I donʼt think there are many sports in the world that can challenge the historical background of bowling. After all, the earliest version of bowling can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Roman Empire civilization, with archaeologists identifying remnants of bowling balls dating back 5,000 years!
In essence, the sport of bowling you enjoy with your friends took over five millennia to develop, with the first standardized rules for pin bowling established in New York City in the year 1895.
There are actually two different bowling types—target bowling sport and pin bowling sport, with the latter type being more famous due to its simplicity.
Pin bowling sport simply requires one to knock over the pins. However, there are several variations of pin bowling sport such as tenpin bowling, fivepin bowling, ninepin bowling, duckpin bowling, and candlepin bowling.
With that being said, letʼs get to the reason why youʼre here—the dimensions of what you have to work with in the bowling alley.
What are the standard bowling alley lane dimensions (length and width)?
First of all, let me give you a brief description of what a bowling lane looks like. A bowling lane is essentially a long, straight, rectangular lane that has two gutters along the side.
At the front end of the lane, youʼll find an approach area and a foul line. Your bowling shoes or other bowling equipment shouldn’t ever cross the foul line. In the mid lane, youʼll find channels.
Meanwhile, towards the end of the lane, youʼll notice a bowling pit where the bowling pins are placed relatively close to each other.
Upon close inspection of the bowling lanes, youʼll discover that they are mostly built of long waxed and polished wood board and synthetic materials.
You will also see that there are arrows and guide dots drawn onto the board on the lanes; these markings exist to help players align the bowling ball.
Now, letʼs get to the million dollar question—what are the dimensions (length and width) of a bowling lane?
According to the established rules and regulations regarding dimensions, the width of the lane should measure at least 42-inches wide (excluding the gutters on both sides) and 60-feet in length. The length is measured from the foul line to the headpin.
Additionally, there must also be a minimum of 15 feet of bowling surface before the foul line to allow a bowler enough space to prepare for the throw and approach.
Now, taking into consideration the aforementioned measurements and the gutter width of 9.25 feet, the overall length of a bowling lane, including the front approach area and the back service area right until the tail plank / board, totals 86.5 feet in length and 60 feet at its widest point.
A specification that is often overlooked by many bowling alley owners is the ceiling height of the bowling alley. In order to ensure that the bowling alley feels well proportioned and less claustrophobic to most bowlers, the room must have a ceiling height of at least 11 feet.
The pinsetter area must also have ample room/height for a technician to access the top of the pinsetter machines.
What are the various markings in the bowling lane?
There are also various markings throughout the bowling lane to help you get your bearings straight during a game of tenpins. For instance, youʼll find two sets/lines of dots (approach dots) located on the board around 12 feet (first set) and 15 feet (second set) from the foul line.
You can use these approach dots to fix your stride and footwork in tenpin bowling, fivepin bowling, candlepin bowling, or duckpin bowling.
Youʼll also notice lane arrows around 15 feet from the foul line. These arrows have been placed to help you pin your target (headpin) and aim better for where youʼd want to release your shot in the pin deck.
The arrows are meant to guide you when releasing the ball. Of course, you may simply focus on knocking down pins, but research indicates that focusing on arrows when you throw the ball can bear more favorable results in tenpin bowling.
There is another set of indicators on the lane that you can expertly use to knock down pins in the middle of the pin deck.
You see, a 42-inch lane comprises 40 narrow pieces of board, running from the foul line to the end of the lane. These 1 inch-wide boards can also be used as a reference point or target guides to help you hit better rolling shots in your tenpin bowling game.
How to maintain a bowling lane according to bowling lane specifications
Ok, now let me assume that you are looking at a bowling lane from an investorʼs point of view. Since youʼre planning to set up your own bowling alley, there are other specifics, apart from the dimensions, you need to pay attention to as well.
For instance, the 15-inch bowling pins must be kept 12 inches apart from one another. The center board of the bowling laneʼs 40 narrow boards, commonly identified as Board # 20, also accommodates the center dot and center arrow.
Apart from that, youʼll need to place three arrows and dots, spaced about five inches apart from one another, on each side of the center arrow and dot.
Now, letʼs talk a bit about another factor that plays an instrumental role in determining the performance of a bowler in the bowling alley—oiling the lane. It is an important factor that the owners of a bowling alley must focus on to maintain the structural integrity of their bowling lanes.
After all, the lane receives excessive impact from 16-pound bowling balls. Over time, the lanes become susceptible to wear due to the friction produced by the heavy bowling balls.
Thatʼs why they need oil to serve as a protective coat.
Of course, not all areas of the bowling alley are oiled uniformly. The back end of the lane surface, commonly referred to as the pin deck area, is usually left dry to enable greater friction and, thereby, facilitate more hook of the bowling ball.
Oil is usually applied from a distance of 4 feet from the foul line to 38 feet down the lane surface.
There are different approaches and patterns to oil a specific lane.
As an owner, you have the liberty of choosing your own oiling pattern. But, if you were to host a competitive tournament, you would have to use different oiling patterns on different lanes to be fair to all players.
You see, different patterns have a different effect on the bowling ball. While some bowlers may excel playing on a specific oil pattern, other bowlers may struggle on that particular pattern.
To level the playing field and be fair to all bowlers, owners should ensure that the oil applied is used in different oil patterns on different lanes.
Finding the right ball and educating yourself about the ins and outs of the game will surely improve your performance on the bowling alley.
Understanding how the lane is set up and exactly what the bowling lane dimensions are will ensure you hit more pins and make you a better player, overall. Plus, of course, you need to practice, practice, and practice!