John Davis

Going for the Gold

When I say gold, I am not intending it means a medal. I use this term about a person intending to get the best or most out of some endeavor. In this case it is a score in bowling.

I watch people in a practice session before any bowling event. After each first throw, if it is not a strike, many either foul intentionally or push the reset to attain a full rack. This way they can practice their first throw, or should I say their strike shot.

At first I was worried they would develop the lane differently than development during the tournament. That the oil depletion and carry down would result in ball reaction not matching what happens during the tournament to a great degree. However, everyone uses different equipment and different lines to find out which ball gives them the best reaction so I no longer worry about different ball reaction from practice to the tournament. I now ponder the meaning of only practicing for a strike.

Yes, there is the token throwing of a shot or two at the 7 and 10 pin at the end of the practice session, but that is only a token and nothing like real competition. The balance of spares and strikes has possibly been permanently changed.

A 200 average bowler of the past never missed a spare. A 200 average bowler of today misses 2 or 3 spares a game. It is that 4 or 5 strikes in a row that keeps them over 200. To attain an average even higher such as 210 or 220, the 200 average bowler attempts to get more strikes. If the bowler gets more strikes it means he or she is shooting at less spares.

Filling the frame is a phrase not heard too many times in the game of today. One of the reasons that we see triple digit differences from one game to the next. It is not uncommon to see scores of 250 and above and then the very next game the very same bowler shoots 150.

Another possible cause for this is the dominate style being learned today is the power game. If the ball does not hit the pocket, the high spin rate ball entering the pins at a large angle will leave spares that are very difficult to pick up. Filling the frame becomes more difficult.

Is the balance of spares and strikes permanently changed? By going for the gold, it seems to me that we are missing 90% of the joy bowling.

This worries me, but at this time, bowling is still a seemingly and good diversion.

The Long and Short of It

The Long and Short of It: About the controversy surrounding multiple lane conditions

There is much controversy surrounding multiple conditions. It seems so different than the past. However, the sport of bowling has changed and formats of competition have not kept up with these changes to promote Fair Play for all styles.

The WTBA Technical Committee has separated the styles into two groups; first, those whose style prefers a breakpoint closer to the foul line and second, those who style prefer a breakpoint closer to the pins. By using two conditions, long and short, we can give each of the basic styles an equal advantage.

Out of the 30 plus tournaments that have been played on the two conditions, only one or two have shown unfair play as an apparent result and those were not between the two basic groups. They were thought of as unfair because of the left hand, right hand and light ball styles.

For the last 30 years fair play has become increasingly more difficult to attain, even though lane maintenance machines and lane oil chemistry have made major advances. At Kegel, we have over 1500 high level tournaments of experiences where we have provided our services.

Even with this experience and our advanced tools, we never feel comfortable with single condition formats. Multiple conditions give us a little more confidence that Fair Play can be achieved.

Furthermore, it is our opinion that multiple condition tournaments are only a band-aid to reduce the chances of Unfair Play. To achieve consensus of Fair Play for all, bowling must dig deeper into the reasons of our integrity and credibility crisis. That cannot happen over night. For now however, we feel confident that Fair Play is much more achievable.

Fair Play for all is a must. The sport cannot grow and prosper without it. All must agree with this statement.

Observations of international experiences of Multiple Condition Tournaments:

Five years ago the WTBA Technical Committee created the definition of the best bowling player. These attributes are:
- Accuracy
- Repeatability
- Power
- Knowledge
- Versatility

A bowler who possesses a balance of these five characteristics is therefore considered a world class player. From this definition, the WTBA Technical Committee produced the multiple condition concept. Instead of waiting for the lane condition to match up to a bowlers style, the committee forced the player to become versatile instead of being single dimensional. This format gave the player more prestige for winning instead of everyone thinking his game matched up with that particular condition.

Watching the many multiple condition tournaments, we have found that many players have not played the lanes correctly (knowledge), they used the wrong ball (knowledge) or they could not play one or the other conditions very well (versatility).

At every player and managers meeting that I have been involved in, we have told the players that the short condition was designed for playing outside and the long condition was designed to play inside. Most of the time, bowlers played the lanes the opposite way and used entirely the wrong type of bowling balls, especially on the short pattern.

I believe this is due to a lack of experience, knowledge and also the fact that most players now own and exclusively use excessively strong bowling balls and layouts. This could also be attributed to the fact that a larger majority of today's popular equipment is stronger than the equipment of five years ago. These equipment mistakes were very noticeable to the experienced and educated eye.

