Friday, April 23, 2010

Would You Rather Bowl on a Sport or House Condition?

I blogged recently about bowling last weekend in a tournament employing the Shark pattern. I wrote that even though I struggled like mad to make my ball hook, hit the pocket, and carry and averaged under 180 for six games, I wanted to bowl only in sport pattern tournaments and leagues if I could, because I thought that if I upped my game some, I could actually be more competitive on a sport condition than I could on a house shot against young crankers.

I have also reached the point of being bored with booking relatively high averages and shooting high games and series on house patterns where I have area of five boards or more to get the ball to the pocket and strike despite glaring mistakes. When I score well or average 200 on a sport condition, I feel so much more gratified, because I feel like I earned what I got. I love the challenge of bowling on conditions at least remotely similar to what the pros face instead of striking on the adult equivalent of bumper lanes. And if I average only 176, the way I did last weekend, that's okay with me. It just motivates me to get better.

Now if I didn't know better, I'd think that virtually every bowler at or above my level of proficiency would feel the same way. Yet, clearly they don't, as two people really made clear to me this week.

I was practicing with one of the top bowlers in the Steve Cook Classic league last Sunday. The Steve Cook Classic is one of the best, if not the best, leagues in the Sacramento area. Featuring such luminaries as Steve Cook and Leanne Barrette Hulsenberg (yes, THAT Steve Cook and THAT Leanne Barrette), it makes up in talent and skill for what it lacks in size.

You'd think that the bowlers in that league would want to bowl only on sport conditions, but the guy I practiced with said that while he and some of the others would like that, most wouldn't like it and would probably quit the league if it became a sport league. When I asked why, he said that most don't have the time to practice as much as they think they'd need to in order to score decently on sport patterns, and so they want to bowl on an easier house shot where they can score well.

Later, I bowled with a young woman who seems quite serious about the sport. She bowls in a scratch league and participates in many tournaments where she's enjoyed considerable success over the past few years. But when I urged her to bowl in the PBA Experience league this summer, she declined. She said she doesn't have the right equipment for it. I remember thinking that her reactive resin equipment was plenty good enough and, besides, strategy and execution mattered a lot more than equipment anyway. It seemed to me that she may have been worried about bowling lower scores than she was accustomed to and of being emotionally deflated by this. If so, I think this is unfortunate.

What about you? Would you rather bowl in a sport or house shot league or tournament?


  1. i totally agree. it's not a big deal avg. 220+ on easy pattern where every line leads to the pocket

  2. I'm with you. I prefer a sport league due to the gratification, as you mentioned, of a good score actually meaning something. Not that a good score on a house pattern should be discounted as worthless, but a sport pattern forces me to actually bowl rather than just throw a ball.

    With little to no margin for error, a strike usually means I played the sport right, whereas on a house pattern that's not always the case.

    I think people who are scared of sport leagues should try it at least once. They will be amazed at how much being forced to read the lanes and make good shots will help them when they go back to their house leagues. If a bowler can read and react to a Scorpion pattern, a bowler can dominate a house pattern.

  3. Are you for or against a level playing field?

    I see these comments all of the time, that folks bowling on THS are not real bowlers. So, I wonder, is it a feel good, ego thing or is it really competing on a level playing field?

    When I say level playing field, I mean are the conditions available everywhere, with the appropriate information that a bowler needs to be competitive, easily and readily available? Is it a wallet sport, where throwing money at it results in better scores?

    Seems to me to be an ego and wallet thing for many. Most "serious" bowlers that I know, own a dozen or more balls. They willingly spend a great deal of money on equipment and travel to play on the special conditions.

    The pro and sport oil patterns aren't readily available in most areas and most folks can't or don't want to buy a dozen or more balls every year. So, IMO, sport conditions are not a level playing field.

    I'd suggest that fresh THS bowling is the only level playing field really available in bowling. If you don't average 300 on THS, where's the beef? I recently read a statement from a pro that talked about being bored when bowling on conditions that weren't constantly changing. Wow..... There are dozens of sports that don't constantly change conditions, so boredom is a personal problem, not a sport problem.

    I'd suggest trying THS with a 10lb ball and then talk about levels of difficulty and true bowling skills.


