Sport Bowling Patterns: Sancti0n Your League; The Do’s and Don’ts of Tough Oil Patterns!
by James Goulding III
Hello again! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday, and now that we gear up for more holiday tradition this month, I have a subject I would like to touch on, and that is sport bowling patterns, and how houses can use those to sharpen up league competition when done correctly. We have all bowled on a regular “house shot”, where there is a heavy concentration of oil in the center of the lane, and it tapers down to a lighter concentration on the outside boards, usually between 39 – 42 ft. in length. This allows a bowler to have “miss room” inside as the ball will hold pocket due to the heavy oil, and the ball will recover from the outside boards if the bowler misses there, since there is a lighter concentration of oil on those boards. This leads to a higher scoring pace, more honor scores, and in my opinion, has been one of the factors that has led bowling down the road to fewer members (but I will save that argument for another day). A sport pattern, in contrast, uses ratios such as 3:1 or 4:1, so that the maximum amount of difference in oil concentration from board to board can not be more than 3:1 or 4:1, or whatever ratio is being used. Obviously, the lower the ratio (2:1) the tougher the oil pattern, since the oil will be laid across the lane pretty much “flat” so that there is about the same amount of oil inside on the 4th arrow as there is on the 1st arrow. The higher the ratio (4:1) the more forgiving the pattern, since you can have a larger variance in the amount of oil applied to the lane from board to board, but you can still not exceed that (4:1) ratio at any time for the pattern to be “sport compliant”. These patterns lower the scoring pace, force bowlers to become more accurate to score, and bring back spare shooting as a viable part of scoring in the game of bowling. I feel these are the way to go for competitive leagues, and the only fair way to do it is to get the league sanctioned as sport compliant with the USBC. No doing so, and making up oil patterns that have not been researched thoroughly and sanctioned as sport compliant by the USBC, is not the way to properly bring down the scoring pace, and I will get into that in my next section.
There are, however, examples out there of how houses try and bring down the scoring pace, but do it in a way that (I feel) does not help bowling but rather hinders it, and alienates bowlers in the process. I bowl in a house that has said they were going to put out something very hard, which I was excited to get the chance to bowl on week in and week out. I was looking at the lane graph thinking we would be bowling on one of the tough Kegel patterns, or maybe a PBA experience pattern, or even a sport shot, like a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio pattern. What I saw, though, was some kind of made up oil blend “unique” to something the house had come up with to lower the scoring pace. I still didn’t mind, because if the pattern played even from side to side, I didn’t see a problem with it. This is where they got the first thing wrong, in my opinion. You can not put out a pattern that is very short (37-38ft. in length), take away the outside boards, and lighten up the oil in the center of the lane, without doing the proper research on how to “build the pattern” to play consistently for righties AND lefties. The pattern plays to somewhere near a 2:1 – 3:1 ratio. Since the righties out number left-handed bowlers about 9:1, on a given night where you have (2) five person teams bowling against each other, you are going to have roughly 9 righties and 1 lefty. On this particular pattern, the oil is distributed fairly even from side to side (actually there is a slightly higher concntration on the left side outside the ten board), which makes for a lopsided scoring pace as the night goes on. All the traffic playing on the right side of the lane is able to pull some of that outside oil off, and allow the righties to create area by making dry boards for the balls to hook off of down lane. On the left side, where there is only 1, maybe 2, on a given night, their side of the lane will NEVER open up due to the low amount of traffic moving the oil around. What you can do to even out the scoring is to lighten up the oil on outside boards on the left side of the lane (which happens on the PBA tour, check out their patterns for reference) so that it compensates for the limited amount of bowlers who throw on that side of the lane during the night. It seems common sense to me. You can’t apply the same amount of oil to both sides of the lane where there are (9) people throwing on one side, and (1) throwing on the other side and expect them to score similarly, sorry that is never going to happen.
Lightening up the oil on the left side (a small amount, not making it “wide open”) should be done so that EVERY bowler, no matter what hand they throw with, has the same “look” on the lane, and you are not giving an unfair advantage to one side or the other. You can tweak the shot until you get it right, but to this point in the season, the shot has not changed one bit, so the left side is pretty much shut out from shooting high numbers week in and week out, which is wrong in my opinion. I would say the same thing if it were the right side being shut out, it doesn’t matter, houses need to do their homework and make sure that if they are going to “make up” their own oil pattern, that they do it right or don’t do it at all. There are plenty of sanctionable sport programs that can be downloaded into an oil machine that have been tested for years, so if those are out there, and a house is looking to lower the scoring pace, why not use a pattern that has been tested EXTENSIVELY and used by the USBC and PBA? It makes no sense to me for a house to try and make up an oil pattern that you will probably never see outside of that house, ever.
Also, the fact that a house (like the one I mention) wants to put out a tough pattern is great, I love having to work hard and grind out a 200 game. But, if you are going to do it, I say make sure you sanction the league as a sport league, and give the bowlers who throw on that tough pattern the benefits that a sport league gets. One of those benefits is an average scale adjuster for tournaments. This is a scale that adjusts up your average to what it would be if you were bowling on a typical house shot (THS) instead of a sport pattern. If you do not sanction as a sport league, and put out a tough shot, *some* bowlers may see that a a chance to sandbag in my opinion. A bowler can come in, bowl on that tough shot and average probably 20 – 30 pins lower than his (or her) normal average, but without the average slider, they can use that lower average for handicapping in tournaments and have a HUGE advantage per game over bowlers who are going in with a THS average. You can not say they are sandbagging intentionally, but by knowing the league does not sanction sport, a person who WANTS to sandbag their average can legally do so on that type of league, which SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN!!!
Bowling centers should not be in the business of failing to make a league sanction as a sport league and make up their own version of a “tough shot”, which plays harder than a sport pattern. Like I said earlier, do it right, or don’t so it at all. Also, there are awards that are given out for sport bowling ONLY, so by sanctioning as a sport league it give bowlers something else to shoot for week in and week out. The extra cost for a sport sanction is minimal (I believe in the $9 per year range), but by doing so you are telling your bowlers that you want to put out a tough shot, you care about their needs and wants as competitors to make the league a sport sanctioned league, and that you are also promoting the growth of the sport through proper sanctioning.
In closing, I would like to say that any houses that are putting out so-called “tough shots” and are not sanctioning as a sport league, you are doing a dis-service not only to your bowlers, but to the entire game of bowling as a whole. I am all for bowling on the toughest patterns out there, and have on many occasions like the Masters or U.S. Open, but a bowling center needs to get their leagues sport sanctioned, and put out patterns that play fair to everyone, not just righties OR lefties, but even for both. Everyone should have an equal chance to score well, and be able to compete and beat someone with their skill alone. A bowler should not be beaten by the fact that they have no chance on a certain lane condition, because the other side of the lane plays easier. That is wrong, and should never happen in this technological age of bowling. There are so many ways to make things fair and even, I see no excuse not to, to be honest. The opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and in no way reflect those of the MSUSBC, or its members. Thank you for reading, and feel free to comment on anything I have written, open communication and dialog are the keys to success!! Good luck and good bowling on a sport pattern in your area!