Here are some hints for short oil patterns:

The short condition will be 32 to 35 feet in length. The high point of the short oil pattern will normally be from the sixth to the eighth board. Inside the eighth board, the pattern is completely flat. It is also a point where the ball is only five to seven boards away from the pocket.

If the bowler attempts to play the short condition from a deep inside line because the ball hooks a lot, the ball will leave the oil pattern at an area from the eighth to the twelfth board. That does not leave much room for the ball to hold back into the pocket.

Because of the extreme amount of overall hook a short pattern will produce, by playing more towards the outside portion of the lane, the ball will have enough room to make its move towards the pocket.

We have also witnessed players trying to exclusively use very shiny equipment on the short patterns. This type of surface only adds in giving the ball little chance to begin to process to its forward roll. This lack of procession to a forward roll causes the ball to retain a high amount of energy, such that very small changes in speed, turn, and direction will result in violently different reactions.

The knowledgeable player will use a ball type that is smooth in character and play as far to the outside as possible in the lower amount of oil. This allows the ball to begin its turn towards a more forward roll which will smooth out the reaction and make the ball become more predictable as it travels down the lane.

Keep an open mind when choosing equipment to combat conditions. Here are some hints for long oil patterns:

The long oil condition will be in the 42 to 45 feet range. The high point of the oil pattern should be between the 12 and 15 board area. The oil pattern outside this area will be moderately flat and have much less slope than the 10 to 15 board area.

We have witnessed way too many bowlers playing outside on the long pattern. There is actually very little room for error in this portion of the lane on the long patterns as the pattern tends to be fairly flat in this area. If a bowler does choose an outside line on the long pattern, accuracy and repeatability will be extremely important and keeping the ball in play will be difficult to maintain.

The proper way to view a long pattern is this; if the ball comes off the end of the oil pattern at 45 feet at the five board, and there are twelve boards to cover to get to the pocket, the ball has only fifteen feet to make its move up to the pocket. Once again, like the short pattern, its basic geometry on where one should attempt to play.

Since the long pattern dictates the ball will hook a minimal amount, a player's break point will usually need to be closer to the pocket. Therefore, a bowler should find a line inside or around the second arrow as there are fewer boards to the pocket and keeping the ball in play will be much easier.

I personally watched the American Zone Youth Championships this past summer. One block on the short pattern sticks out in my mind. It was like a radio transmission was telling the young men to play inside on the short pattern. The whole squad was playing from 15 to 25 on 32 feet of oil and cranking the ball with as much speed as possible.

As we watched we felt like crying but after awhile it was almost comical. My colleague John Janawicz and I could only laugh. We watched coaches shaking their heads in frustration. They just could not get the concept in the minds of their players. That particular block scored much lower than the previous block where many bowlers played outside.

Conventional thought from a right handers point of view is that if the lanes hook, you move left and if the lanes don't hook you move right. This kind of thinking does not consider the fact that oil distance and where the ball leaves the oil pattern and enters the dry backend.

This is blocked lane thinking, not World Championship thinking. So, coaches please train your bowlers about oil distance before they get to championship events. This is not new knowledge; it is just not common knowledge ----- yet.

One more note on short and long conditions, the problem of playing long and short is somewhat different for men and women. Traditionally the women break down lanes together in the track area (7-12 board) and the graphs taken afterwards show the lane to almost be blocked after bowling.

When men bowl the whole middle of the lane oil pattern is destroyed in the front of the lane and narrows down to six or seven boards at the end. This works well on the long pattern but, on the short it is a disaster for scoring pace and the women usually outscore the men.

For the long the opposite is usually true. The women will still break down the track 4-5 boards away from the true best area to play and the men will outscore the women on the long, but not always.

In conclusion, bowling is a game of angles. If you can learn how the length of patterns directly affects how you should play a certain pattern, you will have a better chance at succeeding on all the different types of patterns you may encounter.

Topography: What does it all mean?

Topography - The Science of Representing the Features of a Given Surface.

Lane topography in today’s bowling environment is one of the most influential factors in ball reaction. In the past, when bowling balls did not grip the lane surface as much and therefore hook as much as today’s balls, lane topography was not as much of a factor. In short, the less the amount of overall hook, the less lane topography comes into play and the more the ball hooks, the more influence topography has on ball reaction.

The topography of a lane surface consists of three different types of measurements: Crosswise Tilt, Crowns & Depressions, and Lengthwise Level. Topography affects the ball reaction characteristics on each lane and is mostly responsible for those ever present "mystery lanes" you may encounter in a bowling center.

