My beloved husband Patrick spent many teenage years on the golf course. He played for four dollars after school and caddied on weekends at a high-end country club near his house. Caddying made him spending money and earned him free Monday golf privileges. Then Patrick went to college and lost the golf bug. For the first ten years of our marriage, he was content to play two or three rounds over the course of a year. But starting with a recent round played at Mt. Woodson ( $60 weekday rate) in Ramona, the bug came back with ferocity. Since then, he has been sneaking out just past dawn to play nine holes at Mission Trails ( $15 early morning back nine) and returning home by 8:30. He wants to refine his swing for a trip to Pebble Beach he's planning with his brothers. I'm no golf expert, but I can tell the putter he's playing with is not cutting edge. I was there when he bought it for a buck at a garage sale. I thought for Father's Day I would buy him a respectable putter, something that his golfing buddies would not laugh at. But I was determined not to break the bank doing it.
My first phone call was to Polar Golf, where owner Terry Ames told me, "For a decent putter that is not high priced, I would have to recommend the Ping," he replied. "They make about four or five different models, but they still make their basic line that they have carried forever, their classic models." Two putters, "The Answer and the P60, are either made of a tumbled metal finish or kind of a gold finish, and they retail for $79.95 . They're Ping's Classic Putter line. All the new stuff that came out after that, they've used that same kind of head design but done different things with the insert, and that's what starts to get expensive. And most everything else cheaper than the Pings are just chunky putters."
What are you losing when you go to the knockoffs?
"Well, with the knockoffs," continued Ames, "the metal is not quite as solid, there are actually air holes in the metal, they are not as durable, and they just don't feel as right."
And as for putters to buy when Patrick makes it rich, "For top-of-the-line putters, there are a couple of them. If you go with Ping's line, they make what is called a Crazy Putter, and those go for $150 . And of course there are Scotty Cameron putters, which are the premium ones right now. Those run $279 or $299 ; they are what the people ask for, the ones that you see on television with the dots on the back. The Scotty Cameron's are locally made up in Carlsbad."
Pro Golf Discount's general manager Chuck Skillern recommended Taylor Made putters. "They are a Carlsbad company, and we have stuff from them starting at $79 . The Taylor Made Monza is like a mallet-style -- kind of a half-moon look to it -- and it is by far the best buy right now.
"We carry Tommy Armour, which is not as big a name, but a pro-line putter company. That's a $79 putter as well."
What about putters that run $50 and under?
"You can still get good stuff," continued Skillern. "There is just not as much name recognition. A lot of them will have the same type of head style to it. A lot of the times it's made of the same material -- it just won't have that name recognition."
So if I like the feel of a Taylor Made, and I find a knockoff with the same feel, is there going to be some difference in performance?
"There shouldn't be," answered Skillern. "If there is, it's what we call operator error."
Mark Rogers, a club-fitting specialist at Golf Mart, agrees. "I have seen people that have a $20 putter that putt fantastically. Really, putting comes down to the feel. It's not necessary that you have to go out and buy a $200 putter. Putters are a personal-feel thing, not necessarily a height thing. Phil Nicholson is six-foot-four and he uses a 32-inch putter. He likes bending over, being right on top of a ball. I am five-foot-nine, and I use a 35-inch putter. It's all personal preference. Each putter has a different style face, whether it is a softer face, like a rubberized face, or a harder face."
As for particular brands, Rogers said he had a couple of Odyssey putters for under $100 . "I have a $90 putter called Odyssey Dual Force Two. It's a blade-style putter, very similar to what a Scotty Cameron looks like."
Rogers himself uses a Ping putter.
Jeff Hall, a "caddy" at Golfsmith, had a different take on inexpensive and expensive putters. "Scotty Cameron putters start at about $250 , and the off-brand can be about $40 ," he offered. "Is there a huge difference? Yes. The Cameron is a superior technical product. But can you drain putts with a $40 putter? Sure."
What's the difference between the knockoffs and a Scotty Cameron?
"Integrity in the materials," said Hall. "Something that is $40 is going to be a basic in the shaft and basic in the grip. With Cameron putters, the length and weight are matched with extreme precision."
What would you recommend if I wanted a recognizable name brand, with decent performance, but for as little money as possible?
"Probably the King Cobra Putters, which run about $70 to $80 . They are pretty solid; they're traditional."
Hall said he prefers to have more than one putter in his bag. "I've always got three or four putters because two of them are always on time out. I just don't like their attitudes some days."