Bowling Ball Selection and Surface Adjustments

Tournament conditions generally have a ratio of 3:1, meaning that there is three times the amount of oil in the middle than outside the lane.

The typical house shot is 10:1

The big difference is the room for error. When you miss to the outside on a house shot, it will come back, and when you pull the ball, it holds, making it easier to get to the pocket.

The room for error is less in tournament conditions.

Knowing the distance of the oil pattern tells you where to play, and knowing the volume of oil tells you which bowling ball to use.

Here is how oil volume is gauged:

● Low volume of oil is between 20 mL – 25 mL
● Medium volume of oil is between 23 mL – 27 mL
● High volume of oil is between 25 mL – 30 mL

The rule of 31 tells us to subtract 31 from the distance of the oil pattern you are bowling on, resulting in the breakpoint.

The breakpoint is the board at the end of the pattern (and beginning of the friction) in which the bowling ball starts to make its turn towards the headpin.

Having the right bowling ball in your hand for the lane condition that you are bowling on, combined with your style of play, is the recipe for success in bowling today.

League Bowling

Most bowling centers lay the same house shot for league night week in and week out. This doesn’t mean that they will play exactly the same every week, but in large part, you know what to expect.

When building a league arsenal (bowling balls in your bag), the most important bowling ball is the plastic spare ball.

Plastic bowling balls do not hook, so oil distance and volume do not affect how it rolls down the lane. You can shoot spares exactly the same every time on any oil pattern.

Having a plastic spare ball and a consistent spare system will lead to more spare conversions and increase your average.

The next bowling ball you’ll need is a benchmark bowling ball. Typically, the surface of this bowling ball is smoother and provides a predictable ball motion down lane.

Lastly, you’ll need a bowling ball to bring out of your bag when the lanes transition (oil volume and shape depletes from the amount of play on it).

A shinier coverstock bowling ball will skid longer and break or hook in the backend, providing more right-to-left motion down lane for a right-handed bowler when the lanes transition.

Tournament Bowling

Before deciding what bowling balls go into your tournament bowling bag, you’ll need to know the tournament’s format.

● Is it a one-day event or multiple days?
● How many games are you going to bowl?
● How many bowlers are competing?
● What’s the oil pattern? (if they release it)

From here, depending on how many games and how often they are oiling the lanes, you’ll determine how many weaker and stronger bowling balls you’ll carry. Urethane is always good to have for short patterns and when you are moving the shot right.

Sanding pads

Matching up to the lane conditions you are bowling on can be confusing and frustrating. It feels like some weeks you have it and others, well, you don’t.

When you have the right ball with the correct surface, you’re setting yourself up for success on the lanes.

Changing the bowling ball’s surface requires sanding pads. The lower the grit sanding pad, the earlier the bowling ball will hook, and the higher number of sanding pads will make the bowling ball hook later.

It is important to see the bowling ball’s motion both front to back on the lane and side to side.


Another reason to keep up with maintaining your bowling ball’s surface is to avoid over/under reaction.

Over/under reaction is when the bowling ball skids too far through the oil and overreacts when it hits the friction at the end of the oil pattern.

When the ball rolls down the lane, oil gets absorbed into the surface or coverstock on the bowling ball. This alters its ability to grab onto the lane when it’s supposed to.

Think about your car’s tires. When the tread wears over time, it loses the ability to grab onto the road like they once did when they were new.

Lastly, check out this video on lane surfaces. One more factor into the equation that this beautiful sport can trick you up with.

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2 Responses to “Bowling Ball Selection and Surface Adjustments”

  1. Darryl G.

    I used urethane to open up my soft rubber fingertip inserts when they are too tight.

  2. Orlando 6

    This article is one of the best, congratulations you nail it.