The "Loft House" is no more.
North Hill Bowl is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year and has recently completed a major renovation, the highlight being all-new bowling lanes and approaches. Gone are the old wooden lanes and the nickname that accompanied them, replaced by a state-of-the-art synthetic solution.
"They are a Brunswick synthetic lane," said Rory Selk, pro shop manager. "We used to have a wood lane with a Guardian overlay, now it's just synthetic all the way down."
They also upgraded the scoring system. Selk said customers probably won't notice a huge difference, as most of the upgrades affect how the staff is able to control the system and see the data from individual lanes.
"The scoring looks the same to most of the customers," Selk said. "They can personalize it a little bit, but we have a little more control of what goes on and we can see a lot more things now that we used to not be able to see."
Among the things they can do is upload pictures to the scoring screens, which could be fun during a birthday party, for example.
"We can upload the kid's picture up onto the screen," Selk said. "If somebody wants to give him a hard time about a funny picture, we can do that."
Bowlers can also customize the background of their own lane, as well.
The air conditioning system for the half of the building with the lanes, which hasn't worked for the past few years, was also fully repaired.
A brand new wood and tile floor was also installed in Lucky Strike Lounge-Casino & Links.
"Which was a good deal for us, as well. It got rid of the old carpet and now we just have a wood floor," Selk said. "It's easier to clean."
The remodel began on July 2 and lasted five weeks. Selk said the whole project to upgrade the various elements of the building cost around $500,000, and was worth every penny. He said they have been looking at doing the upgrades for several years. The synthetic lanes are a newer technology, and were definitely worth the wait.
The new lanes are the most up-to-date ones available, and the exact same type used in professional bowling tournaments. Selk said the synthetic overlay uses a textured approach that feels much like the old wooden approach, and it allows them to be more precise when they oil the lanes.
"We can control the lane conditions a lot more with the synthetic lane. And the oil stays in its spot on the lane a lot longer with the synthetic lane than it does with the wood lane," Selk said. "You get more of a consistent shot throughout the night, which is a big thing for tournament bowlers and league bowlers."
He noted fluctuating weather conditions such as humidity also don't affect the synthetic lanes like they did the wooden lanes.
"When you go into town and you bowl on synthetic lanes, it's a whole different experience," Selk added. "So we wanted to bring that here and just modernize the place a little bit."
Once people get accustomed to the synthetic lanes, Selk believes the overall average of bowlers there will go up and be more consistent throughout the year.
He said they still have openings in many league bowling divisions, and people are encouraged to stop by and see what North Hill Bowl has to offer. League bowling takes place every day but Saturday.
Selk believes the new lanes will make North Hill Bowl a much more popular choice for out-of-town bowlers as well as tournaments in the future. He said they have a new upcoming tournament called the North Hill Bowl Showdown Oct. 1314 to help showcase the lanes. The first-place prize will be $2,500.
This leads into the annual televised tournament they have in January that pays out $5,000. Selk said they always try to get 160 bowlers for the January tournament, but normally can only get around 140. He thinks this year they will finally be able to fill the tournament up because of the new lanes.
"I think we'll have more tournament bowlers this year than we've ever had," Selk said.
Since the bowling lanes received a big upgrade, Selk took the opportunity to upgrade his own skills, as well. He went to a week-long Ebonite ball drilling school this summer and became Ebonite-certified after successfully completing the 45-hour class. Ebonite is a large manufacturer of bowling balls and also has six other related companies under its umbrella.
"I was one of the most experienced guys at the pro-shop school and I learned a ton," Selk said.
"We can do special orders and we custom-fit everybody," he added.
Steve Foss was bowling a game on the new lanes Wednesday and had nothing but praise for the upgrade.
"I think it's wonderful. I think they finally came up and got rid of the old-school (lanes) and put in modern technology," Foss said. "It's only going to better the game of bowling and it's going to make a lot more people come back and enjoy the game again like it used to be."
Foss, a Tioga native and longtime bowler, returned to Minot this past year to work in the oil fields after spending the past decade in the construction industry in Iowa. He said the difference between the old lanes and new is like night and day.
He said the old wooden lanes forced bowlers to loft the ball and play a strictly power game. With the new lanes allowing bowlers to use power or finesse, it allows both the young and old to compete on a good level because using brute strength to throw the ball down the lane isn't the only way to score a strike anymore.
Foss said North Hill Bowl used to be nicknamed the "Loft House" because of the need to loft the ball 5 or 7 feet down the lane as hard as possible to have any chance at a decent score. That is no longer the case for area bowlers.
"They're not going to be held victim as much to the condition of the lanes now. It's going to be back to the basics and fundamentals of bowling," Foss said. "Pick your spot and throw it."
"It's just modern bowling," he added. "This is the way it's supposed to be, and this is giving us just that much better of an experience."