It’s time to correct misconceptions about the nature of the equipment we roll down the lanes

The fantastic plastic ball: it’s time to correct misconceptions about the nature of the equipment we roll down the lanes

John Jowdy

HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU HEARD bowlers, professionals and amateurs alike, refer to their equipment as “plastic” or “resin?” In point of fact, these are misrepresented and distorted words used to define bowling balls. The use of “plastic” and “resin” to describe bowling balls is mistakenly applied not only by bowlers but, also, by the pro shop operators who place orders for these balls.

Manufacturers classify bowling balls as polyester or urethane. Somewhere, somehow, outside the ball manufacturing industry, “‘resin” and “plastic” surfaced as the latest lingo.

Interestingly, the usage of “plastic” is not only misused by bowlers but, also, is never corrected or explained by those who should know better, including me. It has been bandied about by professional bowlers, pro shop operators, bowling writers, sales representatives, and ball reps on both professional bowling tours. It is improperly employed by analysts on bowling television shows who unabashedly refer to a bowler shooting at a 10-pin spare with a plastic ball.

The word plastic, rather than polyester. has crept into a number of manufacturers’ vernaculars. This is, perhaps, due to the continuous and prolonged use of the word “plastic” among bowling participants.

Before proceeding any further, let’s examine the origin and source of this misinformation. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines resin as a “synthetic, usually resinous substance, which, when subjected to heat and pressure, can be cast, pressed, extruded, or molded into various shapes.” Again, referring to Mr. Webster, synthetic is defined as “compounds produced artificially by chemical reaction in a laboratory as opposed to those of natural origin.” Furthermore, dictionaries define plastic as “any of various nonmetallic compounds, synthetically produced, which can be molded or hardened for commercial use.”

Suffice to say, the term “plastic” renders all bowling balls as synthetic products. Consequently, “plastic” not only covers polyester balls, but also includes urethane. Every ball manufactured and marketed in the past 30 to 35 years has been formulated from a synthetic substance, including many of the so-called rubber balls dating back to the ’40s and ’50s. As a matter of fact, during World War II, when the demand for pure rubber products exceeded the natural output, rubber balls, as well as automobile tires, were created with plastic materials.

Hence, the word “synthetic” is the most appropriate characterization of any and all bowling balls today. We can then say that while all bowling balls are synthetic, some are polyester resin and some are urethane resin.

During the late ’50s, Brunswick and Columbia produced the original synthetic balls in various colors. They were familiarly referred to as “plastic” balls. Although plastic covered a multitude of man-made materials, the synthetic substance utilized by Columbia and Brunswick at that time was, and continues to be, polyester resin.

In the late ’70s, AMF revolutionized the bowling ball market with the introduction of the Angle, a ball produced from urethane, one of the most intricate and sophisticated resins on the market. Urethane, a rapid curing resin, is an extremely rigid material, yet possesses unbelievable traction on the lanes. Needless to say, other manufacturers jumped on the urethane bandwagon.

In the late ’80s Steve Cooper, a former professional bowler from Southern California, produced the X-Calibur, a urethane ball concocted with various additives that created a “tacky” feel. Cooper’s development helped the ball to increase its grabbing effect on the lanes.

The incredible hooking action mad explosiveness of Cooper’s missile sent manufacturers scurrying throughout the country, seeking advice from chemical manufacturers for similar resulting materials. Cooper’s ball, displaying extraordinary movement and entry to the pocket, earned the endearing monicker of “cheater ball” from professional players. The combined various materials in these types of balls have been categorized by manufacturers as “reactive” resins, thus providing bowlers with greater, more sophisticated weapons.

During the past few years, urethane balls have been customized with glass particles and other various adhesive concoctions. Such foreign substances, heretofore banned by ABC/WIBC regulations, have now managed to skirt the rules and infiltrate the manufacturing of urethane balls. The new ingredients served to put even more “teeth” into balls as they made contact with the lanes. Thus, the terminology “proactive” was created.

At any rate, the terms “resin” and “plastic” balls have been technically misleading. Consequently, after so many years of erroneous expression, it seems reasonable to set the record straight by defining a ball as either urethane or polyester.

The proliferation of sophisticated weapons has been bewildering, not only for competent professional bowlers, ball reps, and drillers, but more importantly, for amateurs who attempt to emulate PBA players.

While new materials in ball surfaces and sophisticated core placements continue to aid higher-average players, beginners and recreational bowlers can be better served with less potent equipment. This is particularly advantageous for female bowlers who are afforded the opportunity to choose from a large assortment of brilliant colors and weights manufactured from polyester resins.

Most astute pro shop operators prefer to cultivate long-term relationships with their clientele by recommending bowling balls best suited for beginners and less proficient bowlers. Unfortunately, a few uncaring drillers attempt to sell this segment of the bowling population pricier, unmanageable equipment in order to net a few extra bucks.

(As suggested in my book, “Bowling Execution,” I advise bowlers, serious or recreational, to seek out pro shops displaying the IPSIA–International Pro Shop Instructors Association–logo. IPSIA is an organization dedicated to its profession and skillfully trained to meet bowlers’ needs.)

In short, urethane balls, whether reactive or proactive, are not recommended for recreational bowlers.

Perhaps the only thing most bowlers agree on is the employment of a polyester (referred to as plastic) ball when addressing 10-pins (for righthanders) or 7-pins (for lefthanders). While I am in total accord with this philosophy, I further recommend polyester balls for any and all single pins.

Furthermore, I encourage delivering straighter shots at all two-pin spares other than 2-8s, 3-9s, or spares that present “sleepers.” (For those unfamiliar with the term “sleepers,” these are two-pin spares, where one pin is directly behind another.) These spares can be more easily converted with a slight hook into the front pin. Additionally, in order to avert “chopping,” the more proficient players utilize a less-hooking ball at most 3-pin spares, particularly the 2-4-5.

Despite the advantages of modern, supercharged balls, bowlers noted for unleashing high-revving shots have abandoned urethane in favor of polyester balls at times on the PBA tour, particularly when lanes dry out and present uncontrollable conditions. However, this is more an exception than a role.

When should less proficient bowlers consider urethane equipment? There are two requisites bowlers must abide by:

1. They must be able to approach the foul line in proper balance.

2. They must develop a swing that enables them to deliver the ball freely with proper direction.

These are the initial steps for bowlers to advance their skills. If they can master these two factors, they will be prepared to progress to the more sophisticated tools of the trade.

Additionally, they and all participants in our great game should be able to distinguish the two most underused words in bowling vernacular–polyester and urethane–from file misused plastic and resin.

John Jowdy is a member of the ABC and PDA Halls of Fame. He has coached countless champion bowlers, including BOWLING DIGEST colleague Parker Bohn III. His book, “Bowling Execution,” is in stores now.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group