I Know This House

The "I Always Bowl Here" Checklist

You might have noticed differences in lane behavior in your bowling center. Perhaps one end of the house carries better than the other or the lanes get progressively drier as you move toward one end. It might even be that you know 15 is always two boards slicker than 16.

Actually, that is exactly what you should know about every lane in every house in which you bowl frequently. One of the most common reasons clients seek me out is to learn to 'read lanes' faster. Since there is no such thing as reading lanes and what we really do is watch the ball's reaction during its journey down the lane (the only way to know how the lane wants to be played), the true skill lies in non-judgmental awareness. There cannot be shots you throw indifferently, unconsciously, or on auto pilot. There is valuable information for you in every shot. Sometimes that includes the very pertinent what not to do.

You should know, for example, that at Brickyard Lanes, 55 and 56 carry well and that 33 and 34 is the slickest pair in the house; lanes 3 and 4 are like they are from another planet and 5 through 8 carry great. Lanes 21 and 22 are sweet and 12 has an odd place on it that will give you an undeserved 8-10 if you hit it. At Spare Parts Bowling Emporium across town the lanes get tighter as you go toward the low end with the exception being that 37 and 38 hook more than 39 and 40. Lanes 19 and 20 at Ball Return Lanes had a Guardian overlay on them for several years as an experiment so that pair is different from the rest of the house. At Sweep Down Lanes, the heads are in much better shape on the low end. Although the heads are pretty fried on the high end, the carry is better on that end. So, if you can get through the heads on the high end.

Knowing every quirk in the centers in which you bowl is a matter of paying attention and record keeping. If you treat a league outing as just something to do to get an average so you can bowl tournaments or because you've always bowled league in this house, you tend to bowl routinely or unconsciously. You think, "I have to go bowl" instead of "I get to go bowl." Maybe you sort of make the effort the first game or so, but if you get beaten or don't carry or it seems like a lot of work, you just go through the motions. Now it's position round or you are off to a tournament and you're wondering why you can't see the move to make as soon as other people seem to see it.

If you don't know every nuance of every pair you bowl on in a house, you can't expect to go to a tournament and be astute about reading lanes. You haven't read them when there was no pressure and ample opportunity, yet you somehow think that in tournament competition or position round you will magically be able to do what you didn't think was necessary in league.

Has your home center ever hosted the State tournament or maybe your local association Annual Championships? Filled with confidence, off you go to whack 'em but they (choose only one, please):

  • Assigned you the worst pair in the house
  • Changed the shot
  • Told the lane man to screw them up
  • Put in those new pins that won't fall down
  • Made you bowl on the end you never bowl on
  • Gave you a crummy squad time
Could be that you missed the message all those league nights you spent drawing cards or checking bracket scores; when you didn't pay a high price for a misread or an errant shot or bad ball choice; where the learning and experimenting cost only $15 or $20 instead of an $80 or $150 entry fee.

Sometimes we treat league as if it's a throwaway - something to do until it's tournament time. I am not talking about sandbagging. I'm talking about getting mad at the score of our series (which was absolutely not a true reflection of ability) and blame it on a) the lanes, b) the ball, c) the guy next to us, d) not wearing that shirt that can bowl, e) all of the above. I'm talking about how we drive home thinking about our bowling escapade. We just can't believe 25 was so different from 26 and that it took so long to figure it out. "That same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. The laneman hates me. Wait a minute. I was in front of the door that night, too. Oh, my gosh, that was the SAME PAIR!"

Well, duh. Why didn't you know what to expect from that pair? How many times in the course of the league have you bowled on that pair? There are so many experiences out there to notice and remember. How in the world can you remember them all? (Those of you who can tell me what happened to you in the 3rd frame of the 2nd game on February 23, 1987 are exempt from the following message.)

The PBA came to this area for years to bowl in the Quaker State. When I first started bowling, Bill Harris, who is still my coach, would take me over to watch the big boys. We would study armswings and releases and positions at the foul line. We talked about where they played and why and watched the shift to deep inside move from pair to pair like wind moving through the trees. There were many things I remember about those initial experiences. Two involved Marshall Holman. The one I'll mention is that as he moved to each pair he would get a notebook out of his pocket and read it. He was checking the notes he had made over the years about the pairs in that house. I now know that Marshall is not the first or the last to do such a thing. He was just the first I saw. The point, of course, is that he did that because regardless of the condition, the characteristics of each lane prevailed over the pattern. If lane 38 was like bowling uphill, he knew it and adjusted for it before he got in trouble or doubted what he saw.

