The Author talks much about putters both in the fiction and in his quasi-autobiographical essays in ‘Jock Kirkcaldy’. No less than 18 putters are on show in the book (pp 273-277), including several of those featuring in this article. It is rumoured that he still has in excess of one hundred putters blocking access to his attic, despite liberating a good number of them to pupils of the Royal High School some years ago. Interestingly, on being offered complete sets of almost unused clubs, they demurred, but weren’t too proud to accept second hand putters. Such is the lure of the putter; the final cog in the machination of completing your score on each hole, and made by among the most celebrated of manufacturers over the years. Unlike most other clubs, putters don’t suffer much damage during their lifetime – excepting instances such as Ben Crenshaw’s 1987 Ryder Cup match against Eamon Darcy when his putter survived only as far as the 6th hole.
Readers will have their own favourites, but soak up the atmosphere of this article, then make a note of your own . The Editor suggested a ‘reverse order’ presentation, but the Author thought that was too much like the Alan Freeman ‘pop-pickers’ style, and wasn’t appropriate. He sometimes gets his own way …
My top 10 putters
By Frank Crowe
I know great golfers like Bobby Locke stayed with the same putter “his rusty old blade” for all his professional life. Locke’s putter had a long hickory shaft and a cleek-like blade with a muscle back. I think they called this a “Gem”-type putter in the 1940s and 50s and many copies produced in the wake of the great man’s successes with steel shafts. Back in the early 20th century there were basically 2 types of putter, the cleek and the mallet. The best known mallet back then was the Mills made of aluminium and shaped like a 18th century wooden play club. Nowadays putters are like disposable fashion and trends have changed by the season.
Mind you, I think that Alastair (the Editor) still putts with the same old cleek he had when he was a young blade! It almost 55 years since the Ping Anser came out with heel and toe weighting and that was pretty much the only novelty on the road for a good while thereafter. Slowly it began to erode away the other 20th century innovations like the centre-shafted Bull’s Eye or the flange blade like a George Low Jnr. Sportsman Wizard 600 used by Palmer and Nicklaus in the 1950s. By the 1980s the RAM Zebra had come along with its mallet-shaped hollow head with slots cut into the crown “toaster” style and a double bent shaft to give the club face balance so that when you held it on your finger at the balance point of the shaft the face of the club would lie horizontally with the face pointing towards the sky. It looked good but I am not sure if it made much difference, but it was a good putter, one which I played with some success for at least a season but I have to place it at No.11. After all I bought mine out of a junk shop for £10. What I have for you is a personal selection of putters largely in roughly chronological order of their development. There is no absolute favourite. If I have a bad round containing over 40 putts that implement slithers down the Snakes and Ladders reptile to the bottom of the board and may take some time to catch the eye again. However, I keep going back to these clubs especially as the future seems to be massive heavy heads with wings to keep you on a straight- back- and- through and a huge square grip designed to lock your wrists out of the stroke. Well I’m sorry: I have a gate-type swing with a bit of wrist action which was still fashionable when I was a boy. This stroke, if you can call it that takes a natural arc and hopefully the face of the putter meets the ball head-on opposite my left foot on the upswing to impart a little top spin to help the ball trickle that last roll into the hole.
No 1 – George Nicoll Zenith
This thin blade was manufactured in Leven in Fife, Scotland and matched my bladed Pinsplitter irons form the same source. My putter was new in 1980 and had a frosted striking area on the face but basically was a 1930’s design when putters often had punch dot faces or a few thin lines on the face etched by hand.
By bouncing a ball on the face you could determine where the tiny sweet spot was which would give you a true strike. You then marked that point on the top of the club and homed in on it when putting. You could also “feather” the ball by hitting more off the toe when putting downhill. It prevented you from “babying” the shot leaving the ball short and another downhiller to go. Occasionally I would duff the putt which left the putt well short. A mallet-type putter might have avoided this calamity but one way or another the future was broader soled putters which rode the surface better and put weight low down behind the ball. I still have a Titleist Dead Center (yes they couldn’t spell either) bought back in the 1980s which was just a Ping Anser copy with sight lines to ensure you were square to the line of travel and the face was at the right angle. It is quite a good putter and from time to time sight lines appear on putters as the new big thing. With the Zenith however you are on your own and have to concentrate on your stroke, line and speed all the time which of course if no bad thing.
No 2 – Golf Classics of St Andrews Gem
This is a hickory shafted replica of Bobby Locke’s famous blade which he used to hook his putts into the hole to good effect just as he played from tee to green with a right to left ball flight.
