Can You Bowl Without Using the Holes?

Most bowlers have rolled their ball down the lane without using the pre-drilled holes at some point. Whether you are a child using two hands or an adult showing off, it was likely during a casual game rather than a competitive match.

You can bowl without using the holes in your bowling ball. Unused holes must be plugged to prevent bowlers from creating illegal balance holes. You can have a 2-finger grip and plug the thumb hole, drill 2, 3, 4 or 5 holes using same number of fingers for grip, or use a ball with no holes.

This was not always the case. Before August 1st, 2018, it was not required to have all the holes covered by the bowler’s fingers. Today, for your bowling ball to be legal, it must have all holes that are not used by your fingers plugged or filled in. How does this affect the average pro or amateur bowler?

What Is the Purpose of Holes in a Bowling Ball?

I have always been a three finger bowler. I learned to bowl so long ago that no one had pioneered any of the two-handed spins or two-finger styles that came later. And I was a competitive bowler.

But these days, some balls have just two holes, and some have three, four, or more. There is so much variation because the number and position of the holes are tailored to the owner’s personal preferences. Each hole in the ball has a specific purpose. Of course, you can’t get these variations using the bowling center’s balls. This is one of the reasons to buy your own bowling ball.

Grip holes usually refer to the two holes in which the ring and middle finger are inserted to grip the ball. There are a variety of grips. How far the fingers are inserted into the bowling ball depends on bowler preference and will affect ball control. This is something a professional bowler studies, tests, and practices.

The thumb holes are for inserting the thumb into to yield a steadier grip. For a period of time, using this third hole was optional, but today, if your ball has a thumb hole, you must use it or plug it.

Balance holes or weight holes were originally strategically added to a ball after the grip, and thumb holes are drilled to re-establish balance according to USBC regulations. Eventually, bowlers would add balance holes to their custom balls to manipulate how the ball rolls to their advantage. This tactic is a contributing factor to the new USBC rule banning balance holes from official matches (source)

It Is Possible to Bowl Without Using the Holes

When bowling with a ten-pin bowling ball, you could technically bowl without putting your fingers in the holes by cradling the ball in your palm. Your palm would need to cover all the holes in the ball for this to be considered remotely legal. Two-handed bowling is a much easier way to bowl without the holes.

This technique obviously would not work for everyone. The circumference of a ten-pin bowling ball ranges between 26.7 in (67.8 cm) to 27.0 in (68.6 cm) (source) The average length of an adult male’s hand is 7.6 in (19.3 cm), and of an adult female’s hand is 6.8 in (17.3 cm) (source)

Both average adult hands are less than a third in length compared to the circumference of the ball. It is safe to assume that only an above-average-sized adult hand could cradle a ten-pin ball in its palm.

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Why You Should Use the Holes in a Bowling Bowl

Even if you are capable of bowling with a ten-pin ball without putting your fingers inside the holes, it might be wiser to use the holes than not. By not using the holes, you may be sacrificing the control you need to guide the ball down the lane at the desired angle.

  • The official rules for ten-pin bowling put out by the USBC mandates that all holes be covered. Even while playing a casual game for entertainment purposes only, there is something to be said about playing by the pro rules. It depends on how serious the participants are about the game.
  • Those who release their ball prematurely when sending it down the lane are recommended to squeeze the ball’s gripping holes. In general, bowlers are told not to do this because it makes the release more difficult and generally less smooth, but this technique gives anyone with a weak grip more control.
  • A 3-hole grip gives the bowler more control of the ball during release. This is when the bowler uses the holes for their thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. Using three holes works with both a conventional grip or a fingertip grip. The conventional grip is when the bowler’s fingers slide into the ball up to their second knuckle. The fingertip grip only has the fingers slide into the ball up to the first knuckle on the middle and ring finger. The thumb in the fingertip grip is still fully inserted.
  • A 4-hole grip helps to relieve some of the pressure caused by the weight of the ball. This grip would typically use the thumb, middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie. Bowlers with arthritis, gout, or other impairments in their hands use this grip as a strategy to minimize discomfort during a match.
  • With a 5-hole grip, the bowler experiences even further reduction in pressure on their fingers. This is when all five fingers are inserted in the bowling ball’s holes. When a bowler gets to the point of having more than three holes in their ball, it is not uncommon for them to have custom drilled balls so that each whole is customized to match the position of their fingers. Creating a custom ball not only ensures that the ball is comfortable to use, but you can also choose a ball that reflects your personality. Storm offers a wide variety of unique bowling balls to choose from, like the Storm Mix Bowling Ball from Amazon.
  • It is difficult to hook the ball without using the grip holes. Bowlers can use a 2-hole, 3-hole- or 2-handed grip to create a hooked throw, but it is extremely difficult to do without using any holes at all.

When Is It Okay to Bowl Without Using the Holes?

If your preference is to not use the holes in your ball in a ten-pin bowling game, it is perfectly fine not to when you’re not participating in an official league match. You might also consider other types of bowling.

5-pin, duckpin, and candlepin bowling all use smaller balls without any holes at all. Because these variations on ten-pin bowling use balls that are small enough to fit into an adult’s palm, it minimizes the pressure on the fingers and any strain on the wrist. 

Some of these games may not be offered in all areas because they are regional. For example, five-pin bowling is mostly found in Canada, and candlepin bowling is most popular in the Northeastern region of the U.S. and some parts of Canada.


It is physically possible to bowl without using the holes in your bowling ball if your hands are large enough. For ten-pin bowling, professionals are required by the USBC to cover all holes on their bowling ball.

Not using the holes can also hurt your game as an amateur. If you choose to not use the holes because of discomfort, try the 4-hole or 5-hole grip. There are also various bowling games that don’t have holes in the balls at all to consider in place of ten-pin bowling.

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