Scoping Out a New Bowling Alley


This fall I got a group of my coworkers together to bowl in a league at a house I’ve never bowled at before. I always like to check out a center ahead of time and there are some things that I look for that will help prevent me from making mistakes and allow me to take advantage of all that is available at the new center.  Here are just a few things I’m looking for when I’m scouting out a “new to me” bowling center.

Lane Markers. Some of the newer Brunswick lane surfaces have markings beyond the standard arrows to help with targeting.  If you see these markers it’s easy to watch the ball’s breakpoint and determine how far out or in you need to keep the ball.

Dots. When lining up on the approach it’s common to use the dots as reference points.  Some centers have one set of dots, others have two and though it’s rare, some centers actually have 3.  It’s important to know where you line up in relation to foul line distance so you can start from roughly where you expect to be.  Also be sure to reference everything from the center dot.  Some centers have 5 dots, while others have 7 and if you reference off the left or right dot you can be a whole 5 boards off where you thought you were.  Don’t laugh, I’ve seen this happen countless times.

Carry. Different centers carry 10 pins differently. You will find that being a pinch light might afford you some great carry, while being dead flush sticks you with a dreaded corner pin or worse and 8, or 9 pin. Maybe one center will get a lot of messengers while others the pins just seem kind of dead. This is good to be aware of as you my find odd leaves at a lively house, or better yet find that whatever garbage you left behind gets hit in some odd fashion.

Also some centers just have some characteristics on spares that are just different.  A spare that carries differently in some houses is the 1-2-8.  You are going to want to be pretty high on the head pin or slightly crossing over to carry this spare, but you’ll find in some houses you can carry this shot consistently by hitting it with a light pocket shot(though I don’t recommend you aim this way, it’s just nice knowing you have some insurance if you completely mess up and get the ball too far right).  In some houses though you’ll notice that it won’t carry the 8 pin out.  My point is just to understand that just because it works in one house doesn’t mean it will work in another.

Lane Oil Breakdown. Different centers will oil with different patterns, different volumes of oil, different types of oil and put them on different kinds of lane surfaces. With all the variables in this equation the one thing I like to do is go in after a league has been bowled and see where playable areas of the lane still exist. This will give me an idea where I could end up playing toward the end of a league block.

Ball Returns. I am fortunate that my home center has ball returns that are not on the approach. I often take this for granted as it’s easy to play really deep angles whether you are on the left lane or the right lane. If I wanted to play really deep inside at a facility with the ball return on the approach I would have to practice walking around the return and get to where I wanted to be. So pay attention to ball returns, especially at houses where the shot tends to breakdown after only a few games, or if you know a large amount of games will be bowled on them before you are done.

Approaches. Some centers have wood, while others have synthetic approaches.  They both have different characteristics and it’s important to be ready in the case that you would need to slide more or slide less.  Whether it be interchangeable soles, a shoe brush or some other means to get the slide you need, make sure you are prepared.

Now there are more things that can help or hinder your game from center to center which are less critical, but still important to be aware of.  Ideally you would bowl at a center just to get a feel for simple things like ball return height, approach height (is there a step up, or do you walk straight out on the lane), lighting and reflections on the lanes.  If you are aware of all these little things before you start bowling, you will feel more comfortable and better prepared.

Maybe you are flying across the country to bowl in a national tournament.  What if your thumb swells or shrinks because of humidity or elevation changes.  These things happen, and if you are not prepared with tape or a tool to workout your thumb you can really make a long trip a total waste of time.

All of these aspects can be applied to a tournament, league or casual bowling while you are trying to impress your friends and show them you totally know how to dominate bowling.  Regardless of the reason, take some of these things into consideration when you are not at your home center.  All bowling centers are not equal.

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