The lane patterns for the 2013 United States Bowling Congress Open Championships were released Thursday afternoon in the USBC Kickoff Show webcast, but they are only part of the story.
The new Kegel "Ice" lane oil should have had a co-starring role, but got only a passing mention on the show, which is archived here.
Update: After conversing with many bowlers about the show and thinking more about it, I need to say that I was far too charitable toward USBC's webcast. The show was lame, plain and simple. Every serious bowler I talked to had that opinion. The show offered only a cursory analysis of the patterns, barely touched on the Ice oil, and showed no bowlers bowling on the pattern, as last year's very good show did. It was a fail. And I failed my readers and deserved the criticism I received.
I would wager that almost every person watching the preview webcast was a serious bowler who wanted the things I listed above, not a series of infomercials about Reno and the tournament — information that can easily be found and is just clutter in what should be a serious bowler's look at how to attack the Open Championships.
USBC should take a page out of Mike Flanagan's book and do something like his show here previewing the 2013 InsideBowling.com Open.
The social media chatter I've seen about Ice has mostly been of the sky-is-falling variety — not a shocker when it comes to bowlers.
So why didn't USBC address those issues head-on with detailed information? It may not have realized what an issue the new oil had become, or perhaps it stemmed from its tendency to operate that way in controversial areas.
Wanting answers and expecting that USBC would not dig into the new oil in enough detail to satisfy us bowling geeks, I contacted Kegel President Chris Chartrand, who was gracious enough to do a phone interview Thursday before the show to provide details on Ice.
Here's what he said you can count on: You will be able to set up comparable Open Championships lane patterns at home to practice on, you will not need new bowling balls for Ice, and it will transition.
Ice, which will be officially released in April, is being used in 15 centers and it's proven to be about 30 percent more durable than Infinity, the Kegel oil that has been used at the tournament in recent years, Chartrand said.
"Our goal is always to stabilize the environment — to minimize change," he said. "Anytime we can take a step forward in that we're going to do it."
Ice is slicker and plays maybe 2 boards tighter than Infinity pattern-to-pattern, Chartrand said.
"The ball gets through the front incredibly well" on Ice, Chartrand said. "There's a lot of enthusiasm because of how good the ball reaction has been and what it's looked like. But to say current balls won't work or anything like that is crazy. It's not magic. It's nothing crazy."
Even though your local center doesn't have Ice, you should easily be able to set up comparable practice sessions, Chartrand said.
"You can match the shape (of the pattern) and juice up the volume a little bit," he said. "You never get them exact anyway."
On that, he is 100 percent correct.
Unless you have the same lane beds of the same wear with the same oil and same lane machine and same weather . . . even then you won't get them exact.
The goal should be to find something comparable that gives you an idea of a game plan for your bowlers!
"You're just trying to get close," was how Chartrand correctly put it.
And then when you start your competition, keep an open mind so you can decide whether your plan was correct or not and adjust as necessary.
If you really want to experience Ice with the patterns before the tournament, go for 900 Global Showcase Lanes practice or to Lane 81 for the team pattern and the Bowlers Journal Championships for the minors pattern.
That should ease most concerns of fairness — everyone can experience bowling on Ice on the tournament patterns at the National Bowling Stadium before competing.
Along with making quality shots, working together as a team still will be paramount for success at the Open Championships — there will be transition but it just won't happen as fast.
"We have not superseded balls," Chartrand said. "We were behind and we just sort of caught up a little bit. The balls are still well ahead (of the oil)."
The slower transition could be a bigger factor in minors, where there will be six bowlers per pair bowling six games each after 6 minutes of practice (USB's Matt Cannizzaro confirmed that Thursday) compared to team's 10 bowlers per pair bowling 3 games each after 10 minutes of practice.
Ice has been in the works since 2007, has been in testing in 15 centers for a year and it's performance is clear, he said.
"USBC bowlers are not guinea pigs," Chartrand said. "The USBC tournament is the biggest and most important event of the year for amateurs and to have the best oil in our hands and not use it would be a mistake."
I can't imagine any bowler of any level not favoring a more stable competitive environment.
