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Known throughout the industry as a maker of the finest putters available, Bob Bettinardi has been at it since 1991, when his dream of golf club design and production began.
We were fortunate enough to spend some time with Bob recently and he was kind enough to tell us the entire story. From the humble beginnings after graduating from college and going to work for his father, through the days working for the big companies to now being known as the builder of some of the finest equipment in the game.
Then visit one of our stores to try out one of the awesome putters by Bettinardi Design. You will instantly feel the difference.
Tom: Welcome to GolfBetter at Worldwide Golf Shops, episode 215. Hello everyone, my name is Tom Brassell. Thanks so much for joining us. Glad to have you if you’re a first time listener or a long time subscriber, or maybe somewhere in the middle. We’re just glad that you tuned in with us today. Today’s a very very special day because we have somebody who is synonymous not only with putting and putters but with excellence in the craft of golf club design, joins us from up in Bettinardi headquarters, Mr. Bob Bettinardi. Bob, thanks so much for joining us. Man, it’s great having you with us today.
Bob: Thank you Tom. I appreciate it.
Tom: Bob, before we get started, can you take us back in time a little bit, back to the early days and how everything got started? It really is a fascinating story.
Bob: Sure. It was back in the 80s when I graduated with my engineering degree. I came back and I worked for my father who owned a manufacturing facility. I started when I was 22 years old and learned the finer aspects of machining. We were doing work at the time for some of the agricultural companies, some medical companies, and some also US defense industry work. When you’re doing work for those companies you’re doing a lot of work which requires close tolerance work. You’re dealing with all kinds of metals, whether it be stainless steel, carbon steel, very intricate metals. I was able to basically cut my teeth and learn through all that, and see how the machining process is done, how to improve on processes, and also how to work with metals. I would say by the time I was 28, so from 22 to 28, six years, I would have to say I almost became a metal-er just at that time, and became very high into the metal process.
At 28 years old I said to my dad, I says, “Listen, I’m only making x amount of dollars a year. You’re not going to pay me a lot of money here. How do I make more money? He says, “You’re not going to make more money working for me. You’re going to have to leave and go off and start your own business.” That’s what I did. I left at the age of 28 and started my own business. I bought one machine and I had one employee. We started doing work for the US defense industry. From there we grew the business throughout the years, but that was in 1988. In 1991 is when I walked into a golf shop in the Chicago area and I saw a poster from a company, an OEM golf company that said that they were milling putters. When I saw the word mill it struck my eye and struck my mind because that’s what I was basically learning about was this milling process.
Tom: The light went on.
Bob: The light went on. Of course at that time I was a golfer and I was a very passionate golfer. I said, “Well, my gosh. Someone’s making putters that are milled. I wonder if I could do something like this.” That was back in 1991, and got my start with a couple of the OEMs, the big OEMs, one being Callaway and one being Titleist, and started making milled putters for those companies. It wasn’t too soon after that we started making putters with my name on there, with the Bettinardi name, not the OEM names. Thus the origin of Bettinardi golf. That was basically my first putter I made with my name on it was 1998.
From 1991 to 1998, that was about a seven or eight year span, I’d learned the golf industry inside out, backwards, forwards. I got to learn what professional golfers like in putters. I got to lean how to mill a putter from front to back, what it takes to get these pros into product, and of course go out and win. That was a really big deal for me. 1998 is when I started my own putter brand. Our first victory, believe it or not on tour, was 1999. It was just literally one year after I started. I was out on tour and I had a guy, Jesper Parnevik, pick up my putter. I was on the putting green and he picked it up. Low and behold, that was the first week I ever went out to the tour with a bag of putters to show the pros. Parnevik ends up winning the tournament.
Bob: I remember going back and watching the golf tournament, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I remember watching it and saying, “Oh my gosh, this guy has a chance to win.” He ends up winning. I look at my wife. I go, “Well, that was easy. All you got to do is go out to a tour, give a putter away, and the guy ends up winning.” I’d come to find out of course, not too long after that, that it’s not that easy. It was basically a total blessing to have something like that happen for me. That was Bettinardi Golf in a nut shell, and how it started, and how we got to, at least to 1998.
Tom: Your company never would have been there had you not invested those first few years with your dad, hands on in understanding that, right? What a lesson for kids getting out of college today and everybody wanting to start at the top. Here’s a situation where you learned from the bottom up.
Bob: Yep. Learned from the bottom up. The big thing is like you said, having the, I don’t want to call it the smarts. I recall my dad being very smart and saying to me, “Hey listen if you really want to be someone who’s accomplished in the metal working industry, this is what you got to do.” In reality it was like, “Hey, i listened to my dad my whole life, and he never proved me wrong. I guess I could listen to him now.” I just went ahead and did it.
Going into the golf industry has been really a great thing for me, because again, if I was a motorcycle guy or if I was a bicycle guy, or if I was a snowmobile guys, whatever it may be, I got to go into a business that it was my passion. I started playing golf when I when I was 22. I was a 35 handicap my first year and then the next I was a 27 handicap. I worked my way all the way down to about a 7 handicap, but it was always a passion of mine. To be making something or to be in a business that’s your passion is really a cool thing. You know?
Tom: Yeah. For someone who’s listening to us now who is not a really good player and may not know the difference between a milling process and casts, just a little bit of the basics on that. I was reading, back in ’93 only less than 10 players or 20 players a year on tour were using a milled putter? That’s hard to believe but that’s true, right?
