WSJ Story on Bowling

Who says Wall Street Journal readership is down? Thanks to readers David, David and John for the heads up on this WSJ story by Steve Levine who writes about one man's about technology issues in bowling, and efforts to restore significance to the 300 game.

Eric Pierson thinks there are too many perfect games in bowling, and he knows what to do about that.

The 41-year-old Mr. Pierson is the lane manager for amateur bowling's premier event, the U.S. Open Championship, a five-month competition involving about 63,000 players now under way in this port city on the Gulf of Mexico.

It isn't that Mr. Pierson hates to see players reach the pinnacle of bowling, achieved when they knock down all 10 pins, 12 times in a row, for a perfect score of 300. But, in Mr. Pierson's opinion, there's such a thing as too much flawlessness.

His management tool is oil, which all bowling alleys spread on their lanes. Oil protects the lane surface, but oil artists like Mr. Pierson can use it to make the game harder or easier depending on how they apply it.

At this point while reading the story--assuming the USGA jet wasn't at 40,000 feet--Walter Driver is text messaging Mike Davis to see if this oil would hurt Winged Foot's greens.

Sorry, continue...
But while golfers are driving farther and tennis players are hitting more aces, they have nothing on bowlers. To score a strike, bowlers are generally aiming to hook the ball into what they call "the pocket," the space between the front pin and the next pin on either side. If the pins are walloped just right, they knock or bounce into one another, and all 10 pins will fall. It used to be an extraordinary feat to knock down all the pins at once a dozen times in succession. Few players had the consistency to do that. But in the late 1980s, the sport began to shift away from polyester balls to super-engineered polyurethane balls with special resins and particles that grip the lanes better and strategically weighted cores that make aiming easier.

The maple pins were covered with a new plastic called Surlyn that not only protected them better but made them bouncier and easier to topple.

As a result, the bowling congress has seen an explosion of perfect scores, with more perfect games rolled last year than the combined total racked up in the 87 years after official record-keeping began in 1895.
But of course all these perfect games are growing the sport, right?
Declining interest in organized bowling has made the problem worse. In the sport's U.S. heyday, the 1960s to the early 1980s, bowling alleys served as magnets for teenagers and as social venues for adults gathering to drink beer and compete in local leagues. But league participation has fallen to under 3 million players from more than 4 million at the zenith, the bowling congress says. So many bowling-alley owners, according to officials of the sport, have tried to make it easier for players to roll high scores. "There are fewer bowlers, so they want the ones still bowling to feel good," says Matt Cannizzaro, the spokesman for this year's championship here.

Many bowling alleys have opted for oil patterns that raise scores, which, along with the improved balls, help account for the climb in perfect games, experts say. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bowling Congress, trying to slow the pace of perfect scores, is encouraging the growth of "sport bowling," a version of the game in which the oil is strictly limited so as to increase the challenge.

Hey, is that like club invitationals where they grow rough and ratchet up greens to 12 on the Stimp?
The bowling congress has watched as perfect games have soared in its prestigious annual tournament. After the first tournament in 1895, it took 13 years before a player, using a wooden ball, delivered the first 300 score. By the 1990s, the tournament was regularly seeing 25 to 50 perfect games.

When players scored 64 perfect games in the 2002 tournament, it was too much for Mr. Pierson, the lane manager. "I think that's outrageous," he says.

All bowling alleys use a lubricant composed mostly of mineral oil to protect the lanes from the battering of dropped, heaved and sometimes bounced balls. But, after bowling just two or three balls, skilled players can detect the pattern in which the oil was applied -- where it's thick, where it's thin -- and try to aim in a way that after a while grooves out an effective guide straight to the pocket.
Walter Driver just sent another text message to Davis: forget the oil.