It seems that many such replicas of the great man’s putter were manufactured between the 1940s and 60s and were given the name “Gem”. My one has 7 thin grooves on the face and a shiny chrome body with a muscle back which gives it a slightly wider sole than the Zenith. I used this club to good effect one season in the 1990’s when I played in the mixed foursomes’ at Murrayfield with a young low handicap woman golfer. I decided for a laugh to use a different putter each round and when I brought out the “Gem” I holed a couple of long ones and left a few others dead. We won the match 5 and 4, I think. It is very light which makes you very deliberate in your shots. I can still see the remains of some black paint on the top edge signifying where I located the sweep spot. I will take this one out in a pencil bag with 6 other clubs once the lock-down has eased. The St Andrews Golf Company has premises in an industrial estate on the outskirts of the town and close to the Swilken factory which had by then taken over the George Nicoll name, but in 1995 it went into liquidation. Fortunately the St Andrews Company now owns the George Nicoll brand and do a nice set of George Nicoll hickories complete with a Gem putter.
No 3 – Titleist Bull’s Eye
This is the original design by John Reuter Jnr. from the 1940s and featuring a brass head. It dates from about the same time as the Scottish John Letters Golden Goose which came out in 1946. Once centre-shafted clubs, which had been banned by the Royal & Ancient Golf Club in 1904 but legalised in 1951, both putters became popular on respective sides of the Atlantic.
In 1960 the Acushnet Corporation purchased the Reuter brand but had been involved closely with the brand since the mid – 50s. The Bulls Eye was used to great effect by some top pros. Johnny Miller used one to post a record final round 63 in the 1973 US Open, Jack Nicklaus won at least one Major with one and in later years Corey Pavin (who continues to play with one) achieved great success, despite his lack of length, with supreme Bulls Eye putting skills. I remember Notah Begay III used one in the 1990s as he putted left hand or right handed depending upon the way the putt sloped. (He still uses the same technique with a different make of same-sides putter). I can see the point of that as my favourite putt being right handed is about 15-20 feet long breaking right to left which I try to hook into the cup à la Bobby Locke. The classic Bull’s Eye putter can be used either right or left handed like those ghastly copies with green grip which seemed to be made out of some sort of ribbed plastic hosepipe. They were turned out in some hideous metal for use on municipal putting greens or worse still Crazy Golf, as you didn’t need to stock left handed clubs. The shaft doesn’t join the club in the centre of the head like the Keltic C Pro with the convex bronze head I used to wield in the 1990s, but about a third of the way from the upturned heel of the club, and the sweet spot is just ahead of where the shaft meets the head. It is designed to take the sting out of off-centre hits. The True Temper satin chrome shaft has a fluted section about 3 inches long starting about 6 inches from the head, and this is supposed to generate a nice feel from the bronze head. They don’t make these shafts anymore but you can still pick them up new from stock. It can be a tricky club to play because if the club twists in your hand during the stroke your putt can go badly left or right. It does have a tiny sweet spot. I do have an Acushnet (Titleist’s holding company) Flange blade Bull’s Eye. Obviously you can’t putt left handed with this one but is easier to play compared to the more stylish original model. In more recent times Titleist commissioned Scotty Cameron to copy the Bulls Eye. His take was in silver carbon steel with a milled face. It was high quality steel but not being bronze like the original, left me cold.
No 4 – Ping by Karsten Model 1A
This centre-shafted club from 1959 pre-dates the Anser which was introduced in 1966 and was Karsten Solheim’s first effort at giving the player some heel and toe balance to make the putter more forgiving. It also has two slots cut into the sole to push more weight towards the perimeter thus producing a ringing ping sound when the ball is struck (hence the club’s name).
It feels like a tuning fork. The shaft goes right into a hollow trench-like body with flat sides which make the putter an ambidextrous one. It is not just a gimmick. In the 1990’s when the British Council sponsored young lawyers under the age of 35 to come from European countries and experience British justice I met a young Norwegian judge from Oslo who was a keen and skilled golfer. I offered him a game and he produced an original Ping 1A which his father had bought new and proceeded to putt me off the course even though it was the first time he had played at Murrayfield. It took me a while to track one down but eventually I paid a fortune on e-Bay for a 40th Anniversary replica No 2233 of 3000. It’s brilliant, but too good to play regularly, so must stay at home like the Ferrari 250 GTOs and Jaguar D-Types which cost tens of millions nowadays and are rarely driven in anger.
No 5 – Ray Cook XF15-S
This is a beautiful aluminium hollow headed mallet from the 1960’s fashioned by another of the great putter designers. It has not only a slot on the base just behind the face and there are three slots cut into the crown of the club two providing sight lines and the third at right angles just behind the face.
