When you think of getting a “custom putter,” what do you envision? Length, loft and lie angle measurements, of course, picking your head shape and the grip you want, then maybe put a few stampings on there and be on your way, right?
Well, that’s not the Bettinardi way.
As part of an incredible giveaway, Bettinardi allowed one GolfWRX Member (one of hundreds who entered), to travel to Bettinardi Headquarters to get a “custom putter fitting.” The very-lucky GolfWRX Member “ESP” won the giveaway, but he had no idea what he was actually getting himself into. Hint: He sat down with company founder Bob Bettinardi himself to design his very own putter.
Since Tinley Park, Illinois — where Bettinardi HQ is located — is only a 4-hour drive (or 5-and-a-half with an accident-induced traffic jam, as the case may be), I decided to make the trip and observe exactly what goes into a Bettinardi custom fitting, and how it might be different than what other putter companies may offer.
I’ll explain my observations and what I learned below, but make sure to check out this forum thread where we updated the experience live from Bettinardi HQ with tons of photos. In the thread, member ESP also leaves his full thoughts and answers questions.
First, a Tour of Bettinardi’s manufacturing facility
Bettinardi takes pride in doing all of its milling in house. Actually, it does everything except plating. This allows Bettinardi engineers and Bob Bettinardi himself to walk just steps from his office, directly onto the manufacturing facility floor. That way, he can have his eye on everything from tolerances to welding to paint filling.
“Anything that’s happening, I can walk out there and have my eyes on it,” Bettinardi said. “That’s huge. It’s not China that’s 6,000 miles away, where you put something on a .zip file and hope it’s right, and you gotta wait until it’s in your hands. It’s so much better to be here and see the product being made.”
Bettinardi founded the company in 1998, and he’s been making high-end, precision putters in his facility ever since. You’d be surprised at some of the putters that his company has milled for other companies (i.e. original Scotty Cameron Terylium putters), and he keeps many of his more notable millings in a trophy-like case right in his office.
But, as his son Sam Bettinardi (VP of Sales and Marketing at Bettinardi) says, you won’t see Bob out in the shop welding putters or on the grinding wheel. That’s not what he does. He’s an idea man, and he knows how to get things done.
“I used to keep a notepad [for my ideas],” Bettinardi says. “Now, I use guys like him as my notepad (pointing to engineer Takashi Yoshii).”
Bettinardi mills putters for retail releases, custom designs and Tour-player-specific needs. But, since Bettinardi is an idea man, the company also mills things such as wallets, phone cases, ash trays, flasks, belt buckles, ball markers and more. Many of which have Bettinardi’s recognizable Honeycomb design. Brief sidenote: The honeycomb milling pattern was birthed because Bettinardi was looking for a way to make the putter face flatter, instead of convex; so he and his engineers came up with eye-catching honeycomb face not for aesthetics, but actually, for function! Who woulda thunk.
Anyway, Bettinardi’s facility houses rows of CNC-milling machines that keep ultra-tight tolerances, a throw-back Bridgeport machine (on which it milled its first putters), and more of what you’d expect in a putter manufacturing facility. But, Bettinardi has something on the manufacturing floor you won’t see anywhere else: the first-ever American made Mori Sieki machine, which was made in California. Bettinardi prides itself on making American-made putters, so this was a point of note.
In another section of the manufacturing floor was where the sexiness happens. Putters get welded, buffed, and made to look pretty with paintfills.
And, of course, a cabinet full of shiny Bettinardi putters that putter enthusiasts could surely stare at all day long.
Now, it was time for ESP to design a putter for himself. Let’s get fit, shall we?
The fitting process
Somewhere toward the end of the Tour, GolfWRX Member and man of the hour “ESP” turned to me and said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. What should I do?”
After seeing the in-depth process in how a putter gets made, and all of the capabilities Bettinardi has on site, he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fact he was actually going to design his own putter. I’ll admit, I’d have been overwhelmed too. I mean, how often do you get the opportunity to literally design your own putter? That’s a lot of pressure.
But alas, he started the process.
We walked upstairs to Bettinardi’s private putter fitting studio where we met with Brad Hommes, who would be conducting the fitting. He offered us a beer from Bettinardi’s custom keg, but at 9 a.m. that seemed a bit aggressive, and not terribly conducive to a proper balance during the putter fitting, so we declined.
Then, The Hive gates opened for us, allowing us to go where few golfers have gone before. Sam Bettinardi entered the code for the newly renovated and ultra-exclusive “The Hive,” which houses Bettinardi’s most rare and expensive putters. Inside, ESP selected some putter models that he liked, and drew inspiration from some designs. To get a feel for what he liked from a sound and feel perspective, he hit some putts on the turf golf green. He quickly noticed significant differences between the FIT Face, the honeycomb face, and the micro honeycomb face. It was also clear that ESP, who previously gamed a Scotty Cameron Newport 2, preferred a BB-0 or BB-8 style head, rather than a mallet. He also said he liked the carbon feel, preferred more feedback to less, and stressed he did not want a putter that would rust.