  4. Kerry, you pose an interesting dilemma. I think we'd all like to see everyone compete on conditions that reward the best bowlers with the highest scores and allow everyone who bowls at any level to roughly compare his or her prowess with that of the best in the game. But modern sport conditions and bowling equipment make this all-but impossible for everyone except those with fat enough wallets to afford the right "arsenal" and with world-class ball reps fashioning that arsenal for them and coaching them along the way.

    There's probably a better alternative theoretically available than modern sport conditions and reactive resin bowling balls, but I'm not sure that 10 lb balls are the answer. Relatively flat patterns with plastic balls that don't rapidly change the lane conditions in unpredictable ways and don't give less skilled bowlers area and firepower that neutralize superior bowlers' skill might be a start. But that could never happen in today's bowling world, and, what's more, if it did, what would happen to the ball companies, and if they floundered, wouldn't the PBA flounder along with them?

  5. Personally, I think that THS is just fine and that it, or something similar, should be the standard for everything from open bowling to Tour level.

    Bowling used to be about personal skills, not equipment, changing oil, and ball reps. I think that it needs to return to that status, to ever have a chance of returning to the good graces of the public eye.

    Now, Tour level bowling is mostly about being lucky, having your ball work on the changing oil patterns, while having your opponent experience some bad frames. That's how Weiss was able to finish 3rd in a tournament that he doesn't normally have the skill to even finish in the money.

    I can't identify with any of my "heros" in the sport. I suspect that most others can't either. Maybe that's why WRW and company don't get mobbed by adoring fans.

    I don't know of anyone that carries a 300 average on THS. If it really is so easy, then 290+ averages should be the norm.

    I'm not buying the superior skilled bowlers being neutralized by lesser skilled bowlers on THS or any similar pattern. Sure, that might happen infrequently with luck, but it won't happen consistently.

    The PBA is already floundering. They used to have 40 tournaments a year. Now they have 20. More of the same is simply not the answer. They've got to do something to make the pros more attractive to the unwashed masses. I've given this a ton of thought and I keep coming up with the same answer. The tricky oil patterns have to go. Bowling conditions have to be the same for everyone, every day, in every bowling center, across the country.

    When the PBA comes to Detroit. I should be able to sign up, if I think I can compete with them. Right now, I have no way of knowing if I can compete and worse, I can't practice on their conditions. It's not fair, not even a little bit.

    The 10lb ball is only an answer, if the Tour scores proved to be too high to be realistic competitions. If the pros really are good enough to average 300, they'd need to use lighter balls to knock down their averages and make it a real competition. Shooting spares is as much a part of the game as shooting strikes.

    The ball companies are part of the problem, not part of the solution. They are making tons of money, being rewarded, for helping cause the demise of the game. Either way, they will eventually flounder and die.


  6. Kerry, I don't think putting down a THS is the answer. I think it does afford the mediocre bowler enough margin of error to make him more competitive with an elite bowler than he should be. However, I think a condition could probably be laid down that requires skill to score well on but which isn't so difficult that non-elite bowlers can't score well enough on to keep bowling.

  7. I would suggest that you are of the mindset that the oil pattern is an important part of the game, which then includes the need for different balls and ball reps.

    That is not bowling, in the historical sense. It is not bowling during its heyday. It is the bowling that has been going on while bowling has been in decline.

    Mediocre bowlers are not the problem. Indeed, I'd suggest that they are the key to future success of the game. They have to be able to enjoy the game. They have to be able to be challenged in a manner that makes them want to improve, but it can't be costly and it can't be available only to the elite and/or rich.

    You state that THS affords a mediocre bowler enough margin of error to make him more competitive with an elite bowler, as if that's a bad thing. I say, so what? If it gives people more confidence, enough that they'll sign on for tournaments, that's a very good thing. The more bowlers in a tournament, the more prize money for the elite. More bowlers mean more tournaments, again, more prize money for the elite. More tournaments means more sponsors, because of the higher perceived popularity of the sport. It would be like the old days, where your skill, not the ball or oil pattern, is the most important part of the game. Anyone could practice and improve their skills, in any center, for any tournament or other competition.

    I don't see a down side to increased participation, closer competitions and more opportunities for all.

    OTOH, they've been making the oil patterns, ball reps and bowling balls THE keys to bowling for about 20 years now and it keeps getting harder for the average person to relate. Bowling is, without doubt, on the decline. I can't understand how that is a good thing and that we should keep doing the same things that led to and furthered that decline.


