Our guest this episode is Sam Bettinardi. Sam is the Vice President for sales and marketing for Bettinardi Golf, which is based in South suburb of Tinley Park. You can learn more about Sam and Bettinardi Golf at bettinardi.com.
In this interview with Sam, we learn:
- How Bettinardi Golf started with a trip to a local Chicago-area golf store
- Why the one-piece milled putter changed the face of putting on the PGA Tour
- How stars like Matt Kuchar, Fred Couples and Lexi Thompson continue to impact Bettinardi designs
- What professional golfers look for in a putter versus what amateurs want
- How being a Chicago-based company impacts their business
- One thing amateurs should think about when it comes to putting
- How Bettinardi Golf identifies potential new product ideas
Interviewer: Walter Lis. Running Time: 19:33
Click here to download an MP3 file.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: How did Bettinardi Golf come to life?
SAM BETTINARDI: My father, Bob Bettinardi, grew up in a machine shop and manufacturing facility which was my grandfathers’. He worked there a lot in high school, and after he graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, he went back and worked there from the time he was 22 until he was 28. He then started his own company which was Excel Technologies, and he had a couple CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machines, which are used in prototyping and full production for cutting, carving, machining and milling in a variety of materials.
Bob was also a golfer, and he walks into a golf store, Palos Golf, which was cool because he saw an advertisement and this was December, so there’s nothing going on in the winter. He saw an advertisement in the store for a putter that was milled on a Bridgeport machine.At that time, that’s how all the putters were made. When he saw this, he asked “Bridgeport machine? Why would they be using this old technology or these machines that you have to use by hand?”
He said, I have a CNC machine which is a computerized machine. That was kind of the a-ha moment like “Hey, maybe I can start making putters with my high-end technology machines versus this old school technology.”
He called the person on the ad and said, “I’m interested in doing some work for you.” This was Callaway Golf and they had a billet series putter and were making the head and the necks, and then welding the two pieces together.
Callaway said, “We’re actually unhappy with our vendor right now, why don’t you come out to California and we’ll show you what’s going on.” He flew out there a couple of weeks later and learned everything about putter making and he took that knowledge back to his own shop and worked with one of his top machinists for about two months straight, trying to make one putter out of one solid block of steel.
Like I mentioned before, the head was milled, the neck was milled, and they’d weld the two together. He was the first person to figure out to make a once-piece milled putter. And that’s where we coined the name, one-piece technology, making it out of one block of steel.
During that time period 1991, 1992, 1993, we were making putters for some of the other top original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the golf industry. In the early 1990s, there were only five to 10 people using milled putters. But by 1997, there were about 80 players using milled putters. It really just took off.
The quality of the milled putter was a lot better, the feel was very unique, and it was really sought after on the tour. By the end of 1997 and into 1998, my father decided to start Bettinardi Golf. We moved our facility to Tinley Park and that’s when he got started making putters under his own name.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What do you think is the key to the consistency of your brand?
SAM BETTINARDI: I would say the key to our brand would be the consistency in the product, because the quality has always been there. We manufacture all the putters in our own facility and we now have 35 machine tools that are making our product. I can literally walk 15 feet and beyond the factory floor, and watch the metal coming in through our shipping bay. There we’re cutting the metal, loading it onto our machines and milling the putters. We’re polishing the putters and painting them in-house.
That process has always been there for the last 19 years and that’s a testament to our brand that you know you’re buying a Bettinardi. It’s not like we’ve ever tried to save some of the process and send it overseas or have someone else do it. We’ve always done it in-house, so the Bettinardi process has been there from start to finish.
I think that the other key thing for our brand is the Tour presence. Since 1998, we’ve had over 50 professional wins on all worldwide tours, including 25 wins in the PGA Tour. We had some nice wins in the last couple of seasons including three from Fred Couples and three from Matt Kuchar. Brian Gay had a win a couple of years ago. Stephen Bowditch won two years ago, Jim Herman also won recently.
