Annual Bowling Lane Certifications

Alex Bassi (left) and Chris Bassi (Right) take measurements on the Harvest Park lanes.

All across America, bowling centers are in the process of completing their annual inspections and certifications. 

Each center that participates in sanctioned play under the United States Bowling Congress must submit to the inspections by their local associations, for compliance to a strict set of tolerances, ensuring a level playing field for its league members and tournament participants. As an association director, I’m charged with being part of that process.

Centers schedule a time and date for crews to check a variety of specifications related to the playing surfaces and some non-playing areas of the lanes. In the case of the playing surface, the lanes are checked at 26 specific points using a beam micrometer that checks for side-to-side levelness, and a sliding micrometer that records the topography across said point of the lane. There’s a tolerance of 50 thousandths of an inch for side-to-side level. If any of the five lane panels are outside this tolerance, it’s recorded and reported to the center for correction. Panels can be shimmed and reinstalled for a subsequent compliance reinspection at a later date.

In the pin deck area, measurements are taken to assure proper pin placement by the setter. Pin decks are measured for front-to-back tilt and gutters are measured for depth. All of these areas have significant impact on scoring. Gutters that are too high don’t trap pins, allowing higher scoring. Too low and the 10 and 7 pins are not “carried,” and the 2 and 3 pins can’t complete their jobs of hitting them for a strike. Pin decks have a tolerance of front-to-back tilt which changes the pins’ centers of gravity. This specification is 187 thousandths, or about 3/16 of an inch. Might not sound like much, but the flatter the deck, the lower the scoring, and the more 10, 7 and 7-10 splits you’ll see. Sound familiar? Yes, lanes can be manipulated within tolerances to minimize or maximize scoring!

I’ve always held that — for our young players to have more successful development in our sport — getting involved in the certification process is an essential and invaluable skill, enabling a better understanding of their playing field, and the concept of lane topography. By seeing first-hand the spread of numbers on a lane, they can better understand the effect they have when combined with oil patterns and equipment selection. They learn that every lane is different from its neighbor, and with that knowledge they have the potential to maximize their game. The picture associated with this story shows one of Harvest Park’s top juniors, Alex Bassi, and his dad, Chris Bassi, taking critical measurements on the lanes. In Alex’s case, I believe this knowledge and experience has made a marked improvement in how he attacks the lanes. And his scoring shows it!

Harvest Park Bowl here in Brentwood recently completed their inspection with very minimal corrections due to their meticulous care and preventative maintenance. Each year, the center replaces their pins with new sets for their annual hosting of the PBA50 Northern California Classic, which was held over the Memorial Day weekend. This added attention provides players the highest degree of consistency from year to year. 

This year marks the 20th year for the PBA50, with two preceding years of the regular PBA. Harvest Park Bowl is the longest-running stop for the PBA in its history, hosting the finest players from around the world.

Wilson is a U.S. Bowling Congress Silver Instructor and an International Bowling Pro Shop and Instructors Association ball technician.

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