Bob: No. That’s 100% true. The era of milled putters was really in the 90s, when it first started becoming very popular. Most professional golfers on all the tours, especially the PGA tour, were playing putters from Ping Golf, and some of the other golf manufacturers who at that time, really the only process that people knew at that time was casting. What they do is a molten metal is poured into a mold and the mold is then left to cool, and they break the mold open. There, basically pops out your putter. I’m going to call it a old caveman style process. Even in the 90s I think it was kind of old and caveman style. Back then the golf industry didn’t know too much better than only to cast. By the way, it was a very inexpensive process.
When you got into the milling side, which is taking a full block of metal, of steel, that is already in a rectangle shape, it’s not cast but it’s basically throughput of metal, where they start out with a big huge chunk of metal, which maybe start out at four feet by five feet, by six feet tall. It’s just drawn down until you get to your size that you need. What you do is you then take that piece of metal that is drawn down to say, two inches by four inches by say, six inches, and it goes into a CNC milling machine. CNC stands for computer numerical control. You put that on a CNC milling machine that’s programmed to make the exact part that you want. Whether it’s a knife handle, or a gun handle, or a putter, whatever it is that’s you’ve programmed that CNC milling machine, that machine is then carving away the excess metal and basically turning that block of metal into your product.
The reason why it’s such a great avenue, especially for a putter, is because the putter, you’re trying to put a ball into a four and a quarter inch hole. You want precision and you want feel. You’re going to get both of those items when you mill something. When you cast something, you’re definitely not going to have a good feel, and you’re definitely not going to have precision. Again, when you break open a mold you’re talking about tolerances within 10 thousandths. When you’re talking about a machine putter or a mill putter you’re talking a bout tolerances within a half a thousandths, which is 20 times better, or 20 times closer tolerance. That’s huge. Think about that. That’s just a huge number there.
Therefore, the milling aspect is very very highly sought after right now in the putter area, but it’s also very expensive. Like I told you, the cost process, very inexpensive, very easy to do. The milling process is very expensive because it takes time and everybody knows time is money.
Tom: Bob, you have a long history with the companies under Worldwide Golf, with Roger Dunn, Edwin Watts Golf, and so on and so forth. Tell us a little bit about what the customers can find out in some of these select stores now with some of your latest equipment.
Bob: Right now we have not released our 2017 models. Those will be released into the United States on January 20th. Just after the first of the year you’ll be able to see our 2017 models. Right now we have our 2016 models still available and they’re still selling very very well. That would be the BB series. The price point on that is $300. That would be a very soft carbon steel putter. There’s five models that fall into that. Actually there’s four models that fall into the BB series. Very soft carbon steel, black PVD finish, which is like a midnight black. It’s just beautiful. Lime green Lamkin deep-etched grip and a beautiful, of course, head cover. Those putters right there are our stalwarts in our line. Those are just always there. Those are BB1, BB8, BB40, BB1F. You would have to go on our website to really look at each and every model.
Going through your shops I would have to say that the person who comes into your shops and sees the Bettinardi line, I would like them just to know that everything is made in America. It’s made in my facility. In fact, today is funny. My assistant came up to me and was giving me the list of employees that I have to talk to and work with as far as their Christmas bonuses are concerned. I thought I had around 75 employees. I’ve got 87 employees. I got another 12 that I didn’t know I had. We’re close to 90 employees that are strictly making the most beautiful, highly sought after golf putters in the world. I’m very very very happy for it.
Tom: Even if the 2017s won’t be available until January, get into the retail store and put one of these in your hands, and stroke a few putts with it because the difference is just phenomenal.
Bob: Yeah. You’re exactly right. Even if the 2017 won’t be there, at least right now they can go there and see the product that we have to offer now. By the way, the BB series that I spoke of, that line is going to be in our line for 2017. That is not coming out. The Studio Stock line and the Queen Bee line will be coming out, but not the BB series. Yes, please do. Please check out our product, I think the customer. We’re growing. Our business is growing every year. We grew from 2015 into 2016. We’re going to grow again this year. 2017 looks very promising. One of the things I wanted to tell you too Tom, is the fact that we do have a guy like Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Jim Herman won won last year the Houston Open. It was his first year on tour. He won. Brian Gay, Lexi Thompson, a lot of these people right now are playing our putters on tour.
We’re getting that tour validation, which is huge for any golf company. Especially take a guy like Matt Kuchar who I would almost consider a top 10 machine, he’s been playing our product for about six years now and he absolutely loves it. We have some great product. We have great tour players playing it. I’d love to have the people come out and try it.
Tom: Bob, thanks so much for carving out some of the time. Kind of a little play on words here, you talking about the milling process, carving out some time with us. It’s been great speaking with you. Final words for our listeners here on Golf Better?
Bob: Final words is just enjoy the winter season. Some of us people are in the winter side of it, especially in the Chicago time. Get out there. Please check it out. Every week, of you look at those names like I talked about, the Kuchars, and the Keegan Bradleys are playing our product. Keep an eye on those guys. I’m hoping that they go into your stores, and pick up a Bettinardi.
Tom: Thanks so much Bob. It’s great having you.
Bob: All right Tom, thank you so much.
Tom: There you go. A man who’s name is synonymous with the best putters in the game, as far as what you put in your hand, and the best putters on each of the tours are playing it. Bob Bettinardi joining us here on GolfBetter.
As we get into that holiday season, you want to make sure to go online, worldwidegolfshops.com. Check out our holiday gift guide. It is hot off the press. It is there, the electronic e-gift guide for all the gift ideas for those golfers on your list, and the ones you don’t want to forget, obviously, our personalized golf balls. You say you have a golfer that has everything. No. Every golfer needs golf balls, and every golfer loves personalized golf balls. Special thanks to Bob Bettinardi for joining us today, and to you, our listeners. We’ll do it again next time when we have another episode of GolfBetter at worldwidegolfshops.com. So long, everyone.