Fred Flintstone's favorite sport was bowling and the game may well have dated to the stone age. Marble skittles were unearthed in a child's grave from Egypt 5000 years before the birth of Christ and a wide assortment of stone bowling balls are known to the sport's historians. Although the object of bowling today - knock down the pins - hasn't changed in millennia, the bowling ball certainly has.
Wooden balls were the weapon of choice when bowling moved indoors in the mid-1800s. The lanes at that time were built of baked clay. These were eventually replaced by lanes constructed of hard woods like maple and for much of the 20th century a bowling ball was made of hard rubber.
Modern bowling balls have been created to perform on the special coatings that cover the wooden lanes today. A bowling ball is now manufactured with a polyester or urethane shell surrounding a composite core. The heavier the core, the heavier the ball. Bowling balls range in weight from six to sixteen pounds.
So what can the recreational bowler expect when a night out includes a stop at the local bowling center? How does one go about selecting the proper bowling ball to use if one doesn't bowl often enough to personally own a ball?
The first consideration in selecting a 'house ball' for the once-a-year bowler is the weight of the bowling ball. The bowling ball should not be too light as there will be a tendency for the ball to be lifted into the air upon release and not rolled down the lane. Generally women should use bowling balls ranging from 10 to 14 pounds and men bowling balls from 14 to the maximum of 16 pounds. Children should choose a ball heavy enough for them to be able to effectively put the ball into a swing without a strain. Generally the weight of a bowling bowl at a bowling center is engraved on the ball's surface or the balls may be coded by color.
You will notice that the size of thumb and finger holes in the 'house balls' at a bowling center vary widely. Generally the larger holes are drilled in the heavier balls which men are expected to use and the smaller holes are in the lighter balls. If your hands are considerably larger or smaller than someone of your typical strength you may not be able to use a bowling ball of ideal weight.
To fit a bowling ball properly begin by inserting your thumb into the hole and spreading your hand across the surface of the ball. Position your middle finger and index finger across the finger holes. The knuckles of these fingers should rest directly over the finger holes. Insert your fingers and, while holding the bowling ball with your free hand, extract your thumb while keeping your fingers in the ball. The thumb should come out freely but not so smoothly that you cannot give the ball a gentle squeeze with the thumb and fingers. Your palm should be in full contact with the surface of the bowling ball.
Most house balls are drilled for this 'conventional grip.' Occasionally a house ball may be a discarded 'full-finger grip' (five holes) or 'finger-tip' grip with a wider space between thumb and finger holes. Leave these balls to the more experienced keglers. Also be aware that most house balls are drilled for right-handed bowlers - the ring finger is drilled a barely perceptible one-eight inch further from the thumb hole. Although left-handed bowlers can bowl successfully with right-handed balls, it doesn't hurt to see if the bowling center has left-handed house balls available.