Jef Goodger And The Bowlers Of The Lost Art

by Dave Williams

Jef Goodger (R) on the set of Xtra Frame with PBA legends Mark Roth (L) and Marshall Holman (2015 photo)

I always enjoy reading Jef Goodger’s editorial in Bowlers Journal International, and the July edition did not disappoint. The title of his article was Decoding the Language of Topography, and was focused on a bowler’s ability to conquer lane conditions.

It suddenly dawned upon me that my geographic training in school may have provided an insight into bowling that I had never contemplated before… topography! My first introduction to topographic maps was at about age 13, at the Carnegie Library in my hometown of Sebastopol, California. An older patron most likely showed me how to use the stereoscope glasses over a pair of map images, making two dimensional images come to life in the brain as a third dimension!

For those of you that may never have experienced this phenomenon, I highly recommend visiting your local library or institution of learning (high school or college) to see if you can witness this imaging first hand. The best way that I can describe the adventure of topographic map exploration is this: imagine that you are looking at Google Maps (either terrain or satellite imaging) and the hills, valleys, mountains and buildings miraculously “pop up” out of the map!

Veteran Norm Duke is one of the few players that sets up outside of the blue oil applied to the center of the lane (2019 photo)

Without realizing it at the time, my ability to “read the lanes” while rolling all of those 300 games during my college years, before the onslaught of high scores began to proliferate the bowling scene, was possibly from my college training as a geography major at Sonoma State University. It all makes perfect sense to me now, almost 50 years after the fact, following the reading of Jef’s article about decoding the lanes.

Goodger, in his customary utilization of double entendres, so reminiscent of the famous ten pin  bowling writer Chuck Pezzano, provides a few examples to explain his topic of decoding lane topography:

  1. The topography is pretty good here. The lanes aren’t perfectly flat, but they’re close.
  2. The lanes are tricky. The lanes favor that other guy’s ball more than mine.
  3. Every pair is different. This is not a fun place to bowl.
  4. Every lane is different. This is the worst place that I’ve ever bowled.

Isn’t it interesting in today’s Pro Bowlers Tour that the lane condition is actually telegraphed to the competitors with the appearance of a blue oil substance upon the surface of the lane? Can you imagine how easy it would have been back in the day to line up, especially when moving after each game? I find it interesting that most bowlers, with the exception of some of the older competitors (Norm Duke, Chris Barnes, etc.), don’t even use the oil line that is provided to direct their ball to the pocket. It’s as if the overreaction of the bowling balls has negated the advantage of the “block” condition that is evident to everyone with a color television.

Jakob Butturff was one of the first players to revert to urethane in PBA competition (2016 photo)

Carrying that a step further, it’s also interesting that some of the top pros have resorted to using urethane once again, to control the overreaction caused by the reactive bowling balls. As color commentator Randy Pedersen has often mentioned, the revolution rate of the bowling ball has now become as important as the angle of entry provided by the big hook. Top players that come to mind in regards to the switch to urethane are Jesper Svensson of Vimmerby, Sweden, with 10 PBA Titles; Anthony Simonsen of Little Elm, Texas, with 8 PBA Titles; and Jakob Butturff of Chandler, Arizona, with 7 PBA Titles.

Many times I have mentioned that when I initially joined AMF, it was an opportunity for me to see the world and to discover many of the geographic sites that I had witnessed in books and classroom films. This was indeed true, but little did I realize until perusing Jef Goodger’s article, Decoding the Language of Topography, that my good fortune had begun many years earlier, when the natural and physical features of a bowling lane popped up like a topographic map under the lens of stereoscope glasses, and allowed me to visualize the lane in 3D!! 


What’s ahead for bowling writer, television commentator and producer Jef Goodger?
“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory.” – Indiana Jones


Photos provided compliments of PBA, LLC