Of all the clubs in a golfer's bag, the putter is, by far, the most intimate. Drivers come and go with the flavor of the month, iron sets are routinely swapped, but the putter seems to have a staying power that transcends trends and technology. The common sentiment is that a good putter is a forever match. It should come as no surprise then, that the custom putter market is one of the biggest in golf. The opportunity to have a hand in building out a dream flatstick is one many serious golfers refuse to pass up. One of the best-known custom builders is Bettinardi Golf, located in suburban Chicago. Since starting in 1991, Bettinardi has crafted some of the finest milled putters available anywhere, tour or retail. Milled from a single block of steel, the attention to detail and craftsmanship are world-class. I recently spent time with the Studio Stock 15, read on for the review.
Before the review, a little history:
Bob Bettinardi harkens back to a class of American ingenuity and execution. Running a small machine shop in a suburb of South Chicago, Bettinardi had mastered manufacturing tools and processes, and was a highly respected machinist before jumping into the golf industry. Armed with the most basic entrepreneurial instinct, "I can do it better", Bettinardi set out to redefine quality putters from the ground up. Since 1991, Bettinardi putters have won major tournaments, been a starting point for other popular manufacturers (Scotty Cameron and T.P. Mills), was offered by an OEM (Mizuno) and relaunched as an independent brand in 2009. They're also played weekly on the PGA Tour, most notably being Matt Kuchar, who has won twice in 2013 with a Bettinardi putter (WGC-Accenture Match Play and The Memorial). In keeping with traditional business practices, Bob is keeping it in the family, as son Sam joined the company in early 2013 in a marketing and sales role, ensuring continuity in the family vision of the business. In the modern age of giant all-inclusive corporations cranking out gear every quarter, it's a breath of fresh air to find a small family-owned business grinding out success one solid block of carbon steel at a time.
Bettinardi putters come in a wide array of models and designs. Milled from a single block of mild carbon steel (as all Bettinardi putters are), the Studio Stock series is well-known as a balance between price and customization. This year's models feature a corona finish that on the cavity and topline are non-glare, with a glossier finish on the face. Designed to enhance feel of the milled carbon steel, it is both functional and beautiful. Other key features of the Studio Stock 15 is the adjustment of weight away from the heel and toe and more into the cavity and flange areas, increasing the sweet spot size significantly. A larger sweet spot increases the MOI rating of the putter, ultimately performing in a more consistent manner on mishits. It's a technique regularly employed by drivers and woods, marketing refers to it as 'forgiveness'. Rounding out the package is the hexagonal FIT face, which allows Bettinardi to remove material from the impact area of the face, enhancing feel. Those familiar with Bettinardi's past offerings will note that the hexagonal (known otherwise as the honeycomb pattern) face milling is present on the toe and heel of the putter. The overall result is a face-balanced mallet boasting exotic looks and superior feel. My test model weighed in on the heavy side, at just under 360 grams. It is worth noting that there is an emerging trend in heavier putters, the idea being that heavier clubs smooth out the swing and offset minor flaws. Most standard putters come in a range from 330-350, so the Studio Stock is not significantly heavier than any of its peers.
Upon unboxing, what immediately struck me is how balanced the putter felt. For ~360g, the Studio Stock 15 felt nimble, almost feather-like. I was excited to get out and hit some real putts. Before I did, however, I changed the stock grip to a Super Stroke mid-size. Having been putter fit in Dallas last December, the determination was made that I personally benefit from a fatter grip. It is certainly no knock on the stock Bettinardi grip, but in the interest of disclosure, it should be mentioned. I sought out my favorite putting hole at my club late one evening, assured I could really put the Bettinardi through the paces. I hit 100 putts at varying distances and reads, attempting to recreate realistic scenarios. While the Studio Stock 15 delivered on every promise of soft feel, forgiveness and looks, the putter shined most in its ability to control distance. After each roll, "point and shoot" was my first thought. Pick a spot, line it up, and put the ball there, simple as that. The consistency was impressive, and will allow my future practice to focus on line reads rather than both line and speed. My regular instructor stresses the removal of variables to focus on meaningful learning, and the Bettinardi delivers. I would have no problem recommending the Studio Stock 15 to a beginner or younger player, and would argue the price tag is an investment in a more consistent game.
Overall, the Bettinardi Studio Stock 15 is a top-shelf package. The F.I.T. face, optimal weighting and Corona finish offer high-technology in a putter market filled with gimmicks and false marketing. If you're looking for something special to set yourself apart on your next buddies' trip (and win your rounds), visit www.bettinardi.com and see a local fitter to determine which model best fits you. Milled in the USA, and boasting multiple tour wins, The Studio Stock series, regardless of model, should be high on your list.
Ryan David blogs all things equipment for My Golf Concierge. He can be reached via email at Ryan@GolfQuests.com or on Twitter @RDGolfMedia