TINLEY PARK — He’s a sorcerer of steel, a man who conjures his clubs with an otherworldly creativity and passion for precision. His name is now synonymous with detail and design, with the perfect union of form and function. As it turns out putter legend Bob Bettinardi’s true muse isn’t made of metal.
It’s grown from grass.
“This is a creative outlet for me, sure,” Bettinardi says, sitting in the Man Cave/custom fitting lounge he calls Studio B in his Tinley Park headquarters. “But I’d rather be on the golf course playing. I love golf … I mean, c’mon. That’s where my creative side comes out, when I’m making pars and birdies.”
Just like the putters he creates, Bettinardi’s business is on an unbeatable roll. His Xcel Technologies empire — the parent company of Bettinardi Golf — builds everything from military parts to custom cases and plenty in between. It’s the golf company offshoot he created in 1991 that he’s best known for now, a company that makes some of the finest putters in the world, the veritable Ferrari of flatsticks.
Just like everything here, it isn’t by accident. Out on the shop floor below us, nearly a dozen stations are busy cutting, grinding, stamping, spraying and sealing hunks of raw metal into works of art. While it might be a casual spring Friday, it’s clear there’s nothing casual about quality here.
“You saw the machines out there, some of the machines are $350,000 apiece. That’s like a house,” Bettinardi said. “They’re the highest quality. We’d been doing parts for the defense industry, parts for the communications industry, parts “for the medical industry. So going into the golf industry was not that hard. I was used to putting that kind of time and effort into it, so I didn’t really know any better. I didn’t know how to make a bad putter.”
Now more than 20 years and thousands of designs later, he still doesn’t. Vice President of Golf Operations Keith Webster, a towering man with an engineer’s head and an artist’s heart, says the real magic starts in one square foot of real estate: between Bob Bettinardi’s ears.
“The genesis of the ideas come out of Bob’s brain,” Webster explained. “Bob’s an old-school engineer, and definitely likes to work with napkin drawings, shape concepts and things he gets his inspiration from. The focal point is the design aesthetics, and we engineer backward from that.”
Every one of Bettinardi’s fabulous flatsticks starts life in the form of an intricate, 3-D CAD drawing, which is then carved from a four-pound block of solid steel and created on the shop floor with 99.8% accuracy. No detail is too small, from the weight of the putter head, to the center of gravity, weight displacement, and even how the weight of a putter grip will affect the final product.
The result — roughly 42 minutes after it began (but who’s counting) — is a gleaming Bettinardi putterhead, stamped with the trademark honeycomb design the company calls the “flattest face in golf,” that’s to a millionth of an inch flat.
“Quality before quantity,” Bettinardi explains. “That’s where a lot of companies in the golf industry will think just the opposite. That’s the beauty of being a private company, you don’t have to worry about anybody breathing down your neck saying you have to increase your revenues, you have to increase your profits. This year, we may be sold out of our 2012 product by July, which is amazing.”
Not really, not when you consider how hot his putters certainly are. How does he do it? For him, it just comes natural.
“I guess I have a knack for seeing something that looks really good,” Bettinardi explains. “I have an eye on what my fellow golfer — whether it’s a one or a 30-handicap — is going to like.”
For more information about Bettinardi Golf, visit www.bettinardi.com.
A longtime golf & travel writer, Don Shell is the editor & creator of The Midwest Golf Blog (www.midwestgolfblog.com) and the proud, precarious owner of a bogey handicap.