Crosswise Tilt

The United States Bowling Congress makes the rules covering lane specifications. All other Federations around the world follow the USBC in this regard. One such specification is the crosswise tilt, or the measurement from gutter to gutter which shows if one side of the lane is higher than the other side. The specification is plus or minus 40 thousandths (0.040) of an inch (1.106 mm). This is just over 1/32 of an inch.

The USBC provides special lane levels used in measuring and certifying bowling lanes. For crosswise tilt the level is laid across the lane, and the bubble of the level will move to the side that is high. Feeler gauges, ranging from 0.005 to 0.040 of an inch thick, are then placed under the low end of the lane level until the bubble is once again centered. The thickness of the gauges needed equals the amount of tilt on the lane.

The majority of lanes have some amount of tilt. While there may not be consistent tilt readings across all lanes in a particular center, there is often a degree of consistency on each lane, but not always. The amount the crosswise tilts affects the entire lane can be averaged between each arrow. Example: 0.040 thousandths tilt has an average value of 0.005 thousandths for every five board area.

The crosswise tilt becomes the greatest factor when the lane is tilted to one side for a certain length of the lane. The ball is more affected by the crosswise tilt from thirty feet to the pin deck as this is where the break point is or where the ball changes direction the most. It can have some impact in the front of the lane, but the tilt needs to be pretty large. (12-15-2009 edit: Recent testing and findings have changed this notion. Testing has found that the front part of the lane has as much, if not more, influence on ball motion and direction as any point throughtout the lane. In an area of less friction, less force is required to move an object off line. Newton's Laws of Motion)

In simpler terms, if a round object is placed on a flat level surface and then one side is raised, the object roll towards the low side. Remember, this is only one of the pieces of lane surface characteristics. Below are examples of crosswise tilts:

Crosswise Tilt - High Right


Crosswise Tilt - High Left


Crowns and Depressions

The crowns and depressions show the actual shape of the surface from gutter to gutter.

A crown is an increase in height from a given zero point. The peak of the crown, of course, is the highest point. The peak, however, is not necessarily the center of the lane. It can peak at any point across the lane. A crown, unlike crosswise tilt, is measured by the amount of change across each five-board area. This is also measured using the lane level with an attachment called the Dial Indicator. The indicator glides across the level reading the amount of rise or drop of the surface in thousandths of an inch. (12-15-2009 edit; with the invention fo the Kegel Lane Mapper, topography is now measured on each board instead across a five-board area.)

A crown can give the bowler a sense of hold but also takes away swing area. Like crosswise tilt, crowns have more influence when they remain consistent across a certain length of the lane. Crowns have a tendency to benefit players that do not cross a lot of boards. Two units of oil can feel like five units when the lane is crowned. The amount of pressure that the ball has against the lane is less when going away from the pocket but greater when more direct. It is like riding over a hill.

Example of a 0.040 inch Crown


A depression is the opposite of a crown. The shape is measured by the amount of decrease from the zero point. This concave shape allows bowlers to feel that there is more swing area but less hold. It can make a line near the gutter have more swing area. Basically, five units of oil can react more like two units of oil.

A depression can also force players to cross an increase number of boards. The pressure the ball feels on a depression is greater when crossing boards which increases friction between the ball and the lane. But a ball thrown on a more direct trajectory will have trouble reaching its break point because of this increased friction.

A depressed lane is very much like a banked turn on a race track. When an automobile or motorcycle hits the banked curve, it becomes easier to turn and also slows easier. The momentum of the vehicle is now compressed into the embankment.

Example of a 0.040 inch Depression


The USBC specifications for crowns and depressions are the same as crosswise tilt, plus or minus 0.040 of an inch.

Crosswise Tilt + Crowns + Depressions readings at a distance of 42 feet from the foul line.


Lengthwise Level

The lengthwise level of the lane is the final piece in the topography puzzle. This can also have dramatic effects on ball reaction. This allows us to see how many hills and valleys the ball sees rolling down the lane. Like driving, the vehicle maintains or even increases speed when moving down a hill. It slows quite a bit when moving uphill. A lane that runs uphill or downhill from 30 feet to the pindeck will become more sensitive to speed changes. This is caused by the amount of surface pressure that the ball has against the lane. A lane going downhill can play tighter and an uphill lane can promote more hook.