We’ve got other players like Lexi Thompson and Keegan Bradley using our putter, which is really cool. It’s a testament to our product that these players who are not so interested in looking to get paid. They just want to use what’s best for their games, and they’ll come to the factory here in Tinley Park and get fit above the factory floor in Studio B. I mean that’s what it’s all about.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What is the feedback you’ll get from these professionals about the product? Do they come in when they get fit to get ideas, or is it more of a case where they’re learning the technology, and they’re impressed by what you guys are doing?
SAM BETTINARDI: That’s a great question. I would say some of the players are giving us feedback like Matt Kuchar when we first added him as our brand advocate back in 2013. He was trying to figure out a new way to putt, and he approached us having won his first professional event in 2002 with a Bettinardi.
He said to himself, Bettinardi can really do anything because they make the products themselves. I’m going to go to those guys with my idea of putting a putter against my forearm. And since nobody’s ever done this before maybe they can help me. That’s when we first made the arm lock style of putter, which had two and a half shafts of offset and seven degrees of law. That really took off for him when he won twice that year and again in 2014 and 2015.
But some of the other players that have been to our studio have learned a lot as well. They’re very impressed with the fact that we have over 90 employees and we’re making everything here in-house. But when it comes to the fitting element, some players, which sounds crazy, have never even been fit for a putter. They are actually learning a lot while they are trying to find the best putter for their game.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Talk a little bit about the impact of having a Chicago golf company, specifically on the south side. How does that make you unique? Are there any specific advantages to having a company on the south side of Chicago?
SAM BETTINARDI: Chicago is where my father was born and raised. They grew up in Evergreen Park and we live in Lemont. But being on the south side of Chicago is one of the greatest golfing towns in the county. There are so many great clubs in the area, public and private.
Being one of the bigger golf markets, that’s really helped our name continue to grow. Having some of the majors, the US Open, Olympia Fields, and the BMW Championship at Conway Farms and Medinah having the BMW and the Ryder Cup. It’s really a great golf town to be part of. And like you mentioned, on the south side, we’ve got a great location off I-80 and Harlem.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What do you think an amateur can take away from the knowledge that you guys have amassed over the years with making putters? How can you benefit amateurs with your technology?
SAM BETTINARDI: I think the amateurs are concerned about gaining more yards off the tee and trying to hit the ball 10 yards further because they are trying to impress their buddies. But really what it comes down to is the old saying “drive for show, putt for dough”, which rings true.
I would say for amateurs, instead of going to a store and buying a putter off the racks because you like the price, or the way it looks, it’s so important to get fit. We offer custom fitting at Studio B, where we have over 50 putters on display – different models, different head shapes, different side alignments, different finishes, different feels.
Where someone comes in, whether it’s an amateur or whether it’s Matt Kuchar, they can roll all these different putters. We will ask them to try as many putters as they want, but narrow it down to three or four.
Then we’ll take them into our room where we have a five-camera laser fitting system where we’ll analyze their stroke. We can then tell them, based on what we, is the best putter for them. And that’s so crucial because you’re talking one or two strokes a round you can potentially save by having the right putter in your hands. That adds up, especially when you’re playing in a three-day member guest or something, and you can save six shots.
That’s so important, especially for amateurs because the putter is the most overlooked club in the bag. Finding something you are comfortable with is essential because putting is all about confidence.
Our putters look beautiful. They’re made unlike any other putter out there. And if you can look down at a Bettinardi putter and feel good, you’re going to be confident on those greens when you know those putts really matter.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What is the process if there was an amateur who’s interested in going through this experience? Is there a specific time that they could come there? Do they need to set up an appointment?
SAM BETTINARDI: We have someone on staff Monday to Thursday from 8-5PM and then Friday, 8-2PM. You book an appointment and it takes about 45 minutes to an hour. And kind of like the same thing I just mentioned. We have a lot of product on display.
We also just remodeled our studio, which was originally built in 2005. It has all of our exclusive products, one-off putters, tour putters, and stuff that you really won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Whether you just want to get a different look at a putter or you really want to improve your putting. Studio B is a great place to do both.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Is there any kind of consistent feedback you get from amateur golfers who come in to get fit and get their first Bettinardi putter?
