A lot of the questions bowlers have about equipment relate to layouts:

  • “What kinds of layouts are best for sport patterns?”

  • “What’s the difference between Dual Angle and the Pin Buffer methods?”

  • “What’s most important in a layout?”

My goal over the next few articles is to address the key areas of concern that bowlers have regarding laying out and drilling bowling balls. Before we get started, it’s important to understand that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to layouts. No two people are alike, so it is impossible for something to work exactly the same for two different people. You can stop worrying about what others are using and start paying attention to what is working (and not working), for you! This is what we will be addressing in this article. We’ll dive into more specific examples and details in future articles.

Occam’s razor

Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle that essentially states, “the simplest answer is usually the right answer.” This is how I want you to start looking at layouts, surface, ball selection, etc. We will dive into each of these things individually in the future, but for now we are going to apply Occam’s razor and the KISS acronym to layouts.

Most of us are competing in the same leagues, in the same centers, and in the same tournaments, year after year. Inevitably, the environment is always changing, but often what works well once will work well most of the time. Taking copious notes every time you bowl will aid in everything we are about to discuss. It is very difficult to remember what happened every game of every league night, or at state and national tournaments, year after year. Written records will help get you more pins every year!

What’s my bowling DNA?

Before you take anything away from this article, you must know that you have an (almost) invisible bowling DNA. In this instance, your DNA is your positive axis point (PAP). This is the axis your ball rotates around based on your release. Put simply, your PAP is unique to you, and when combined with your ball speed, rev rate, and release style, your balls should be drilled in relation to it.

I urge you to find a qualified pro shop technician that can help you determine your PAP if you don’t already know it. This is also something you should have checked periodically, as it can change over time—especially if you’ve changed, such as through weight gain or loss, an injury, or even just as your game evolves. While this article can still benefit you without knowing the particulars, your ball driller should definitely be using your PAP. For our technically-inclined readers, this will also allow you to apply numbers and some of the more advanced principles I’ll be covering in later articles.

All of this being said, we’re now going to take a simpler, more visual approach to identifying which balls and layouts work for you.

Finding what works

Whether or not you already know your PAP, the following system will help identify the kinds of layouts and balls that seem to work most often for you. Here’s where the homework begins:

  1. Take every single ball you own, whether its three or 30, and put them on the floor in your living room. I even want you to include the balls you don’t use anymore.

  2. Put the balls in order from your favorite to your least favorite. Don’t worry about which ball is your favorite for which condition; just pick an order that makes sense based on your gut feeling. If you have 10 balls, for example, order them so that the first one is your favorite ball and the tenth one is your least favorite ball.

  3. Now I want you to record the layouts and ball type (asymmetrical or symmetrical). You have a couple of options to do this:

a) You can take them all to the pro shop and ask them to write down the layout for each ball. This would most likely be in terms of the Dual Angle system or the Pin Buffer system (more on these in a future article). The more balls you have, the less likely you’ll want to actually do this.

b) You can draw a picture of each layout, noting the pin and CG locations (all bowling balls), and the mass bias (MB) or preferred spin axis (PSA) for any asymmetrical bowling balls, in relation to your grip. These are all clearly indicated with some kind of dot or small logo/image engraved in the ball. See the sketch and image below for examples.


You can simply draw a quick sketch and indicate the pin, CG, and mass bias relative to your grip.

c) Or, just take a picture of each ball from the same angle and then label them.

Equipment with labeled pin, cg and mb/psa

Three balls with their pins circled in green, CGs circled in yellow, and mass bias circled in red.

Feel free to use whichever of these three methods works best for you. (Just remember to put the balls away before your significant other or roommate gets irritated that they can’t walk in the living room. Not everyone loves a bowling ball collection in the middle of the floor. For us, though, revisiting old friends is fun!)

Now comes the hard part. We need to figure out what the similarities and differences are between our favorite balls and our least favorite balls. The easiest way to do this is to break them up in groups. For example, if you have nine bowling balls, you can categorize them into your favorite three, your middle three, and your least favorite three.

Start looking for trends and similarities:

  • Where is the pin on your favorite balls? Where is it on your least favorite balls? For example, maybe your favorite balls are primarily pin up, meaning that the pin is above your finger holes somewhere.

  • Where is the CG? Is it in the middle of your gripping holes, or way out the right/left?

  • Where is the mass bias, or PSA? Next to your thumb or far away?

  • Are your favorite balls mainly symmetrical or asymmetrical?

For this article, we are mainly concerned about these specific things. Since weight holes will be illegal in USBC competition starting in August of 2020, we are not going to factor those into the equation. For more information on this subject, take a look at Bill Sempsrott’s article, The Effect of Static Imbalance on Bowling Ball Performance. If you know your specific layouts, or if you can meet with your pro shop to get them, go ahead and list them with your equipment, but this is not necessary.

Hopefully by now you have noticed some similarities. For example, you may have noticed that 80% of your favorite balls have the pin below the middle finger. You might have noticed that your favorite balls are all symmetrical (no mass bias indicator). You might have noticed that all the ones you don’t like have the MB/PSA a similar distance away from the thumb holes.

Note all the similarities for the balls you like and don’t like. It might look something like this, but it will be unique to you:

  • Favorite balls:

    • Pins are mainly above my ring finger.

