The Inspired Life
Collecting Design-Forward Putters Demands Ample Green
By Noah Liberman
It’s no surprise that enthusiasts who study, collect and enjoy wine often apply equal scrutiny to golf equipment, especially the all important putter. The parallel extends further because, sometimes, you simply don’t enjoy your putter, no matter what its pedigree suggests. A famous wine label does not automatically translate into an epic tasting experience, either.
But that’s part of the eternal quest: it means the next putter that seizes your attention or ends up in your hands might be “the one.”
With that axiom in mind, a survey of putters catching the eye of discriminating golfers today finds a broad spectrum of flat sticks. Some you put right in your bag. Others, you might be tempted to put immediately behind glass the way you would send a special bottle of Bordeaux to the cellar.
Tour pros increasingly have been putting Yes! Golf putters in their bags, and the company claims it’s the “C-Groove” technology that makes the difference. The arcing grooves milled into the putter’s face impart a gentle overspin to the ball, eliminating the random trajectories that result from backspin, according to the company.
Fairway Golf USA
That’s the hard science; the soft-sell is that every Yes! Golf putter is given a woman’s name, including the Tracy, named after PGA Tour star Retief Goosen’s wife. It is a strategy employed to offset the lack of a budget for player endorsement deals.
“We can’t pay our players to use Yes! putters, but we sure can suck up to them,” says Yes! tour representative Jerry Walters.
Yes! latest overture is the Callie Forged, which combines a traditional shape (made famous by Ping) and a dark gray, manganese-bronze forged head that’s a bit softer in feel than other Yes! offerings. Widely available at golf stores and online, it’ll cost you about $250.
From another prominent manufacturer, Mizuno, comes a new partnership with noted putter artisan Bob Bettinardi, who has produced two mallets that will suit the eyes of golfers desiring something less space-age inspired than the popular 2-Ball-style putters but with modern game-improvement features – namely, advanced sightline markings, a low, deep center of gravity, and Bettinardi’s patented honeycomb milling pattern on the face. The C-01 and C-02 are now available widely, and cost around $180.
If you happen to live in the Chicago area, or are attracted to the area by events such as this week's Medinah Country Club-hosted 2006 PGA Championship, an educational way to spend a morning is readily arranged by booking some time at Studio Bettinardi, the designer’s high-tech Tinley Park, Ill., workshop. You can have your swing analyzed by video computers, and if you’re feeling impulsive you can walk out with one of his production models -- or even a tour-stock or custom-made item upwards of $3,000. (Featured in the adjacent photo is a rare $4,500 Black 44 Magnum). You might see a touring pro popping into Studio Bettinardi, too, if you’re lucky.
Wilson Golf (another Chicago-area company) has revamped its entire line in the past year, bringing back the venerated Wilson Staff brand with a vengeance and pushing numerous well-received putters in its alliance with designer Kirk Currie. (You’re getting the picture: top clubmakers – like Titleist with Scotty Cameron, or MacGregor with Bobby Grace – tend to ally with a top putter designer; Bettinardi is on his second major partnership, having left Hogan last year.)
Currie’s most recent offerings employ adjustable weights – which some putter experts see as a growing trend. The BalanceFit system not only has weight portals in the sole (a notion first tried a century ago), but another at the grip’s end-cap; you can thus change the putter’s balance point to adjust for green types and swing preferences. When you consider how much tweaking the pros do with their other clubs, this isn’t a far-fetched idea at all. The Kc4 – often used by pro Padraig Harrington – runs about $180 in stores and online.
Speaking of far-fetched, you can make a putter-head look like almost anything today, but when was the last time you saw a radically different grip? Putter designer Janis Zichmanis (formerly a top Canadian ad executive) thinks the secret to balance is having your hands in a symmetrical position – which explains his Pure Pendulum system, both a grip you can buy for your own favorite stick or an entire putter designed by Clay Long, who designed the MacGregor used by Jack Nicklaus to win the 1986 Masters. It was a particularly effective weapon on that historic Sunday in April 20 years ago.
Pure Pendulum is still in its infancy as a brand, so you’re almost guaranteed to be the only one in your foursome to have this nearly two-inch-thick grip and your hands in a prayer position on the club. There are all kinds of logic in that, wouldn’t you say? Details are at purependulum.com.
That’s a quick look at putters you use; now how about putters you store, save and watch appreciate? This hobby is dominated today by Scotty Cameron’s offerings, although “offerings” isn’t necessarily the right word. The Midas-touch putter-maker brings out very limited commemorative editions when his players – like Tiger Woods – win tournaments, and he’s done other models for events like Presidential inaugurals. If you decide to collect Cameron, get ready to buy a lot of putters and to make friends with the right dealers.
Or just wait for the occasional tour prototype to trickle onto the market. The hot item right now is Cameron’s Xperimental Tour Prototype C-5, which was used by Rory Sabbatini to win the Nissan Open in February. This little number will cost you around $2,000 right now. (Don’t confuse it with the consumer-version C-5 expected to hit the market late this summer under the model name D-Tour.) Fairwaygolfusa.com is the place to start when you’re looking for gray market Scotty Cameron.
If you’re seeking a collectible that’s a little less pricey, there’s the Odyssey Tri-Hot #3, possibly the millionth knock-off of the Ping Anser, but still in huge demand. Prototypes are especially coveted in Japan, and will fetch around $800 there; the consumer model is out of stock just about everywhere and will cost you roughly $300 on eBay, well over its original retail price.
If you’re not a collector or a speculator, and all you care about is your next 18 holes, then consider two more putter “breakthroughs,” both of which we’ll place in the “big claims” bag.
Convinced there hasn’t been a significant breakthrough in putter shafts in 70 years (presumably when hickory finally lost favor), UST is now offering its Frequency Filtered putter shafts, made from a combination of graphite and steel and designed to filter out useless vibrations and you a better feel for well-stroked and mis-hit putts. They retail for $85; details are at ustgolfshafts.com.
Finally, MacGregor’s Bobby Grace is poised to roll out a putter that doesn’t just correct for bad alignment – as many of today’s futuristic-looking “game improvement” sticks do – but for bad distance, as well (believe it or not). Grace will be hitting PGA Tour stops with a swing robot in August, he told us, and a soft launch to consumers in November, just in time for the holidays.
It sounds like the launch will be very soft. “They’ll have to scream for it in November,” he says. So now’s a good time to cozy up with your local golf retailer or club pro, just as you might with your favorite wine purveyor ahead of those '05 Bordeaux releases.