A Stroll Down The Lane – Lane Oil


PBA dyed lane oil illustrates the pattern and how it breaks down


In my first discussion regarding the playing surface, we took a look at the topology of the lane surface itself. Next, we’ll take a look at the infamous “oil”.

Bowling, like many other sports, has gone through and may still be in the throws of a technological revolution. The science involved in designing modern bowling balls is staggering and the “missiles” we use to blow out a rack of pins is light years away from the spheres we used to throw when I was a boy. Increases in strength and aggressive high friction cover stocks have brought about a situation where the dressing (oil) applied to the lane surface had to evolve as well.

But, first let’s take a step back and ask why this oil is applied to the surface to begin with. Well, back in the day it was discovered that the wood, especially in the front part of the lane, was taking a beating from bowling balls constantly pounding the surface. So, to try and combat the wear and tear on the lane, a coat of oil was sprayed on part of the lane as a protective barrier. Over time, savvy players discovered they could use this to their advantage. So, the application of oil as a lane dressing became an integral part of the game.  

Fast forward to modern times, automated lane maintenance machines have advanced to a point where exact volumes of oil on various parts of the lane can be applied with pinpoint accuracy. Buffing in forward and backward directions can also impact ball reaction. And yes, the way in which the oil is applied can drastically affect the scoring pace by either raising or lowering the scores.

The problem is that no one can actually see the oil and therefore every bowling lane looks identical. Typical “house shots” have become increasingly soft over the years and when coupled with the changes in ball technology has contributed to record honor scores as compared to the much more challenging Sport patterns.

But, as if that were not enough, the oil itself is basically derived from a Mineral oil base sometimes including additives to either increase or decrease friction. The oil has a property known as viscosity, just like the oil you put in your car. Viscosity is essentially a measure of the oil’s resistance to flow. Low viscosity oil would be very runny oil and thus migrate more readily about the lane’s surface. This would be in contrast to high viscosity oil which would resist movement across the surface. Now, let’s factor in the weather conditions in and around a typical bowling center. Such things as humidity and temperature play a factor in how the oil performs on a specific lane and can influence the Oil’s viscosity. So, have you every wondered why in some houses lanes play tighter in the winter or seem to dry out quickly in the summer? These factors are at work in such a case.

Let’s now add in the notion of lane topography into the mix. From our earlier example, what would be the outcome if I used the same oil pattern and lane maintenance machine in the two hypothetical centers but, used different viscosity oil in each center? If you said the shot would likely play and breakdown differently, you would be correct!

Are you beginning to see why a shot, even in the same house, from week to week can change? If not, add in the weather as a factor from week to week and you can begin to see that the center is really not messing with you. Rather, you are falling victim to these variables at work.

So, the next time you hear someone complaining that there is “too much or too little oil this week”, you can chuckle to yourself because you now have an understanding of these principles and can begin to work them into your game.


Fran Varin is a USBC Silver certified coach who coaches throughout Rhode Island. He is also a coach for the Rhode Island Flyers and Bryant University. He can be reached at fvarin@verizon.net  

A Stroll Down The Lane – Lane Topography

I’m going to spend some time discussing the characteristics of our playing surface, i.e. the lane and its preparation. So, let’s sit back and take a stroll down the lane.

Here in New England we’re used to extremes in weather. Summers can be hot and humid and winters, well just plain frigid. All of these changes in weather take a toll on our roads. In fact, jokes about the condition of our roads are almost legendary. It’s not hard to understand why. Asphalt is used to coat the road surface mostly because it is the least expensive covering and can be applied and repaired fairly quickly. But, that surface simply does not hold up. Frost heaves and pot holes develop over time because of the constant stress on the material caused by the changes in weather. In the summer the surface is soft and the weight of cars and trucks also wear grooves into the surface simply from the constant weight of vehicles rolling along the highway. In short the surface is never really flat for long. In the case of pot holes, work crews apply cold patch to cover the holes but, that patch never matches the original surface. So, we end up with a very bumpy and uneven surface. We often have to dodge holes and cracks in the road for fear of damaging our cars.

So, by now you’re probably wondering where I’m heading with all of this. Well, the lane surface is not that far removed from the above example. New synthetic lane surfaces have a friction rating from the manufacturer and are relatively flat when applied. Over time however the constant pounding of bowling balls hitting the lane and them rolling on the same area of the lane surface, they don’t stay flat for long. What makes this worse is that of course over time no two lanes in any center have the same inconsistencies in their surface. The industry refers to this phenomenon as “lane topography”.


The inconsistencies in the lane surface which develop over time from games played on the lanes, lane beds settling, weather etc. all play a factor in the topography of the lanes within every house. Of course this is a factor to consider when playing in a particular house and is one reason why any specific pattern may play different from house to house. Yes, there are other variables that will make patterns play differently. But, let’s assume that I had the very same lane maintenance machine, the same lane oil and the same manufacturer’s synthetic surface in two houses. When I apply any pattern to the surfaces in these two houses in our hypothetical example, the pattern would still play and breakdown differently due to the only variable left, lane topography.



