Icons often come from humble beginnings. From small towns, family farms, or back-alley garages in West Liberty, Iowa, where the sticker on the door is the only hint that something special might be inside. Somewhere among the whirring machines and stacks of materials is Pat Diveney, hopping from station to station, absorbed in his own world.
“I’ll get started on one thing and drop it, and go do another,” says Diveney, ” and I’ll see something else that needs to be done.”
He’s on five machines but doing one job he’s making pool cues and, according to those in the game, he’s doing it as well as anyone in the world.
Top-ranked American, Shane Van Boening uses one, as does Filipino star, Rodolfo Luat.
“I have like 6 or 7 Filipino pros playing for us, and they’re the best in the world. It’s their national sport.”
In fact, the most famous Filipino of all, welterweight champ, Manny Pacquiao is said to use a Diveney. And it’s funny, Diveney sounds a bit like a boxer–confident about all he can do with his knurled and skilled hands.
“You have to ask yourself ‘Why are you building them?’ Because you think yours are better than everybody else’s. That’s WHY you build them.”
It’s not surprising to hear that Diveney has always been good at pool. His love of the game took him to tournaments where he began modifying his own store-bought cue to such convincing effect that his handiwork drew attention from other players.
“They said, ‘Hey, could you make mine like yours?'” Diveney recalls, ” You know, and I’d clean them up, and one guy started tipping me. And I thought, ‘you know, maybe there’s a dollar or two in this!'”
It wasn’t long before Diveney was building his own cues from scratch, selling them at tournaments, and later on his website, “Diveneycues.com. The orders now pour in faster than he can possibly hope to keep up with.
He’s made it look easy, but he’ll stop you right there.
“This is one of the things that people, when they first start out, they really have no idea, you know,” says Diveney, “they get a small cue lathe and they think ‘Aw, I’m gonna build pool cues’ and I got news for them, there’s a LOT more to it than that!”
To begin with, even working seven days a week, Diveney only cranks out about 60 cues a year. Each takes up to four months to make, and even the smallest mistakes are costly especially when you’re working with silver, mother-of-pearl and ivory.
It’s available only from sources like American museums and collectors, who must be able to prove that the ivory has been in the US since before the international ivory ban of 1990.
“Some places might smuggle it in, but we’ve never bought any, not that we know of and we don’t want to buy any of it. We love the elephants as much as anybody.”
Ivory lends an air of exclusivity, and it certainly brings up the cost this cue goes for a cool $5,000–but it doesn’t necessarily make it PLAY any better. If you want the best of BOTH worlds, Diveney will direct you to back to the wood pile, where he has pieces of maple hauled up from the floor of Lake Superior, where they had sat since their logging ship sank in the 18th century.
“Look at the growth rings in that!” Diveney points to the dark, finely-grained wood. “This means that that tree grew for a lot of years!”
It’s almost hard to believe what this former maintenance worker can do with raw material. The finished products seem to shine as he calls them by name.
“This is what we call a butterfly hustler. This is a full splice. This is an entry-level cue, it’s called a Sneaky Pete. That’s just a plain Jane cue.”
The person who owns the Sneaky Pete can sneak into a pool hall and hustle everybody’s money with a cue that looks like nothing special but is, in fact, a Diveney, and for all their beauty, Diveneys are known best as performers.
“If you’re talking about playability, I would pick our cue over anybody. You have to feel that way if you’re a cue maker.”
There’s that confidence again.
It’s reflected on the AZ Billiards website, where the praise for the Iowan’s work runs in an endless stream. He can walk unnoticed in his home town, but gets sought out like a celebrity at tournaments worldwide.
“I had my buddy with me (at tournament) and he says ‘Man, you’re famous!’ and I said ‘A lot more famous than I ever knew!'” Diveney laughs. “You know, I never really realized just how famous I had become, because I never get out of West Liberty, Iowa!”
Just because you come from humble beginnings, doesn’t mean you have to be a humble guy.
Pat Diveneys skills are just gaudy good and when his name goes on the side, you’ve got an Iowa Icon.