I feel sure that, besides his history in the center, he also considered which squad he was on, the scoring pace, who he was crossing with, whether or not it was raining, who he was following, where the doors were located, etc. So, Marshall couldn't remember from year to year what each lane at Forum Bowl was doing. Well, no kidding! Some of us either can't or don't remember what lanes we bowled on in league last week! Take a lesson from the pros. Write it down. Quill and Parchment

Here's what I think you should know about your league houses:

  • Are the lanes wood, synthetic, or Guardian?
  • Is the wood feathered or are the heads beaten up?
  • When were they resurfaced? Who did the work?
  • When did they last pull a coat?
  • What is the stripping and oiling schedule of the house?
  • Is the synthetic an overlay or a new installation?
  • Are the synthetic panels warped? If so, are some lanes worse than others?
  • Are the approaches wood or synthetic?
  • How close are any doors? How trafficked are they?
  • Where is the bar?
  • Where does the center hold birthday parties?
  • Which lanes host the scratch league or highly competitive handicapped league?
  • Was there any open play on your pair since they oiled?
  • Is there league activity on this pair before you?
  • What is the commonality of the left lanes to each other and the right lanes to each other?

It is usually true that in a center, if the left lane is slicker than the right, you will find that the left lane on almost every pair is slicker than the right lane. It may be that 23 is always three boards slicker than 24 and the other pairs are only two boards different. The common thread is that the left lane is different from the right lane in the same manner. The exception to this could be the house which purchased used lane beds from different places. If the first 16 lanes, for example, came from one place and the last 12 from somewhere else, you might find the characteristics of the lanes on the high end slightly different than the characteristics on the low end. Or not. Just pay attention. Going through the motions not allowed. Spend some time writing down your observations. It's prep time well spent.

You are probably in one of two places - shocked at all the things there are to know or wishing I would just get on with it. I hope you are in the 'awe' place because the more you read about this stuff the more awe-ha moments there will be. You should be surprised by all the things you didn't know but more importantly, pleased at all the things you do know but didn't realize you had noticed. Here are a few more items and why you should know them.

You should know the stripping and oiling schedule of the house. If the house strips twice a week, for example, you should know on which nights. The shot the day after stripping can be a little tough. (It can also be the sweetest shot of the week). Bowling the evening before an overnight strip, for example, might afford the most grooved-in track the house will have. The house may have a machine that will strip on one pass and lay down the oil pattern on another meaning they strip every day. The shot will usually be consistent - consistently good or consistently bad, but consistent. (Never gripe about a consistently bad shot. At least, you know what to expect. It's only difficult when it's a surprise).

How many times a house strips and oils per day or per week is usually dependent on linage. (Schedules may change when traffic is down.). An "outside" run is usually defined as the oiling machine applying oil from edge to edge across the lane. An "inside" run puts more oil in the middle of the lane while maintaining the minimum of three units of oil rule of USBC. A unit of oil is defined as .0167 of an ounce or a mere 7 millionths spread over one square foot.

It can be very helpful to know when the lanes are run:

  • It could be that the house does the outside run in the morning and the inside run in the late afternoon prior to league play.
  • OR perhaps they only run the lanes in the morning on the days of the week they have a daytime league.
  • OR maybe they only run the lanes the league will occupy rather than the whole house. Knowing this type of thing helps your practice planning. If they don't run them until 4 pm, a lunchtime practice might help you learn an inside shot. After they run them and before early shift is a great time to practice your fresh oil skills.

Is there league activity on this pair before you? If you're bowling the late shift, make an effort to get to the center early enough to observe the folks who are bowling on your assigned pair. Even if they don't roll the ball as you do, there are lots of things to observe: carry characteristics, what part of the lane they're playing, where the breakpoint is located, etc.

What went on in your center this past weekend (particularly if you bowl early in the week)? Did the center host the city tournament the last few weekends? Was there a big handicapped tournament there? Perhaps the travel league was there or it was the weekend of the annual big scratch event. If the center anticipated higher than normal volume for the weekend, they might have oiled more often or added more oil to the normal pattern to accommodate the increased linage. If so, your leftovers might be different than what you normally face. How the difference manifests will depend on whether the event was scratch or handicapped.

The bottom line is that you don't get stuck in 'I Know This House' Land. That's the place where you deny what you see. You know, that talking yourself into something place. "The ball can't have done that. I know where to stand and where to throw in this house. If the ball did something weird, it must be me." So, you try to fix something that isn't broken.

Your success in any house will depend on your awareness of the environment. You can deal with almost anything you're aware of and practically nothing you're surprised by!