This is a phenomenon that cannot be seen. It can be measured and charted and in fact the USBC has done exactly that. Lane topography is real and it also plays a significant role in our game. Unfortunately many bowlers do not even know it exists. If you were one of those bowlers, you now know about it and can now begin to realize why certain houses may be tougher than others. And you understand at least one reason why the same pattern can play very differently house to house. If you would like to learn more check out this link: http://www.kegel.net/V3/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=75


Fran Varin is a USBC Silver certified coach who coaches throughout Rhode Island. He is also a coach for the Rhode Island Flyers and Bryant University. He can be reached at fvarin@verizon.net  

RI Tournament Committee Off To A Striking Start

As some may be aware from having kept up with events in Rhode Island over the past 6-7 years there is a ground swell which is starting to get the smallest state a lot of attention. Through the efforts of a few in a grass roots movement, many competitive bowlers have started to come out of the collegiate ranks from the area and they are the product of Junior programs within Rhode Island.

Well the story does not end there Rich Goetz, Bryan Rhodes and Chuck Burr formed the catalyst for a grass roots movement to revitalize and bring back quality competitive adult tournaments. Over the years Rhode Island has witnessed an erosion of participation in tournaments offered at the state level. Some bowlers sight disapproval in the quality of the events and sought other opportunities to compete and some stopped competing altogether.

This grass roots movement has a vision where bowlers will be involved in planning and managing the events. To that end the organizers mentioned above brought together players who they felt would constitute a balanced cross section of bowlers from across the state. There are many members of the committee so, I won’t waste ink naming them here but, their contribution is no less notable than those organizing the tournament committee.

This group fully understood the task ahead of them and knew they had to restore credibility and quality in tournaments. In January the committee rolled out the first of what they hope will be many quality events. The Rhode Island Singles tournament hosted by Walnut Hill Bowl in Woonsocket was an over the top success. The committee recognized that one of the reasons some bowlers do not participate is because they feel they cannot compete with some of the higher averaged players in the area. So, the committee’s answer was to create two divisions. A 200 and under division and one for players who average over 200. Both division crowned their own champions and had their own individual cash spots. They also ran a bracket system which was very popular among the participants. 51 bowlers competed in the 200 and under division which is proof that the division system worked well. Both divisions were highly competitive as a result.

The under 200 division cashers results:

2014 RI Singles Under 200 Standings

The over 200 division was equally successful with 97 players competing in the event.

The over 200 division cashers results:

2014 RI Singles Over 200 Standings

divisions bowled four game blocks where both scratch and handicap totals were tallied. Participation at this event is the best Rhode Island has seen in years. In fact, it was noted that participation on the first day of competition outpaced the total number of players for the previous year’s tournament.

I can say first hand I was impressed with the efficiency with which the tournament was run and the professionalism displayed by all the volunteers. James Bessette was running scores for most of the blocks. Greg Gent, Bryan Rhodes, Kelsey Marks, and Crystal Hagemoser handled the brackets and registration. Mark Blanchette verified averages. Mark Laramee was in attendance in an official capacity representing the RI USBC.

The RI Tournament Committee is not resting on the laurels of this early success. There are two additional tournaments in the planning stages. Next up will be the RI Association Tournament to be hosted by Lang’s Bowlarama on March 8-9 and 15-16. Next, the committee will reintroduce the Rhode Island Masters Tournament to be contested on June 14-15 and hosted by Lang’s Bowlarama.

It’s awesome to see such a team of players who are passionate about quality competitive bowling in our area. It is in one sense yet another sign that Rhode Island is alive and well when it comes to bowling. Thanks to the organizers and committee members for stepping up and taking a stand!


Fran Varin is a USBC Silver certified coach who coaches throughout Rhode Island. He is also a coach for the Rhode Island Flyers and Bryant University. He can be reached at fvarin@verizon.net

Alex Burbine To Bowl For Hastings College

Alex Burbine signs letter of intent

Alex Burbine signs his NLI along with his parents and coaches

Alex Burbine, has only been part of the RI Flyers program for a short while. But, during his tenure he has become known as a player who has great potential with high career aspirations. Just recently Alex was accepted at Hastings College where he will be a Pharmacy major.

Prior to joining the Flyers organization two seasons ago, he bowled as a member of the junior program at North Bowl in Southeastern Massachusetts. Since that time Alex has bowled with the Flyers and developed a growing passion for competitive bowling. “Going to college in general is a dream of mine, but now that I can bowl there too is unbelievable. It means the world that I can do what I love and get a quality education.”

Alex’s journey has been one of constant refinement and learning the details of the competitive side of bowling. But through all the hard work and concentration required to excel in such a rigorous program, Alex will be joining his brother Ben as a Bronco at Hastings. Both of them were recruited heavily at the Junior Gold event in Detroit, MI last summer. “I chose this school because it is a new team so the kids would be in the same situation I am in, just trying to learn.”

Alex has a high ceiling for growth in the sport and competing at the collegiate level is his next logical step. However, with all of the success he has had both on and off the lanes he always remembers his roots. “I would like to thank my mom for putting up with me through the years and coach Fran Varin for guidance on how to keep my head in the game.” Alex realizes he is a role model to the younger bowlers in the Flyers program and offers the following words of advice for those striving to follow in his footsteps. “I would say that the key to bowling is to play like it’s for fun and not get angry.”