Kegel will not make any recommendations on ball surface or other factors, Chartrand said.
"We're always cautious with telling people what to do with their stuff and where to stand," he said. "It's just not our place to do that. Our place is to try to develop a pattern that is as fair as possible and to develop an oil that is as stable as possible on the lanes. And that's what we've done."
Chartrand also said that Ice has a sister oil called Fire that hooks about 2 boards more than Infinity but is about 20 percent more durable.
"Slick is not perfect for every situation," he said, "so we made a 'hookier' version of it."
For those who've been living in a cave, the Open Championships will feature different lane patterns for team and minors and fresh oil for every squad for the first time this year.
The 2013 team pattern is 41 feet with 26.05 mL of oil at a 2.57-1 ratio of the outside track to the middle.
The 2013 minors pattern 39 feet with 24.4 mL of oil at a 2.37-1 ratio of the outside track to the middle.
The PDFs of the patterns are attached at the end of this blog.
Assuming Ice will be a little slicker, I would expect the team pattern to play similar to 2011 in Reno and the minors pattern to be closer to 2012 in Baton Rouge, although with the drop brush being 4 feet shorter in minors than in 2012 it might hook more.
Applying the theorem of minus 31, you would want your ball to exit the pattern around 10-board on the team pattern and 8-board on the minors pattern. But there isn't going to be hold there to enable you to go at the pocket.
Practice shots with polyester balls up the middle might be a wise move in minors — something that a few of the top teams did last year.
But again, we need to see how the new oil reacts, and I don't want to speculate further without more information.
USBC lane designer Eric Pierson said on the webcast that one goal was to make sure that the two patterns were not so different as to require bowlers to bring extra bowling balls.
The two patterns are close enough that I feel confident that that is the case, with perhaps just some smoother surfaces required in switching to minors from team.
900 Global Showcase Lanes coach and Open Championships dominator Matt McNiel said the key in team will be to "try to get the ball to slow down," which I would agree with.
He also said he though extremely rough surfaces would be a mistake because those would dry up the front of the lane, which I also agree with.
In minors, McNiel said he expected working together would be even more important with the shorter, lighter, flatter pattern, which is standard philosophy.
Bottom line: there was nothing that valuable in the show. Heck, we didn't even get to see bowlers throwing shots like in last year's show.
But that's no big deal: With Ice in play, the proof will be in the pudding even more than in past years, so competition webcasts and reports from Reno will be key factors.
Pierson said in an email that there would be special procedures to ensure that the team pattern isn't put down for minors and vice versa:
"We have a set of steps we are adding to our verification process. It includes changing the planner for pm oils, a visual look at the name header on the machine and the pattern being used and as always a walk of the back ends to verify the length of either 39 or 41. Both lane men will also check each others lanes. I'm all about preventing mistakes."
If you want to see PDFs of most of the last decade of lane patterns at the Open Championships, go to my blog after last year's webcast.
The 2012 pattern was 39 feet with 25.2 mL of oil at a 2.20-1 ratio of the outside track to the middle.
The 2011 pattern was 41 feet with 27.35 mL at a 2.84-1 ratio.
The 2010 pattern was 40 feet with 26.05 mL at a 2.44-1 ratio.
The 2009 pattern was 40 feet with 26.16 mL at a 2.40-1 ratio,
The 2008 pattern (available at Kegel.net in the pattern library) was 40 feet with 24.0 mL at a 2.50-1 ratio,
The 2007 pattern (available at Kegel.net in the pattern library) was 40 feet with 23.24 mL at a 3.11-1 ratio.
The ratios were not done the same in 2006, and were not listed for 2005 and 2003, but the distance and oil volume were.
The 2006 pattern was 39 feet with just 19mL. Remember that the scores were fairly high in 2006 when the outside was open similar to 2002 in Billings — the only two years since I started bowling the tournament in 1979 that the outside was open like that.
The 2005 pattern was just 38 feet with 23.96 mL.
The 2003 pattern was just 39 feet with 25.2 mL, all forward. That was the year fresh oil for all team squads started and I believe it also was the last year AMF synthetic lanes were used.