It takes a keen eye to notice the difference between the old and new bowling lanes at Family Fun Frontier Center.
The new, synthetic surface has a convincing imitation wood grain and has only a slightly different hue from the old maple wood boards.
But that replacement is one of the last steps along the journey to transform the old Frontier Lanes into a different, more professional business, said Tina Geer, who has owned the lanes with her husband, David, since August 2008.
Since they started, they've put in new flooring, and remodeled and overhauled the decor. Old Frontier Lanes-goers scarcely recognize the place, Geer said.
The new surface on its 20 lanes is only part of the $160,000 worth of changes now going in. There are new gutters, foul lights and gutter caps, as well as a whole new set of 37-inch, flat-screen televisions that display scores and play animation between frames. Customers walking into the building soon will see an entirely new facade up front. For the first 18 feet of each lane, the installers pulled up the boards and put in entirely new flooring. The synthetic surface goes the rest of the way to the pins, on top of the old wood, Geer said. The old boards had been in Frontier Lanes since the building opened in 1983. Before that, the boards had come from a different alley entirely, and they may be as much as 50 years old, Geer said. Some of the pulled boards might get a new lease on life as tables.
The change from wood to synthetic lanes shows another change that might not be immediately apparent at first glance.
Under black light, the new surface on the lanes reveals spooky, glowing spiders with fluorescent webs. Others, painted with road lines, look like haunted highways in the dark.
Beyond the exciting new nightlife for the lanes, the most important change customers will notice is in their scores, Geer said. Wood boards, which tend to hold oil unevenly on their surface, can send a bowling ball off kilter when it passes over irregularities. Bowling balls also may leave tracks in the oil, affecting the next ball thrown. This happens with synthetic lanes, too, but not nearly so much as with wood.
The difference is about 20 points in a game for Barb Van Horn, who is in league a league that plays there Tuesday and Wednesday. Six teams practice there. She's seen her scores go up dramatically when she rolls at Camelanes, which uses the synthetic surface.
To compensate for the changes in the oil, she knows to shift her aim when she goes up against competitors rolling curves, because the behavior of the bowling ball changes over time.
Other league bowlers won't even roll on wood because of the decreased performance, Geer said.
Another advantage synthetic has over wood is big savings in upkeep and maintenance, Geer said.
Few things are improved by having bowling balls dropped on them repeatedly. A wooden ally shows this abuse with the nicks and dents that could make a shot take a crooked turn. Sanding the wooden boards was an annual $5,000 process. Every four years, a repairer out of Billings, Mont., comes in to sand the boards. If the Geers hadn't bought the synthetic boards, they would have had to pay $19,000 for the next appointment.
Wooden lanes are a rarity now (though casual bowlers who see a faux wood surface might not know it) and oil and bowling balls aren't designed for synthetic now, Geer said.
She expects that the improved lanes will make the business more popular with customers. She still wants the business to keep its "down home country feel" but is excited to get more people coming in the doors.