The Flyers will miss his easy going personality off the lanes and his competitive nature on the lanes but, with the knowledge that Hastings College will be getting one of the most coachable athletes around with a high potential for further growth in the sport. We are also confident that Alex will have an immediate positive impact as a Bronco.

Alex, the Flyers’ coaching staff is very proud of your accomplishment and your example to all of the bowlers in the program and to those that read this article.


Fran Varin is a USBC Silver certified coach who coaches throughout Rhode Island. He is also a coach for the Rhode Island Flyers and Bryant University. He can be reached at fvarin@verizon.net

2014 Team USA Team Trials – Day 3


Bekah Varin on the Bowl.com live stream courtesy of Nicole Trudell


WTBA Stockholm played as expected today. Courtney threw it well again for the third day but, the score did not show it. She had some problems with equipment match up today which did not help matters. We’re going to have to see what we can do to address that aspect of things going forward. We have some ideas on how to proceed with that and we’ll be looking to address that as we proceed. It’s tough to watch someone putting everything they have into each shot, making some brilliant shots but, just not translating to score. There is not much to do in that case except do your best to grind through  since we don’t have the luxury of drilling up equipment base on how a specific shot plays in a given house.

On the brighter side of things, Bekah is have a successful tournament based on the goals she set for herself in her first attempt at Team Trials. She again averaged over 180 which meet her goals for the tournament. Her aggregate average for the 18 games so far is also just over 180 which match her goals. She’s a bit distraught to see her ranking though. But, as I’m quick to point out this is a very strong field and the scores she is putting up are on par with the cut line in most Jr. Gold events.  

Tomorrow is the longest pattern of the tournament, WTBA Mexico City. Each time I’ve seen this pattern it has played well with a fade. If you can move in on it, you generally have a defined path to the pocket. It is deceptive since most people somehow don’t believe you can get that far in and still score. So, they typically don’t get far enough inside to make themselves successful. If you fall for that trap the pattern typically please very tight and you don’t as much of an opportunity to control pocket. What I’m most worried about is the amount of juniors with an extreme amount of surface on their equipment. We’re concerned that this may be somewhat of the miserable experience on Tokyo. Hopefully Bekah and Courtney will be able to get left of them out of the gate and stay there. Otherwise this may be another long day. Truthfully, I’m hoping that some changes are made to the tournament to limit the number of juniors in the tourney. They play the lanes completely differently than the ladies do and that, in my opinion is causing some issues with respect to how the patterns are breaking down.

There are 12 remaining games and two patterns left in the tournament. Both Courtney and Bekah have solid resolve to do whatever they can to end on an up note and finish strong over the next couple of days. All in all the tournament has had its successes for both of them. Courtney was absolutely brilliant on day one and has thrown the ball very well. That is certainly something to build on. And Bekah has turned in three solid days in a row. Again, something to build on as well and a stepping stone to her last Junior Gold Tourney this Summer. 

2014 Team USA Team Trials – Day 2


The Orleans Bowling Center


The WTBA Tokyo pattern played everyone in the women’s block very tough today. To say that the leaders flipped completely would not be far from the truth today. There were many seasoned veterans who had difficulty fighting the pattern today. In fact, many of those who struggled are nearly household names in the bowling community.

A sign of things to come was the large number of juniors competing in the tourney who used extreme surface on their equipment and essentially played in the track area. This brought about a situation where the mid-lane broke down very quickly causing equipment to read early. This combined with the back-end of the lane tightening up as a result made for tremendous issues with regard to carry. If a player moved left the extreme angle back to the pocket usually left a corner if it made the corner to the pocket at all. If you tried to play a little right, you were in danger of the ball over hooking. At the beginning of the block the pattern played very tight and a fade was the best option for those who could pull it off.

Courtney Parenteau threw the ball consistently well today but, suffered from the above nasty breakdown as described. She battled hard but, like so many others was just not able to find a consistent line to the pocket. Unfortunately, she did not fare well and is currently sitting in 54th position over all. There is still a lot of time left in the tournament for her to fight her way back into contention. It’s going to take three solid days for that to happen and she will need some help from the other players above her as well. But, if anything can be said about Courtney, she will battle to the last frame of the last game. She just never gives up and just keeps on coming at you.

Rebekah Varin improved her position by exceeding her goals for the tournament. She averaged 188.5 which put her in 48th place for the block and is sitting in the 60’s overall. A very solid performance today and she is optimistic tomorrow will yield another solid block.

Bryan Bourget showed moments of brilliance beyond his years again today. While his scores are not huge, we need to remember he is just 15 and has a huge ceiling for growth in the sport. This experience will only serve to allow him to continue to grow.

Tomorrow is day 3 and the pattern is Stockholm, the short pattern for the tournament. It’s kind of rough that these players will have fought so hard on the much longer Tokyo and now have to shift their thinking and how they see the lane tomorrow as the compete on a short pattern. That’s quite a jump and it will no doubt challenge most of the athletes.