon us friends. Our sport is in trouble. Many of you that love the sport, as I do, will look at the Crisis like a friend who is in trouble and needs our help. We must not shrink from the task before us, we should welcome it. It is our generation that has been called to the challenge. If not now, when? If not us, who?

How did we come to this crossroad?
For as long as we have been using oil on bowling lanes, maybe even before, the relationship between the lane man and competitive bowlers has been strained at best. Why? Let me ask all of you a question. When was the last time a lane man told you he conditioned the lanes the same and you believed him?

Let me tell you my favorite analogy to explain the lane man`s dilemma. Imagine you are a lane man. Picture yourself standing on the lane. It is four o'clock in the morning a major competitive tournament begins at eight o`clock. You have all the latest machines to do the job. You have all the latest conditioners. What lane oil pattern will you use? How much oil will you use? You might look around for the book. There is no book. You might look around for the rules or guidelines. There are no rules or guidelines. Still, you must put something on the lane. So, you give it your best guess. By the way, we are getting real tired of guessing.

Sometimes it turns out fair and sometimes it does not. Why? Bowling is different now. The lanes are different, the balls are different, the styles are different, and the attitudes are different. The problems the lane man faces have grown to the impossible. There are no rules or standards. There is no balance in the bowling environment.

There is little record of all the tournaments of the past. Only Len Nicholson, Sam Baca, Lon Marshall, and the people who worked with them over the 27-year history of the PBA lane maintenance crew really know what happened with competitive bowling through those years. Hence my statement "Only the lane man knows for sure" is a true statement. What is wrong with this picture?

Before I met Len Nicholson in 1988, I knew that we had a real problem with lane conditioning. My work with scratch leagues as a mechanic/lane man in Phoenix, my work with bowling centers around the Midwest in the early eighties selling "The Key", and my experience as proprietor and manager of Kegel Lanes in Sebring had taught me that everyone was confounded about lane conditioning. Len taught me about the problems he had been facing with the PBA. The problems he was facing were much greater than what we, in the centers, were experiencing with league bowling.

I slowly came to the realization that if we didn't study lane conditioning as an industry, define the problem, test solutions, and implement the fix, then the sport and eventually the business of bowling could be in serious trouble.

That was 10 years ago. The lane-conditioning problem has grown to a big ugly monster that frustrates and infuriates almost everyone involved in bowling. The level of negativity in bowling centers has, at least, reached the level of the PBA in 1988. The negativity level in the PBA has continued to grow in those 10 years. Our heroes are losing hope. The credibility of Bowling as a sport in the US is virtually gone, both within and without the bowling community. How could this happen?

If we ourselves cannot lend credibility to our own events, how can we expect the rest of the world to respect our sport? Especially sponsors!


As a bowler it is easy to think that if a lane is conditioned exactly the same, ball reaction will be the same. I only believed that until I actually tried. That trying took over 20 years and along the way we had to invent our own lane machines. It took many years just to find out the equipment of 20 years ago couldn't condition or clean two lanes the same in one day, let alone from day to day. During those 20 years the ball evolved, the lanes evolved.

The great myth about lane conditioning is that if you simply put down the same oil pattern that it will act the same day to day in tournaments or leagues. Most people believe this. I'm here to tell you it is simply not true. We still have not defined all of the factors that can cause ball reaction to change. To the uninformed and inexperienced it seems like a very simple chore. Maybe it used to be.

Herein lies one of the purposes of The Foundation. To pass on the experiences and the facts collected by our group. To put them into words in such a way that it can help each of you understand we are asking the same question we hear the most: "What happened?"

This information could help by giving you more knowledge about how lanes change and prepare you to make better adjustments. I hope it will help you accept change without filling your mind with negative thoughts about unfairness and unethical motivations.

THE TWO AREAS WE NEED TO STUDY: Technical and Social

The lane condition and scoring controversy can be broken down into two main fields for study. First the Technical problems involved in the bowling environment, that would include such things as: the machinery to perform the job, the oils and cleaners used, the procedures and coordination of the lane crew, the type of lane, the condition of the lane, the surface topography, kickbacks, flat gutters, pins, environmental factors, and bowling balls.

Most people believe that someone somewhere must be taking care of the sport of bowling. The ABC & WIBC test the new technology to be allowed into the game. The manufacturers must also be testing their products for bowling, right? Well, a few things slipped by. The bowling environment is way out of balance.

Since we didn't recognize the importance of lane care, we left the problems to a few isolated lane men. In fact all bowling centers were isolated, individual experiments. None of them had the resources needed to solve their problems. So, they would try all different kinds of things until the bowler complaints would quiet down. Proprietors were then blamed for creating high scores, bowlers accomplishments were turned down, and bowling writers cried for a return to integrity. We succeeded in creating a tremendous negative climate for social unrest and difference of opinion.

The social and psychological attitudes of the people in bowling, what everyone thinks about lane conditioning and scoring, is the second problem that needs to be studied. We have so many different kinds of games and attitudes; it is difficult to get a handle on what bowling really is anymore.

If we actually did solve the lane conditioning problems technically, no one would know, because we now have a monster social problem that could actually prevent implementation of any real fix.

Everyone must be able to see how fragile and unpredictable the bowling environment has become. A few of us have seen this coming for years. Too few understand it. Up until now our attempted explanations of the complexity of the modern ball, oil, and lane interactions have only been viewed as excuses, incompetence, or lies.

The truth is, we the bowling community can no longer afford to ignore this chore. We the lane men of this sport need help. Your first responsibility as a Foundation member is to stop gleaning the intent of any bowling event from the results.

John Davis