House Balls: Everything You Need to Know

For most people, their first encounter with bowling balls occurs when they go open bowling with friends or family: they get their rental bowling shoes from the front desk and then immediately head over to the rack of bowling balls that are freely available for use by open bowlers. These balls are generally referred to as “house balls.”

In this article, we’ll cover some basics of what house balls are and what house balls are not. If you’re brand new to bowling, this will hopefully give you the basic information you need to get the most out of your first few trips to the lanes. Additionally, this article will also give you some information on what the next steps might be for you when you’re ready to step up to owning your own bowling ball.

House Ball Basics

The general characteristics of the house ball are as follows:

  • House balls are available in a wide range of weights, generally from 6 pounds up to 16 pounds.
  • Their gripping holes have a wide variety of sizes to accommodate bowlers of all shapes and sizes.
  • They come in a wide variety of colors. For recreational bowlers, color actually often becomes one of the primary characteristics that is used to select a ball.
  • They are generally made of a very hard and durable material. Most modern house balls are polyester.
  • They are generally fairly close to being “balanced” and uniform internally, at least as compared to the balls used by more serious bowlers.

If you’re brand new to bowling and you’re getting ready to head to the lanes for your first attempt at our sport, then you should almost certainly just use a house ball. There’s really no point in investing a bunch of money in your own equipment if you’re only going to bowl once. Use the free house ball, get a feel for the game, and then invest in your own equipment if you think you want to participate in bowling on a more regular basis.

How to Choose a House Ball

Here are some very basic tips on selecting a ball that will give you a decent first experience on the lanes:

  • Choose a ball of an appropriate weight: For adults, the general rule of thumb for ball weight is to select a ball that is not more than 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you should be able to handle a 13 pound ball. However, this rule of thumb tends to be pretty bad when it comes to house balls because they usually fit the bowler’s hand very poorly. For this reason, you’ll likely want to start with something a bit lighter than what this 10% rule would suggest.
  • Find a ball that closely fits your hand: The two main fit parameters to consider when selecting a house ball are the sizes of the gripping holes and the distance between the thumb hole and finger holes. This distance is known as the span. There’s not much point in getting too technical here: just pick up a handful of balls and try to find one that feels reasonably good in your hand.

Once you’ve bowled a few times and you start to get more serious about trying to improve, you’re going to inevitably (and correctly) conclude that the house ball you’re throwing is holding you back. Let’s talk for a bit about why the house ball isn’t your best choice long-term if you’re starting to get serious about the sport of bowling.

The Limitations of the House Ball

After you’ve bowled a few times and gotten the hang of the basics of hitting some pins somewhat consistently, you’ll likely start thinking about learning to throw a hook ball. After all, all the good bowlers you see on TV throw hook balls, right?

What you’ll likely very quickly realize is that, no matter what you try, you just can’t seem to get your house ball to hook like the balls the pros throw on TV. A big part of this is certainly technique and skill, but another key reason is that most house balls are very low performance compared to the balls that are used by more serious bowlers. Specifically, they have a very hard, low-friction coverstock that is designed more for durability and longevity than performance and they also have very basic and very balanced internal geometries as compared to modern high performance balls. Unfortunately, neither of these factors is readily obvious to the novice bowler, as all bowling balls tend to basically look the same to the untrained eye. This can often lead to frustration, giving up, and the adoption of unconventional techniques that facilitate increased hook, such as bowling with two hands or bowling with a cupped wrist without the use of the thumb.

If you are a novice bowler looking to step up into the world of the hook ball, you should stop teaching yourself terrible habits trying to get that low performance house ball to hook and instead make a small investment in purchasing your first bowling ball. An inexpensive entry-level performance bowling ball that properly fits your hand will give you the proper foundation needed to advance your skills beyond the beginner level.

Beyond the House Ball…

It’s definitely an interesting time to be a bowler. Today’s bowlers have literally hundreds of bowling ball options available to them. They come at all different price points, with a wide variety of different types of coverstocks, with a wide variety of different types of core types, in a huge variety of different colors, and all designed to tackle a wide variety of different lane conditions.

Unfortunately, it is also a very confusing time to be a bowler. Most bowlers really have no idea what they’re looking at when they evaluate different bowling balls, different drilling layouts, and different coverstocks. Additionally, they really struggle when they attempt to assemble an arsenal of bowling balls that suits their game.

Your best bet when thinking about buying your own ball is to seek out the assistance of your local bowling pro shop professional. He or she can measure your bowling hand, help you understand your options, and sell you the right ball for your game. If you’d like to learn a bit more about bowling balls before heading to your pro shop, click here to read our in-depth article covering everything you could ever hope to know about today’s modern bowling balls.