While at the 2010 PGA Merchandise Show, I visited the Bettinardi booth and had the awesome opportunity to have a chat with Bob Bettinardi to discuss the company and their new 2010 series putters. Prior to the show, they sent me one of their 2010 Bettinardi BB1 Putters to try out and review. You can read the review here…
On with the Interview!
OGB: Tell us about the company.
BB: Bettinardi first opened 1999 and in 2001 we signed a deal with Ben Hogan to make putters for them under the Bettinardi/Ben Hogan name. The contract ended when Spalding (who owned Ben Hogan) went into a Chapter 11 in 2004. In 2005, we signed a contract with Mizuno, dual branding with Bettinardi/Mizuno. In 2009 our contract was up for renewal and I decided to opt out and go out on my own again. That’s how Bettinardi got to where it is now.
It’s been a great six months since I’ve been on my own and I’m very excited about it. Overwhelmingly, it’s been a huge success for Bettinardi because I’m able to do the things I want to do, being that it’s my own company again. We have a great distribution channel in the overseas markets and domestic, we just hired 15-18 sales reps, so it’s going very very well.
OGB: What was your motivation for getting into designing putters?
BB: Well, probably just like you, I’m an avid golfer. I saw something, an opportunity, I already had the machines at my disposal, I own a manufacturing machine shop. One of the things that you’re going to find different about Bettinardi that no other putter manufacturer can claim, is the fact that I do own my own shop. Most, if not all the other putter manufacturers have to go outside to another company to get their product made. Bettinardi owns their own shop, my office is 20 feet from the manufacturing floor, it’s very important. It helps with quality control because everything is made onsight, not six thousand miles away.
OGB: Are there any putter designers that influenced you as you were getting into the business?
BB: I don’t think there has been any one designer that influenced me, there’s been some designs, such as the Karsten Solheim design with the Ping answer, I think that’s affected almost every designer. The thing that separates Bettinardi from all the putter designers is the way our product is made. We designed and patented the one piece technology, where by, you start out with a block of steel and everything is milled. There is no welding, no investment castings, everything in the way we make our product is what separates us from all the rest.
OGB: What’s your philosophy behind designing putters?
BB: My philosophy behind designing putters? I go to the PGA Tour, go to where the best putters in the world are playing. I work with the tour players, listen to the tour players and then go back and design, construct, mill, shape and grind what they want. From there I end up getting my production series lines that I then sign to the general public.
OGB: What are the attributes to a good putter?
BB: Aesthetics, flat face, heel toe weighting, balance, feel. The feel is unsurpassed in a Bettinardi because of the way it’s made. Processes that other manufacturers use, can cause air pockets (porosity) hard spots, chill spots, etc… When you have a Bettinardi in your hand, we’re talking about a truly custom made, milled from one piece of metal, which is going to give you the best feel because there’s no disconnect.
OGB: How important are the aesthetics of a putter?
BB: Aesthetics are the most important part for Bob Bettinardi, because aesthetics is something that I want the golfer to be able to look down at that putter and think that I can make a putt with it. That’s how I want golfers to perceive my product. I’m not sure this is one of your questions, but when the general public picks up a putter, he should be looking at a putter that looks good to his eye and not everyone’s eye is the same. There are golfers who like putters that are over-sized, the MOI putters, there are golfers who play the little blade, the 8802 style putter, it’s all a matter of personal preference and we’ve tried to accommodate for that.
OGB: Now the putter face, tell me about that, the honeycomb design?
BB: It came out of a need to make the face flatter, in my old ways of machining, I used to just mill horizontally across the face with a skim mill and I found that it left a little concaveness in the face. So, we developed a vertical mill, and we come down almost like a sewing machine and use a small jewelers bit to come down flat on the face. I was able to measure that and the face had no more concaveness and was perfectly flat.
OGB: I read somewhere that the actual honeycomb was not the intent of the milling, it was an aftereffect that became sort of a trademark for you, is that true?
BB: Are you talking about the honeycomb? Yeah, absolutely, like I just said it was more a need to say, lets try something new to get this face flatter.
OGB: I was talking to some guys and I was saying that I didn’t understand the reasoning that it makes it flatter, but they brought up a good point about the dimples in the ball fit to the honeycomb face better, any truth to that?
BB: Well, I don’t think there’s any…. well, you know what? I’m not going to deny somebody for saying that, but I don’t see any of that in my testing, that has an effect on the ball, even with grooves, I don’t personally feel that the grooves gets the ball rolling faster. I think if there’s anything to get the ball rolling faster, it’s the perfect loft on a putter, whether it’s 2-3-4 degrees. Again, it’s all personal how you hold the putter. It’s not necessarily the face of the club, the face of the club needs to be flat, the honeycomb, for me at least, produces a very flat face.
OGB: Why did you decide to go green grass and selected club fitters?
BB: I think the reasoning behind that is that it’s a high end product. I think we have a better chance for the assistant or the head pro to show the product to their members. I also think the club fitters are going to be selective on who they show the putters to and explain to them that this product is made the right way, this product is made in America, this product is awesome and these are the reasons why. I think we’ll have more traction than going mass retail.
OGB: What’s your favorite putter out of the 2010 series?
BB: The BB8, the same putter that Brian Gay is using this year.
OGB: Tell me why you selected Brian Gay to sponsor?
BB: Very simple, he won twice last year with my putter. He’s fourth in putting last year in total stats, he’s a great guy, a great putter and most importantly, he loves our product.
OGB: Tell me a little bit about the Bettinardi Belt Buckles
BB: The buckles were started about two years ago. When I would go to tour events, I saw a lot of customization on the buckles and I started thinking to myself, maybe we should be doing some belt buckles because really a belt buckle is made out of steel. I started coming up with a concept and about two years ago, we designed it and the buckles are really going crazy now because we’re able to customize it for green grass establishments and corporations.
OGB: Any prominent players currently wearing a Bettinardi Buckle?
BB: Angel Cabrera, last year, won the masters wearing a Bettinardi Buckle.
OGB: Are you still an avid golfer?
OGB: Whats your handicap?
BB: I’m a seven.
OGB: If you could pick a foursome to play golf with out of anybody in the world, who would you pick?
BB: That’s a good question, I would probably pick the general who’s running the whole war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m a real big military guy, I love the fact that the guys do what they do, while receiving little or no credit. Even though my nationality is Italian, I was born in America and I’m supporter of the military. I would also choose one of the top business leaders, maybe a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs and the third would be a guy like Billy Graham. So you have a prominent Religious guy, a military guy and a business leader. I think being able to talk to those guys about their expertises would be an invaluable experience.
OGB: Awesome! Bob, thanks very much for your time today.