  8. Kerry, I'm still inclined to disagree with you that elite tournaments should put out today's THS, because I think that would allow less skilled bowlers to compete with and even frequently beat more skilled bowlers, and I think this would be a bad thing. However, I agree that all levels of bowlers should be able to bowl on the same conditions, and, ideally, their nature should be such that success on them is far less dependent on huge and expensive "arsenals" designed by ball rep wizards than it is on the bowler's ability to line up and execute consistently well.

    In any case, I think I'll post your comment in a blog entry and invite readers to think about what you say and offer their own suggestions. It certainly spurs me to do more thinking about and research into the whole matter.

  9. I would greatly welcome other opinions and even debate on the issue, if it came to that. Because I feel very strongly that something needs to be done, and done quickly, if the sport is to halt its downward spiral.

    This is very important to me, purely for selfish reasons. I want to be able to try to compete with other seniors, on a level playing field. I don't have a lot of time left to do that.

    I am not stuck on THS as the answer. I do believe that something similar to it, has to be used at all levels though. It's a given that the number of centers that would routinely put out complex oil patterns is small, thus unfair to the majority of bowlers. With the Sport shot, we now have 3 levels of oil patterns and 3 levels of bowlers. I don't see how that benefited the sport. It only added another level of complexity and hasn't proven to be appealing to the masses.

    I don't understand how elite bowlers could be threatened by lesser skilled bowlers, any more so than they are today. Again, I'll point to Weiss as the most recent example of a significantly lesser skilled player lucking out on an elite oil pattern. From what I've seen, I'd suggest that luck seems to be even more of a factor on Tour today, than it is during normal league play on THS.

    You seem to have more experience with this, because you've mentioned it in a number of your articles and comments. Could you tell me what you've seen that makes you believe that lesser skilled bowlers could frequently defeat better skilled players on THS? I freely admit to not having the experience that you have, but it's hard for me to envision how that could happen.

    Regardless, if a THS type oil pattern was used by everyone "except" the Tour, then we'd still have the same issues we have today. How would that make the pros and the Tour more appealing to the masses? How would it help reverse the decline of the Tour and bowling participation in general?

    To me, those are the most important things.

  10. Quotable Quote 2/4/10: You said very well, one of the points I was trying to make.

    "Interestingly, it also seems to me from my personal experience over the past forty-five years or so that "easier" houses tend to produce better junior and adult bowlers than harder ones do. Has this been your experience too? If so, why do you think this is? I speculate that easier houses tend to encourage people to bowl more than harder ones do, and when they bowl more, they get more enthusiastic and serious about the game, and then they get better."

    Nicely done.

  11. Kerry, decades ago, I bowled league with a guy who thought highly of his bowling skills. He used to complain that people far less skilled than him could outscore him on the easy conditions. Aside from thinking, and rightfully so, that he overrated his own skills, I didn't buy his argument that the house shot favored poorer bowlers. I thought, "Well, if mediocre bowlers can hit it, better bowlers should be able to hit it even better."

    Over the years, I've become far more sympathetic to his argument. On a typical house shot, a guy who, to use Xtra Frame's Jeff Mark's expression, "stomps and sprays" the fast, high rev ball all over the lane can compete very favorably with a guy who can read lanes, split boards, alter hand positions, and repeat shots with the best of 'em. How so? Because there's so much oil in the middle and so little oil outside that the wild cranker has many boards of area left and right of his target to get to the pocket, and his powerful ball carries.

    This was certainly the case with Wayne Webb who used to run a pro shop and bowl scratch leagues here in Sacramento and have all kinds of clearly inferior bowlers out average him by ten pins or more in league. But if you put him in a tournament on flatter oil patterns where his superior skill could work its magic, he would get to the pocket and the stomp and sprayers would be left in his pin dust.

    So, I'd like to see a limited range of conditions put out in open play, league, amateur tournaments, and elite tournaments that everyone can bowl on but which still favor the more skilled bowler and which, ideally, don't require a massive arsenal of equipment selected by ball rep geniuses to be successful. Perhaps this is an impossible dream, but it's what I'd like to see. This way, everyone who loves the sport would be encouraged to up their game, they could compare themselves more accurately with the pros, and they just might become bigger fans of the PBA.

