Meet the Ballmaster – Andy Penny Talk’s Tenpin

We all need a Proshop for bowling equipment, sure you can buy online but you still need holes drilling. You cannot just get a drill and do it yourself.

Unless you have training and experience, you will need a ball driller. A proshop can be a one stop shop to all the information you will need on the sport of bowling. From the ball to coaching, advice, tips and historical information, they are a place to get started and a place to help you improve.

A popular and experienced Proshop that is well worth a visit if you live around the Luton area is Andy Penny’s Ballmaster Proshop at Go Bowling Dunstable. Andy started out as a talented left hander before working in the bowling industry where he has gone on to become probably the most experienced driller in the UK today.

The first on our shores to become a USBC qualified coach at the very top levels who would go on to win a lot of medals with Team England and train some of the country’s best bowlers including his own daughter Kirsten who is the UK’s greatest ever female bowler and top of the Hall of Fame rankings.

Meet Andy Penny……

What made you want to become a ball driller and proshop operator?

My friend needed a ball drilling but he couldn’t drive and he asked me if I would drive him to see Bernie Caterer at the now disappeared Jardines Club in Aylesbury, Bernie was also my driller at the time. The first thing Bernie said to us as we walked in was “Do you know anybody who wants to buy a ProShop?” I thought about it for at least 5 seconds and said “Me!”

At the time I was managing Superstores for a well known furniture chain, I was pretty fed up with selling low quality goods and not being able to deliver them on time!

Having the pro shop would allow me to help people buy what they needed with honest advice and customer service. I had an engineering background I had trained as a tool maker and mold maker although I could never picture a solid block of metal and turn it into the finished article on the drawing! However when it came to visualising the inside of a bowling ball and how the core would be rotating as the ball travelled down the lane I found it much easier to see, which helped a lot.

To cut a long story shorter. 3 weeks later I was the proud owner of a pro shop. My first event was the Junior Nationals at Stevenage where we set up the drilling rig in a little alcove as they didn’t have a shop at the time and proceeded to sell 50 balls which led to believe that this would be an easier life than the high pressure retail.

It’s not exactly a case of drilling three holes, a lot goes into making the fit perfect for the customer. Did it take you long to get the hang of how to measure then drill, who taught you?

It does take years to serve your apprenticeship the same as in many other professions. I’m still learning now as the game is always evolving and peoples hands have also changed in that 40 year period. The drilling was straight forward as I knew my way around machinery

Measuring is a skill that does take a while to master, there is more information available now than ever before, If you follow that information from IBPSIA for example you won’t go far wrong but there is a lot more feel to it than that, understanding what the bowler wants to do but comfort is the number one priority. The only people who need to have tape or skin patch in are those with a sensitive skin type. If a ball is injuring you it because of the drilling it shouldn’t happen every time you play!

Did it help that you were also a good bowler back in the days and knew a lot about bowling balls and what equipment would suit other bowlers?

Thank you for that compliment Dom but I became a much better player and better Coach because of being a Pro shop operator.

Equipment is not exactly cheap in our sport and there is a steady flow of equipment released all year. Is it difficult to stock every ball and what sort of an investment has to go into even starting up a proshop business?

Yes too many it feels at times lol It’s impossible to stock every ball from every brand no matter how large a shop you have! To do it properly and by that I mean full time I’d say you wouldn’t get much change out of £75k to start and probably closer to £100k if you include training and staff, I don’t see it as a one person business at all now

From start to finish how long does it take to measure and drill? Does a lot of it depend on the level of the customer and fit they require?

The minimum time the process should take is 30 mins. That included watching the person bowl! No matter what level they are you cannot possibly offer your best advice without watching them play! Then there is the chat about what they want to achieve in bowling and which centre they play in. For a more experienced player that is closer to an hour to get all the necessary measurements especially the thumb shaping and angles(pitches) including their PAP you cannot possibly lay a ball out for anyone without that crucial measurement

When it comes to the new people coming into the shop for that very first ball, is it a mix of polyesters at first like the earlier days or are people straight into the top level equipment?

When someone new comes into the shop we go through what is available and the price points. Some people want the best straight away and if they still want it after you’ve chatted about whether they need it especially if they are playing in a centre with no oil or very limited oil you have to drill it for them at least you know it will be a good fit. You’d be amazed at how competitive people are within their social groups when it comes to bowling! Something we are not making the most of as an industry and especially as a sport

When you have drilled for someone and they go off and improve, then come back for more equipment and keep improving, do you naturally get a good feeling about ones that could go far in the sport?

For sure! You mentioned before that I could bowl a bit and I’m often asked if I miss it , the truth is that I don’t have time to miss it and as I was coaching at the highest level and those players were very successful, I was able to achieve a great deal of satisfaction that way. I’d never say never however for me to play at the level I’d want to play at I would need a lot of time to train and practice which I just don’t have enough of right now

How many balls would you guess to have drilled in you career so far?

It’s nigh on 40 years so it’s a quite a few thousands now!

It’s not all about bowling balls though. Bags, shoes and accessories mean you need a wealth of knowledge beyond just the drilling. Are there any must have things in your bag these days?

A good ball driller has to have a high level of coaching qualification and a coach has to have a good understanding of bowling ball coverstock types and especially surface preparation which are far more important than layouts! Having said that you cannot drill a ball without knowing a persons current PAP. Have I said that before?

So in your bag you do need a Surface. Scanner to accurately know what surface works for a bowler. Next would be an Armadillo and Quarter scale. Next undoubtedly is a camera which we all have on our phones. A Driller needs to see the release and ball speed as well as know the PAP! A coach needs to see the approach and release . There are some fantastic apps available to assist us to give visual aids for people to see things for themselves.

Of all the balls you have drilled in the last year, which are the more popular ones. Is there a Proshop league for most drilled Purple Hammers?

lol Yes The Purple Puppy is right up there! Although the Black Widow 2.0 hybrid could well become the best selling ball of all time. The Storm family still have their evergreen balls that players buy again and again and Motiv a re making a good showing with EJ having a great year on Tour

Would you say you drill more new balls than you do plug and re-drills or is it an even mix over time?

I think it will always be a larger number of new balls to PRDs and both are on the increase as more players come into or back into the sport

Finally, Of all the balls your have drilled and used, which one personally is your favourite currently now and over time?

Wow! What a great question. For me back in the day A polished black U Dot was my go to ball then it was the original blue hammer. I loved the Storm Thunder Flash however I had my most successful times with a Teal Rhino Pro. Right now and until the environment changes or is changed the Purple Pearl hammer will reign supreme!