    • CG is near the center of my grip.

    • They are mostly asymmetrical.

    • The MB/PSA is near my thumb holes.

  • Least favorite balls:

    • Pins are below my fingers.

    • CG is a couple inches away from center of grip.

    • They are mainly symmetrical.

KISS in action

Now that you have this information, you should be able to consult with your pro shop and tell them what your favorite layout is: “I love pins above my ring finger with the CG near the center of my grip and the MB/PSA near my thumb hole, and I prefer asymmetrical bowling balls.”

That very simple sentence will make you a better bowler overnight, and here’s why: because that is the layout you should be using on nearly every single bowling ball you own. Yes, you just read that correctly. I told you to use the same layout on nearly every ball.

I can tell you that the best players on the PBA Tour, who bowl on a wide variety of conditions, are using two or three layouts, most of the time. If even the best bowlers in the world only use two or three layouts, why do you need a different one on every ball? Yes, there will always be times for the exotic or unusual, but that is the minority of the times you are bowling. We compete in the same centers, environments, and tournaments, year after year. Often, we forget about what worked well and only focus on what didn’t work. Most of the time, the similarities are the same for each. Instead of learning from what worked well, we tend to try and fix something that didn’t.

It is our human nature, especially as competitive bowlers, to always want to be better and to knock down more pins. This drive is what makes bowling so fun, but it can also hold us back more than we realize. We often tend to blame the pins we leave standing on the ball and not the bowler, when most of the time it is, in fact, the bowler. This causes us to go looking for answers and fixes that don’t exist. We look for “unicorn layouts,” if you will. We search for that magic layout that is going to make us average 20 pins higher or finally shoot our first (or 20th) 300 game. When we just stick with what we know works well most of the time, and be patient, those successes will come around more often.

The key part in all of this is finding what we know works well, and sticking with it.

Wrapping it up

Let’s go back to our bowling DNA. Remember that no two people have the same combination of PAP, ball roll, and speed. It’s similar to your golf game: if you normally hit your 7-iron 160 yards, then from 155 to 165 yards, you are rarely going to hit another club—unless, of course, there is a major contributing factor like severe wind or change in elevation. Your golf DNA at distances around 160 yards requires that you use a 7-iron, most of the time.

Similarly, your bowling DNA in most environments doesn’t change: your speed, rev rate, axis tilt, and axis rotation all remain the same, most of the time. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to change layouts/clubs, except for very unusual circumstances. A well-built arsenal of bowling balls covers 95% of what you’ll experience, and you don’t need many layouts to do it. Remember earlier when I said to take good notes? Notes will allow you to apply this to specific tournaments that happen every year.

You’ll also find it is a whole lot easier to change balls and let the ball do something different than worrying about the layout. Balls tend to roll a lot better when they get to do what they want to do, not what you are trying to make them do. Over 100 bowling balls were introduced in 2019, and no two did exactly the same thing. Some were close, yes, but the sheer variety in reaction shapes and characteristics is astonishing. Find the layout that matches up to you, use it, and purchase bowling balls that are designed to do what you are looking for, not the other way around—even if this means putting the same layout on each new ball you buy.

Keep it simple and focus on what works well for you! Bowling is about repetition and doing the same thing over and over as many times as you can. The simpler you can make your decisions, the easier they will be to repeat.

Next time, we’ll take a deeper dive into layouts to explain how things work, but remember that what works for you most of the time will probably be the same type of layout you should use on most bowling balls.

Jordan Vanover

About Jordan Vanover

Jordan Vanover is a BowlU Skill Development coach, USBC Silver-certified coach, and USBC Coaching National Instructor. He was a Product Specialist and Director of Coaching for Turbo 2-N-1 Grips before moving on to Brunswick as a Product Specialist. Jordan is currently Brunswick's International Sales Manager. Aside from his expertise in coaching, he is an IBPSIA Master Instructor and he served two terms on the IBPSIA Board of Directors as Vice President.


    • Jordan Vanover says

      Thanks for commenting. Classic Full Rollers have it the easiest when it comes to figuring out layouts. Most manufacturers list this layout in their drilling instructions, commonly found inside the ball box. We can dive into full roller layout options in the future. Purchasing balls that have different cover and core dynamics is the best way to manipulate reaction for full rollers. Good luck!

  1. jquinn6@neb.rr.com says

    Great article Jordan. You really had me laughing about cataloging all my layouts. I DO have over 30 balls in my man cave! Seriously the layout is really the essential. I have been going to the same pro for years and we always end up with “his favorite layout” or close to it. I think because it works for most and reduces comebacks. But this last time I insisted on a radical change. It was like magic! Somehow your brain and body change to match up to that ball. I am now working on adjusting entry angle to maximize count. I have been charting (just as you suggested) using a system the late Ralph Gauger published in BTM years ago. I can hardly wait for your next article. Doc

    • Jordan Vanover says

      Thanks, Doc! I am very familiar with a large collection of bowling balls… That’s great to hear about using his/your favorite layout most of the time. That’s an interesting thought you mention. Our bodies & minds have a funny way of adapting and figuring things out, even when we don’t know it’s happening. Sometimes this can be good or bad. Good luck, keep me posted!

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