    As for you bowling senior pro tournaments, I don't know how skilled you are, or what you average on a THS, or if you've bowled leagues or tournaments on sport conditions, but if you think you might like to pursue it, I urge you to look into it. I think the senior conditions are typically "softer" than the regular Tour conditions, the guys don't tear up the patterns as quickly and radically as the higher rev guys do on the regular Tour, the game at the senior level isn't as technical and equipment-centered as it is on the regular tour, and you just might be able to be competitive. But remember too that those seniors are tough. A case in point is the fact that Walter Ray got beaten in his semi-final match of a big senior tournament earlier this week by someone I'd never even heard of. But I watched the match live on Xtra Frame, and the guy was tough. There are a lot of tough bowlers, both famous and unknown, on the senior Tour.

  12. Lane conditions are becoming a joke! It's now a matter of money and luck. Bowling is now turning into a "Chucky Cheese" center. I watch the pros on TV and loss interest with Pros that shoot 165 to 202. The days of Mark Roth and Earl Anthony are gone. It was skill not a guessing game. Repeat the shot not keeping guessing where the shot will be after 2 balls. Now it takes a two handed bowler to over come most lane conditions with revs. A win is a win, 245 to 267 is a pro score. Not 156 to 179! If you want bowling to die off, keep going with the many different oil conditions, TOO MANY. The Prize money is WAY DOWN and the TV spots are pushed off the main channels. I love the sport... SAVE IT.

  13. Do you maintain this site or WHAT?

    1. This is my site. I haven't been posting to it lately, but I still monitor it.

  14. Personally I've come to like sport shots more.While I don't typically score as high on sport(my spares need work) I find that I have a much harder time keeping pocket on our house shot than I do on sport patterns

  15. I've been enjoying these comments and although this is an old thread, I'd like to chime in. I agree that we need across the board adoption of a slightly more challenging THS; there's really no point in purchasing multiple balls for use in a THS, as guilty as I and I'm sure many others are in this regard, when we all know that almost any ball can strike on a THS. How many times have you seen someone pull out an original Blue Hammer, or an old Rhino, or a Columbia Wine U-Dot and go to town on a THS, when you're struggling to match up with your brand new ball?

    Pros struggle on house shots because they have equipment specifically laos out for the far more demanding patterns on which they bowl and because they have honed their skills to specifically bowl on such patterns. If Dale Earnhardt took his INDY car in local traffic to go food shopping, I'm sure he'd stall out at some point. How come a child with a a water pistol can squirt you in the face faster than a Navy SEAL? It's not because the child has more skill than the SEAL. It's because the child has more familiarity with the simple equipment and how to use that simple equipment, as compared to the SEAL. Now give that pro bowler a plastic ball, or give that pro bowler a modern resin ball, but lay it out for a THS, and you'll see so much that I predict boredom by the 5th frame.

    Perhaps the answer is that we should, to continue the analogy, stop modeling our sport after many others and follow automrscing's lead. In other words, let's stop using the exact same balls that we saw tgebpros use on tv. We can still use great balls, but because we aren't pros, and because our THS, isn't a pro pattern on lanes prepared specifically for such a pattern, we acknowledge he different levels at which we compete, compared to the pros. So unless you're a PBA member, you will not be allowed to purchase certain high level balls and even if you do so as a non--PBA member, you won't be allowed to use those balls in league; the equivalent of bringing a Sherman tank to kill a mosquito! I can't buy or use a race car for my daily travels, so I have greater respect for those who can afford one and who have successfully competed and won while driving one. Similarly, when bowling in a pro-am, the pros should be compelled to use the same level of ball and layout as the ams, to truly make it an evener keel. Ball manufacturers wouldn't lose money; it would just create a line between us as ams--even if we are good ones--and the pros. Let's stop forcing the square peg into the round hole. Yes, baseball, basketball, football, hockey and golf, all use the same equipment whether on a pro or am level, but the skills involved are universally accepted as being far different, when comparing the two.
    As we all know, the invisibility of our sport's challenge, the ability of any bowler to purchase the latest and greatest ball and rip the lanes up with a modicum of skill, has created the unfortunate fallacy that "I'm as good (or just as prone to mistakes) as the pros, sonwhats the big deal?!"

    So keep the THS, but require registration of all balls used by league members on their THS, and DQ any ball specifically designed for pros. We can use similar looking equipment, there will still be plenty of ball options, layout options and surface changes to be used for league bowlers who want that, but at least then, there will be a clear understanding of where I stand as a league bowler versus where EJ Tackett stands as a pro bowler.