Bowling Balls

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Bowling Balls

Seventy million people bowl every years in the United States. Other than the finger holes and eye-catching colors, the balls look simpleódeceptively so. At prices ranging from less than $50 to around $300, the balls are much more than solid spheres.

Bowling balls are designed to perform best on various types of surfaces (lanes are not as simple as they look, either) and to compliment the style and strength of an individual bowler. Wooden bowling lanes are treated with mineral oil daily to protect them from the action of the balls. Typically, the first two-thirds of the lane is oiled rather heavily (the exact degree varies by establishment), while the final third is oiled lightly. As a result, a properly thrown ball will slide straight down the lane until it encounters the less-oiled surface, and then curve toward the pins as it gains better traction. Matching the rotational characteristics of the ball to the release style and strength of the individual bowler gives the best results.

The USBC and FIQ specifies that bowling balls may only be made from uniform, solid materials with a density less than or equal to 3.80 g/mL. The weight of the ball must not exceed 16.00 pounds (7.26 kg), with no lower bound for weight. The hardness of the ball must be at least 72, as measured by a Type D Shore durometer at room temperature (68-78 degrees Fahrenheit). A ball may have a circumference between 26.704 inches (67.83 cm) and 27.002 inches (68.59 cm), and a diameter in the range of 8.500 inches (21.59 cm) to 8.595 inches (21.83 cm).

Some say your ball should be approximately 10% of your body weight, up to the maximum 16 pounds. Most pro bowlers use 16-pound balls, although more than you think use 15-pounders. Another method is to add one or two pounds to the weight of the house ball you normally use. A heavier ball drilled specifically to your hand will seem to weigh about the same as a house ball two pounds lighter.

Historically, bowling balls were often made from dense hardwoods such as Lignum Vitae, but starting in the early 20th century, hard rubber became the primary material for bowling balls. The first bowling balls to be made from polyester ("plastic") were produced in the late 1950s. This would become the predominant material in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, polyurethane ("urethane") bowling balls were introduced. Urethane balls provided greater friction on the lane, which allowed for a greater angle of entry of the ball to the "pocket" (space between two of the front-most bowling pins, known for providing the greatest percentage of strikes). This is desirable, as a greater entry angle tends to provide a higher striking percentage.

In the early 1990s, a new material known as "reactive resin" was introduced. Reactive resin is still made from polyurethane, but has been treated with additives while in a liquid state that create pores in the coverstock that allow it to absorb oil. As oil is absorbed into the ball rather than sitting on the surface, there is greater friction between the ball and the lane.

In the late 1990s, "particle" balls were introduced. By distributing small particles into the reactive polyurethane cover, manufacturers are able to create even higher friction. This is particularly noticeable on oily surfaces, where a particle ball is able to create considerably more friction than balls of other materials. The types of particles and their properties may vary between balls and manufacturers.

Particle and reactive resin balls are common in modern play, particularly on lanes with relatively higher volumes and/or lengths of oil.

Plastic balls are also commonly thrown when a bowler wants a ball that will move in a very straight line, particularly while trying to make spares. Urethane balls are less common, but may still be used for strike shots on less oily lanes.

Evolving bowling ball technology has made it possible to witness the high scores we see per bowler capita today as compared to years ago. Let's face it, high scores allow people to have fun but will not save our industry. We must redefine our purpose with regard to bowling as a sport as well as a recreation, as a competitive entity, and re-institute team bowling, scratch leagues, and team tournament competitions at local levels with great emphasis on promoting youth programs as feeding mechanisms into the sport with a higher aim at eventual Olympic recognition one day.

Improving bowling ball technology, improving lane maintenance technology and, improving lane conditioning products certainly make our game enjoyable and yield higher consistent scores and averages than ever before in history. Honor scores simply do not and will not increase the number of bowlers participating in leagues each week in our great country. Answers to reviving popularity of competitive aspects of our sport which would lead to an increase in league and tournament bowlers lie elsewhere.

If the industry can return bowling to being an even less expensive pastime than it is today where families and children can enjoy bowling multiple times per week and afford doing so, then perhaps we would see the return of some of the six or seven million lost USBC league bowlers.

A Great Bowling Alley did not just happen

It was planned that way

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