Most bowling alleys have their own standardized oiling procedures for the lanes. Xiaphias / via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

This feature appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on June 26, 2001.

When the pros toil, it boils down to oil

By Ed Odeven

So you want to be a professional bowler?

Strikes and spares seem to come as easy for you as world titles do for boxer Oscar de la Hoya?

Realistically, “turning pro” may not be as simple as it sounds.

Sandy Curtis, the director of the Professional Bowlers Association Senior Tour, said amateurs need ample time to adjust to competing against the world’s premier pros.

“You cannot judge by one tournament whether you’re going to be a success or failure on the tour because the conditions are not like at home,” Curtis said, referring to one’s regular bowling alley.

“So if you come out the first week and bowl really bad that shouldn’t be your determination if you are going to compete (at this level).”

During this week’s PBA Tucson Senior Open, Golden Pin Lanes features pro conditions and not the customary settings that are used at alleys across the country, i.e., slicker in the middle and drier near the gutters.

The PBA constantly copes with how to level the playing field for left-handed bowlers.

Because over 80 percent of pro bowlers are righties, the lanes lose slickness over the course of the day — and ball’s ability to spin and hook toward the pocket.

“(Righties) wear the right side of the lane out. The bowling ball picks the oil up, it moves the oil, makes the lane tougher on the right side and the left side being much smoother, they (lefties) might have the edge,” said Pete Tountas, general manager at Golden Pin Lanes.

In short, most bowling allies have their own standardized oiling procedures — methods that are used day in and day out.

For instance, Golden Pin Lanes is applying oil on the lanes from the foul line to 41 feet out, roughly 19 feet from the head pin for its regular bowling.

Gary Campbell, head of maintenance at Golden Pin Lanes for 21 years, said the PBA alters its conditions on a regular basis.

“It changes week to week. They might go out and use a heavy oil one week and a different oil the next week,” he said.

Generally, lanes are oiled from the foul lines to about 30 to 45 feet out.

“You have to have it so the lanes don’t get burned up with the friction of the ball when the ball hits the lane” Tountas said. “Also it helps the ball skid first, skid down the lane, then the ball turns over to a roll for a maximum spin to hit the pins and scatter.”

The PBA conducts computerized tests and the experiences of bowlers to determine what oiling procedure works best at various venues.

Steve Neff, winner of the Orleans Casino PBA Senior Open last week, compares regular house conditions to a “three-par golf course.”

Neff considers himself an astute observer of his peers, watching what works and doesn’t work throughout the course of a day of competition.

“The bowlers are so good. Anything you can do to get a physical or mental edge will help,” he said after studying computerized printouts of oiling patterns to help determine whether a bowler releases the ball closer to the gutter or closer to the middle.”

Technology has revolutionized bowling like many other sports. Instead of relying on one ball like bowlers did decades ago, specialized balls are used for specific shots nowadays.

“If you watch the pros, they carry about eight or 10 balls with them and every one is designed to do different things on the lane,” Tountas said.

“If the lanes are real slick with a lot of oil, they bring out a different ball. In the morning they use certain balls and in the evening they use certain balls.”

Bowlers understand how important this is.

“There’s a saying on the tour, ‘You can’t out-execute bad ball reaction,’ ” Neff said, explaining the importance of using the right ball in the right situation.

There’s even a vehicle known as the players service truck that travels to all the PBA tour stops to provide ball maintenance, such as re-drilling and polishing.

Despite all the changes in the sport’s technology, bowling remains a popular participatory sport.

“Bowling has always promoted itself as a sport that anyone can do,” Curtis said.