International Bowling Pro Shop & Instructors Association​

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Oil Depletion

I apologize in advance to the people who are tired of the golf-bowling analogy, but last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with my counterpart from the USGA, Technical Director Dick Rugge. Golf has had many of the same technology advances and challenges that bowling has had. We agreed that the golf ball is a lot like our bowling pin and the clubs are similar to bowling balls. This was true in testing procedures, technology developments, even down to the fact that the bowling ball is used to hit the pins and the golf club is used to hit the ball. One area was also similar – conditions. Due to conditions, Mr. Rugge and myself spent some time discussing the Sport Bowling concept. Conditions on a golf course can vary based on the length of the rough, the speed of the greens, wind speed and direction, and pin placement (among others). Conditions on a lane, as we all know, can also affect the score that you will walk away with at the end of the day. However, I think “conditions” have a much greater impact on scoring in bowling than in golf. We can all discuss the Sport condition vs. the “standard house” condition and it’s affect on scoring… Either way, these conditions change much more as we are bowling than the average person, even a novice bowler, realizes.

Many of the readers of The Industry Standard are aware of and have encountered the changing conditions, but how much do they change? What affects the changes? What influences these changes the most? The least?

Over the past few years the men and women in the testing and research facility have conducted tests regarding oil depletion. This testing has greatly increased recently due to changes in ball technology. Most of the relevant changes have to do with the coverstock and the differences in materials used. But, rest assured we did not overlook core changes and their affect on track flare. As track flare was introduced, oil depletion increased. Track flare allows the ball to roll over a fresh part of the ball for each revolution down the lane. The amount of flare can be determined by measuring the distance between the rings of oil on a recently thrown ball. Track flare only increases oil depletion to a point, because after a ball reaches a certain amount of flare (about 3/8 of in inch) it won’t deplete any more oil. It can’t – as long as it’s rolling over fresh ball it doesn’t matter if the flare is 3/8 of an inch or over an inch.

With that said, all of the results below were taken with consistent track flare between 3/8 – 1/2 of an inch. As long as we’re on the topic, we also used the following criteria;

  • 17mph (a ‘good’ average male bowler is 17-17.5 mph, for females it’s about 16-16.5 mph).
  • 250rpm (again, for males the average is 200-300rpm, for females about175-250rpm).
  • We tested several types of oils (a wide range of viscosity). The results allowed us to stick with one main type of oil, which was a good average. I am not allowed to get into specific types of oils or manufacturers*.
  • We tested several types of lane surfaces. The results also allowed us to stick with one main type of surface. Again, I am not allowed to get into specific types of surfaces or manufacturers*.
  • We tested several of each type of ball from every manufacturer that has been approved. I don’t list specific ball names – only ball types*.
  • We looked at depletion in a couple locations down the lane – including impact area at 3 feet.
  • We maintained a constant temperature and humidity in the test facility throughout the testing.
  • We utilized the Precision Ball Thrower and the Computer Aided Tracking System (CATS – Trademark ABC/WIBC) to obtain the results.
  • The number of shots used prior to calculating oil depletion varied. All of the information displayed here was obtained from 15 shots.
  • Oil depletion was calculated from the amount of oil at a given distance before any shots were thrown minus the amount of oil following the 15 shots at the same distance. The depletion calculation was limited to a three board area around where the ball was thrown (this can be determined consistently and accurately due to the ball thrower).

(*Note: because certain testing is proprietary, ABC/WIBC is not allowed to release specific data or information about manufacturer products – regardless of results.)

The below graph shows the results of the data we obtained:

Average Oil Depletion over 15 throws versus Ball Finish @ 15 Feet

Average Oil Depletion over 15 throws versus Ball Finish @ 15 Feet

The data shows that based on what you as a bowler do to the surface of the ball you will get different results. It also shows that there isn’t much difference between different the types of balls that are available today (excluding plastic). This is a surprise to most people, but remember this is only part of the story. People tell me, “My new particle ball is so aggressive!” The rest of the story is that the different types of balls ‘see’ the lane differently and see through the oil differently – so oil depletion affects different types of balls in their own way. We could go on about how various balls ‘see’ the lane, but that’s an article for another time and we should stick with oil depletion for now.

So what affects oil depletion the most? From the data above we can see that a typical sanded particle ball depletes the most oil (almost 6.5 units per bowler per game). If you’re in a 5-person, 3-game league and your team all uses a typical sanded particle ball AND you all play the same area – you won’t be using a sanded particle ball for long, but for the sake of a worst case analysis – by the end of your series, 97.5 units of oil will be depleted at 15 feet. This would be the worst case scenario, obviously a change in coverstock or ball type would help the situation. One might think that if you go to the opposite end of the spectrum and use a polished urethane ball that depletion would be less of an issue. But as you can see, urethane balls deplete oil about as much and in some situations more oil than other types of balls. So using the same scenario from above, the 5-person team would still end up with a total depletion of about 75 units (series) at 15 feet with the polished urethane balls. But again, urethane balls don’t see this depletion the same way particle or reactive resin balls do. Based on the data, the best way to keep depletion at a minimum is to use a sanded urethane ball or a reactive resin ball right out of the box. Since I don’t expect to see everyone digging out their old urethane balls and sanding them up maybe reactive ball sales will see a jump in the near future…?

All of this depletion forces bowlers to move and adjust, almost continually, as the series plays out. I’ve seen golfers tweak their game, as the day goes by, based on wind, ball marks, footprints, etc. But I haven’t seen a time when a golfer has to make these kinds of continuous adjustments – unless a hurricane is just coming through…

Neil Stremmel