SAM BETTINARDI: A lot of people that have come in to us have never been fit for a putter. They’ll say they didn’t even know this existed. Or they’ll be surprised that we have all these different models beyond what’s in a major retailer or in a local club.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: If you were to give a piece of advice to younger players in terms of choosing a putter and selecting a putter what would you suggest?
SAM BETTINARDI: I would say for young golfers to find something that fits your stroke and stick with it. I played college golf and played a lot of Illinois Junior Golf Association events.
I would switch putters so many times, because often you want to find something to blame. But it’s typically something that’s in your stroke.
But if you can find one putter that looks really good to you, and you’ve had some success, stick with it. That would be my biggest key, but definitely get fit and find the right length.
As you’re growing up and maybe increasing height, continue to get checked out for the length of your putter and the loft. Also, make sure you’re putter hasn’t bent in a certain way, but make sure it fits your game.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What’s the process that your company goes through to come up with new products?
SAM BETTINARDI: My father will you know he’s been around the industry for over you know over 25 years, so he kind of knows what people are looking for. I’ve been working here for five years, so I’ve just started to dabble a little bit in design.
But we’ll look at the current putters that we’re using, and we’ll take them out the PGA Tour to the best golfers in the world and hear what they have to say about some of those models. They may like the way a top line looks, or ask if we can round an edge a little bit more.
That’s kind of what we’ll do; we’ll take our ideas out to the PGA Tour and get their feedback and come back and refine it. One of the cool things that we’ve invested in is a 3D printer. We can come up with the design and our engineer can print that putter for us in three to five different variations. We can even put a shaft on it and say “Wow, this looks really good”, or “This doesn’t look good, but let’s extend the flange here, let’s change the way this radius is on the heal.”
That’s been a huge breakthrough for us. It saves a lot of manufacturing time and a lot of costs to be able to print and go from there.
Even last year, when we were working with one of the top ten players in the world, he gave us a couple of ideas that he drew up on a napkin, and we modeled it, printed it out and brought it to him. He loved it. He loved the fact that we could do it so quickly versus if we had to machine it, which would take a lot longer.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: What is it like as a player to look down on that putter and to see your name on it and have that feeling that this came from my family? Does it give you extra comfort when you have to hit a putt?
SAM BETTINARDI: I started playing golf when I was three, but when I was six or seven, I remember getting my first putter that had my name on it. On the heal of the putter, which was a blade style, it said, “Sink it Sam”, and I thought that was so cool.
But kind of going back to my advice to young golfers, once you find a putter that you like and feel good with it, just stick with it. Over the last few seasons I’ve had success using an Arm Lock putter, which is the same way Mack Kucher and Keegan Bradley use.
I have a lot of confidence knowing that I’ve tried everything out there. I’ve tried 50 different putters in my life and I’ve used the same one for the last three years. So that’s given me a little bit more confidence in my game, knowing that it’s been proven by some of the best golfers in the world and I can use it.
Some of my buddies give me a lot of grief; “Hey your last name is on your putter and you missed that putt!” Or they’ll make a putt with our name on it and go, “Thanks Sam for making this.” It’s really cool. It’s definitely a unique position and you know, I’m very blessed to be in that spot.
CHICAGO GOLF REPORT: Can you go through a list of your favorite golf courses in the Chicagoland area? What are the courses that you love playing.
SAM BETTINARDI: That’s tough because there’s so many great ones. I would say my favorite is probably Shore Acres. I just thought it was such a unique experience you know. It gives off that unique feel and that ambiance when you start driving through the club.
Butler National is probably my second favorite golf course. Flossmoor Country Club is a great track, very underrated. I love Beverly Country Club and Olympia Fields Country Club – North. Those are some of my favorite private clubs, and I would say a public course that you have to love is Cantigny in Wheaton, that’s one of my favorites.
I would also say Cog Hill, after having hit so many balls at Cog. Mistwood Golf Club, with their recent renovations is great. Being more of a south side guy, there’s a lot of great tracks that are out there.