So with four finalists, ESP headed into the fitting section of the putter studio to get some data and really get dialed in. Ultimately, he needed to make a decision on head style, face, material, hosel and grip… not to mention color schemes, stampings and more. With a lot to do and decisions to make, it was time to get to work.
To conduct its fittings, Bettinardi uses a V1, 4-camera system that captures 60 frames per second. According to Hommes, Bettinardi’s fitting philosophy is very much understanding what the player likes, hears and feels, and they do not want to make any corrections to the players stroke; the point is to match a putter to their current stroke so they can make as many putts as possible with it. Like Hommes says, if you fit a player to a stroke that isn’t there’s, then the putter won’t fit when they revert back to their old stroke.
With that in mind, ESP stepped up on the putting mat with V1 analyzing his stroke. Fitter Hommes wanted to determine, as ESP switched putters in and out, which putter head was getting ESP’s stroke on the best plane going back. ESP’s tendency was to take the putter outside the line and cut across the golf ball, so Hommes wanted to find the head that influenced a more inside path.
For ESP, his job was to just stroke the putts, try to make every putt, and evaluate what head, shape, feel and hosel he liked the most. Surely, that process can get a bit confusing, but ESP was very in-tune with different feels and what he wanted.
“If I like the BB-0 head, but the BB-8 hosel, we can make that right?” ESP asked Hommes.
And that right there is the benefit of having the engineers and the manufacturing facility all under the same roof. Of course Bettinardi can make that happen!
Hommes determined throughout the fitting that ESP needed a lie angle of 68 degrees, as opposed to the standard 71 degrees. However, he wanted to try a BB-0 putter with a length of 33.5 inches and a micro honeycomb face. With none of those lying around, why not build one?
ESP took a liking to the new putter Hommes built, and even liked the grip, too. It wasn’t an absolute winner because the hosel still wasn’t right and it didn’t have the topline ESP wanted, but the putter Hommes built was looking like the winner — and ESP wasn’t missing a putt with it. Here’s what was going through ESP’s brain during that time.
After dialing in the specs we went back to the different millings and head materials to decide which felt the best to me,” ESP said. “I tried everything from a carbon head with F.I.T. Face milling, which was on the softer end of the spectrum, all the way to the Honeycomb DASS with sound slot on firmer end of the spectrum. The FitFace wasn’t for me and neither was the honeycomb with sound slot. I did like the micro honeycomb milling in both the carbon and DASS, which is somewhere in the middle of the feel spectrum feel. One of the hardest decisions was choosing between carbon or DASS. Both felt great, but at the end of the day I went with the DASS for durability and to get the finish I liked.
So, after over two hours in the fitting studio and one of the most in-depth, hands-on putter fittings I’ve ever witnessed, here are the specs for ESP’s putter.
It’s a DASS (Double-aged Stainless Steel) BB-0 with a plumber’s neck, a micro honeycomb face, black oxide finish, 68 degree lie angle and 33.5 inches long.
Now, design time!
Bob Bettinardi helps with the finishing touches
Picture this: You’re sitting around a conference room table, designing your own putter with Bob Bettinardi himself, and his engineer Takashi Toshii. Seems ridiculous, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened…
For this part, I’ll let ESP tell you about it in his own words:
“After we figured out the head and specs, we went off to the conference room to meet Robert Bettinardi and talk design. First, Robert talked about the history of the company and told some great stories about some of the tour players they have worked with over the years. They were excited about the upcoming Genesis Open at Riveria because they have several Bettinardi players in the field. Robert was great and I would have been happy to just sit and listen to him tell stories all day. Sam joined us in the conference room along with Takashi Toshii who would help with the design. We ate lunch and continued to talk all things golf and then Robert, Takashi and I worked on the design. At this point my head was swimming with all of the possibilities and I had a hard time deciding on a design. Ultimately, Robert and Takashi helped me come up with a few design ideas. After we completed the mock up we took a few pictures and Sam took me back to the Hive to look at covers. I could pick anything I wanted, which was another tough decision. Sam told me I should wait because they were receiving a new batch of covers that I could choose from. At the end of the day I picked one that I liked from the Hive to hold back and they will send me pics of the new ones to also choose from. We wrapped things up and I headed out to the airport.
I was back in my office yesterday morning and received an email from Brad with a mock up the putter. I was a little surprised to receive it so quickly! Brad and I traded emails and I had a couple of changes I wanted to make after giving it some thought. They are to send me photos as the putter progresses and I will post them as I get them.”
And there you have it. The day concluded in Tinley Park, Illinois with forum member ESP having designed his very own Bettinardi putter, with design input from Bob Bettinardi himself.
In all, including the tour, the fitting, lunch and the design process, we spent 6 hours at Bettinardi HQ. SIX hours on a custom putter fitting. That’s just the Bettinardi way, I guess.
To follow along in the latest development in ESP’s putter design process, and ultimately, see the final design, click here! And don’t be afraid to ask him a question yourself.