The Lanes


Bowling Lanes throughout the world are made to the same dimensions. With the sport originating in America, all dimensions are still in imperial values (even in France where they try to avoid anything in non-metric values).

The lanes were originally made of wood planks laid with side edges showing – meaning that the 1 inch edge of each plank showed with 9 to 12 inched of wood supporting that top edge. Each of these visible top edges were called floorboards and counting floorboards has been a common way of knowing where to stand.

Nowadays most centres have changed over to laminate lanes as the cost of maintaining and regularly resurfacing wooden lanes has risen.  In the old days when they resurfaced lanes there was wood dust everywhere for weeks.

Tolworth’s laminate lanes are unusual in that they are a thin laminate laid over the top of the old wooden lanes. This means there is less noise from the lanes compared with centres with a thick laminate laid on a trestle framework.

Lanes are 60 foot long  from the foul line to the front pin (18.288 metres if you are in France!) and 41.5 inches (1.0541 m) wide. This is one of the few measurements that is not a nice round number and that is because when lanes were made from planks of wood they had to be between 41 and 42 inches and that tolerance is still allowed.

They will have oil applied to them originally just to protect the lane with the bulk of the oil close to the foul line and tapering off to none further down the lane. The lanes are required to be perfectly level – if they weren’t there would be puddles of oil in the gutters!

The way in which oil is applied can be used to increase or decrease the difficulty on bowling on a lane. On the oily part of the lane the ball will slide but starts to roll when it gets onto drier parts. The oil also does not stay where originally laid which means conditions change during a bowling match (think of what happens to water when a car goes through a wet patch on an otherwise dry road).


Markings on Lanes and Approaches

A series of marks and arrows are set into the lanes and approaches. These are all designed to help you know where to start from and line yourself up for strikes or spares.

Towards the back of the approach you will find two rows of dots with the centre dot being larger. At Tolworth each row has 5 dots but some other bowls have 7 dots. However they will always have 5 floorboards between them.

These dots help you stand in the same place across the width of the lane and then move forward or back to start at the same point back from the foul line.

By the Foul Line is another row of dots. These can be used to check that you finish your approach at the same point each time.

On the lane itself are a set of target arrows 15 feet from the foul line. These are a more effective target than trying to aim at a point at the pins. Using arrows as your aiming point means there are some simple rules that can help you hit any pin on the pin deck.

In the early days we are aiming to get the ball in the area of a target arrow but as skill increases we will be teaching you how to improve your accuracy at the arrows.

In centres there can be up to 7 sets of marks, but those above are the most common and useful to young bowlers.



The approaches are an extension back from the foul line towards the playing area. At Tolworth they are still made from wood as this gives a better slide. Other bowls such as Guildford have laminate approaches – which are far more slippery than those at Tolworth.

The approaches are a minimum of 15 feet long – but beware some can be longer whilst others may be slightly shorter than those at Tolworth.

As approaches are designed for sliding, do not get food or drink anywhere near them as this will make people stick on the approach.


Pin Deck

The Pin Deck is where – you’ve guessed it – the pins sit. From the head pin to the back of the pin deck is 34 inches (0.86868 in metric !!).

Its not until you see the pins close up that you realise how spread out the pins are. They are arrange in triangles with equal sides of 12 inches (0.30480m) for a set of 3 pins or the big triangle for the full set of 10 pins is 36 inches (0.9144 m) on each side.

The pin deck has to be strong as the is a heavy weight of pins on them and they are battered by balls and flying pins. Normally they are made of a stronger wood or a special man made material.

Either side of the pin deck, the gutters change from curved bottoms that you see going down both sides of the main lane to flat bottoms.

More will follow shortly on:-

Pins and Back End

Ball Returns