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Every bowling lane, including the one in your neighborhood alley, is coated with an oil pattern to protect the wood. But these patterns aren’t just for protection — the way in which oil is applied to the lane can affect the speed and direction of your ball.


Phil Edwards of Vox Almanac met with professional bowler Parker Bohn III at his childhood bowling alley, Howell Lanes in Howell, New Jersey. Bohn guided Edwards through the complex strategy a pro bowler uses when encountering different oil patterns.

PBA Oil Patterns for Cheetah, Bear and Shark

Not only do pro bowlers have to adjust their stroke to the oil pattern in use, but they also have to judge how that pattern changes as the oil shifts and slides over the day. Knowing how to play a specific lane can be the difference between a title and second place.

“I like the Cheetah because I grew up playing the gutter. I love throwing my ball out near the edge of the land and letting it hook back.”

— Parker Bohn III, on his favorite PBA oil pattern

The Professional Bowlers Association has given the distinctive oil patterns used in tournaments names after various animals like the Cheetah, Bear and Shark. Other patterns named after PBA legends include Carmen Salvino, Dick Weber, Don Carter, Don Johnson, Earl Anthony, Johnny Petraglia and Mark Roth.


Combining the ability to read the lane with a classic delivery has paid big dividends for Bohn, who has more than $3 million in career earnings. His 35 PBA Tour titles places him fifth on the all-time list.