Most lanes are installed using a carpenter’s string or a laser. One problem with a carpenters string is it will tend to show the lane is lower in the center than at the foul line and pin deck. In our data collection process we collect the lengthwise measurements every five feet, with a laser.

Example of a lane’s lengthwise level taken every 3.5 feet:



When all three factors (crosswise tilt, crowns and depressions, and lengthwise level) are added together, many different things can happen. Each lane has some differences whether it is one or all of the three factors. Certain combinations of the three can have somewhat similar characteristics as a lane that has a different topography. Inequity can be seen in a surface and the level of a lane can give a certain style or side an advantage.

The patterns run for most high level competitive bowling events allow the topography to stand out. The patterns themselves normally do not provide much swing area or hold area, so we have an idea of what the reaction should look like. When we see something different, we could make the conclusion its the topography. It might also the way the players you are following are breaking down the oil pattern, but that is another discussion for another day.

Believe it or not, wood lanes tend to be the most consistent across a given center. The reason is the sanding equipment does not allow for significant changes from lane to lane. Most lane resurfacing machines have a fixed pattern for making cuts during the resurfacing process. But keep in mind, there can still be mystery lanes.

On the other hand, most would think synthetic lanes are the flattest surface currently on the market, but that is far from the truth. Lanes made up of multiple synthetic panels can, and are the majority of the time, be vastly different from lane to lane across a house. There are many reasons for these inconsistencies with synthetic lanes.

Reason #1: The Weather

Centers located in areas of the world that can experience large temperature and humidity changes from season to season, see the most changes in topography (both wood and synthetic). Even though the lanes are synthetic, they are still made of wood in one form or another. Substructures are made of a pressed board, and pressed fiberboard's (wood fibers). The actual surface is made up of sheets of pressed paper with a melamine layer that the ball touches. So the surface can absorb moisture from the air and it can dry out when the air is dry. All wood does this!

Reason #2: The Installation

How synthetic lanes are installed is very important. They may initially be consistent across the house. Eventually the lane takes abuse and gets exposed to environmental factors, explained above. Remember that a wood lane is one solid piece while the synthetics are separate pieces screwed together. An installer may tighten screws tight enough to dimple the surface and cause the areas not screwed down to "bubble" up.

All of these factors make up the topography of a particular lane surface which can and probably will influence the reaction of your bowling ball.

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

What is "Process Verification" and Why do We do it?

There are four questions on the minds of competitive bowlers at every event in the world:

1. Who chose this condition?
2. What right did he or she have to do this?
3. What was the motivation of the person choosing?
4. Were the lanes conditioned the same from week-to-week, day-to-day, squad-to-squad, or was an adjustment made to change the outcome of the event?

It seems to me, that in order to make a dent in our psychological attitudes, these four questions need to be answered, and the answers need to be accepted.

For question number four we now have a solution. In the past, the lane maintenance person’s word has been questioned because of perceived changes in ball reaction. He/she never wins that one. We have found that there are many reasons why the lanes may be done the same, but ball reaction is different.

With the invention of Kegel’s Sanction Technology™, we can now prove the pattern is exactly the same every time. This is a huge step forward in understanding bowling's technical challenges because it eliminates the applied oil pattern as a variable.

Therefore, if the ball reaction is perceived by the players to have changed from the previous fresh condition, we can then look at variables other than the applied oil pattern.

When Kegel is in charge of conditioning the lanes for tournaments and events, we follow what we call the “Process Verification Procedure.” What this means is the process of cleaning and conditioning the lanes is verified. This ensures to the players that the same procedures are being followed each and every time we perform lane maintenance for an event.

Process Verification Procedure (PVP)

  1. Inspection of the lane cleaning.
  2. Ensure the oil program is correct in the lane machine computer.
  3. Perform the oil calibration check. This is a procedure where the oil that would normally go onto the lane is captured into a graduated cylinder for exact measurement. The amount of oil is calculable and verifiable from the desired oil program.
  4. Walking with the lane machine to ensure the machine operation is the same on each lane. This is done by looking at the valve time, the speed of the machine, and the total run time of each lane.
  5. Look on each lane to make sure the oil pattern distance and the look of the oil pattern is the same on each lane.
  6. Taking lane tapes at specific distances to make sure the lane machine applied the oil pattern as intended.
  7. The tournament technical delegate/representative and lanes person then signs-off that nothing in the procedure has changed and is as intended.

By performing this procedure time after time, we not only protect the integrity of the lanes person, we also protect the integrity of the player, and most importantly as it relates to lane conditioning, the sport of bowling.