It makes for almost a floating face and gives a good feel. As you might expect there is little or no offset. Ray Cook reprised this design in the 2000’s and I owned one for a while but it lacked the simple charm and feel of the original. He designed putters for about 50 years from 1963 until the business was liquidated in 2011. The name carries on in a line of decent lower cost clubs which copy the modern trend. In the past however he was an innovator particularly with mallet headed putters like the Blue Goose. In its heyday Ray Cook putters were used in over 200 tour wins and all the Majors. Billy Casper, Nick Price and Roberto De Vincenzo were among the many big names who wielded these flat sticks. Ray Cook studied physics and aeronautics when in the US Air Forces and noted that variations in tuning forks could result in greater feel. The M series putter launched in 1963 with the slots as designed to have that feel rather like the Ping 1A. At one time his putters were also used by both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
No 6 – Maxfli MS5
I could have chosen the Wilson 8802, as used by Arnold Palmer and Ben Crenshaw among others, which first came out in 1963 but I sold mine a few years ago as I couldn’t play 100 putters at once and had to thin out the collection.
The Maxfli which I own is similarly a simple blade with a flange and a very slight bend in the neck where the hosel joins the head, but it is not so as you would notice. It has a white line on the topline of the club to show where the sweet spot is (unlike the Wilson) and this flange does give a bit more confidence and solidity over a blade and a sole about an inch deep to help glide over the green. It is a 1950’s design made famous when manufactured by George Low Jnr (his father was also a professional golfer who hailed from Carnoustie) as the Sportsman Wizard 600 used by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and copied by others. Maxfli made great irons wielded to great effect by Freddie Couples and others when owned by the Dunlop Slazenger group. Maxfli’s golden period ran from 1989 to 2003 when its chief designer was the legendary Tad Moore who first developed milled face utters in the 1990’s It was acquired by Taylor Made-Addidas in 2003 who subsequently sold it in 2008 to Dick’s Sporting Goods of Pittsburgh.
No 7 – Ping Zero
Back early 1990s when I was back working in Kirkcaldy, the efforts of the class of 1957 Faldo, Lyle and Ballesteros had given golf a boost and it was a time when knock-offs abounded. You could find these clubs in pop- up premises if you chose to follow the sandwich-board signs featuring “Golf Sale” being held on a street corners by an otherwise unemployable, probably homeless person who had more pressing things on his mind with what to do with his £10 note for a day’s work than golf. On my travels about the “Lang Toon” I came across a wee golf shop in Roseberry Terrace just off Victoria Road and in the shadow of the railway bridge which takes the trains to Dundee (eventually). It was an unprepossessing shop staffed by ordinary guys who were not golf pros but were enthusiastic about selling their stock. Most of the clubs were clunky and of poor quality, brands you’d never heard of, metal woods that had heavy heads which felt dead compared to a laminated wooden wood. One day however my eye fell upon a Dyna-Pro Phantom.
As I have said elsewhere I was always a sucker when a club contained the words “Pro” or “Tour” (or even both). The Phantom was a toe-heavy cavity blade with no offset. After a while I realised that it had a bit of loft and was perfect for playing Murrayfield’s winter greens which seemed to last from 1st October to almost the end of March. The greens were bumpy and the fairways bare and with the Phantom you could deploy it as a Texas wedge and putt from up to 50 yards out as the ball flew for a bit and with a bit of luck landed softly in the intended direction. I still keep the Phantom and somehow must get it down to Arundel where 5 of my grandchildren live. There is a park there with a putting course. I say course rather than green as each hole is an about 30 yard-long swathe cut into the surrounding longer grass and ending in a round bit with a hole. Many regular golfers have been trounced on the municipal putting green by non-golfers as they struggle to cope with longer putting grass and the dodgy putters that are issued. No point in taking your Scotty Cameron Newport 2 like Tiger Woods along with a Pro VI golf ball, unless you crank the loft up to get the ball going over the bristly Bermuda-style grass. Once when I was out practising at the golf range at Prestonpans just off the A1 where you fired balls downhill in the direction of the battle of Prestonpans Viewpoint, there was a wee pro shop where some second hand golf clubs were for sale. I was intrigued and eventually the choice lay between a Ping Zero 2 and a Ping Sedona which was a chunky muscle back blade with a small cavity at the rear. I tried them out and both were good so I bought the pair of them. Later on I sold them both when thinning out the collection. I thought the Ping Zero series went up to 4 with increasing offset but as you see from the photograph this is not so. I tried to buy a proper Zero on e Bay in the 2000s and seemed to have a winning bid of about £85 when the site administrators voided the sale as they reckoned the seller had hyped the product by saying it was very rare (which as far as I was concerned it was). The crash came and we moved house and my gold club buying spell calmed down.
I mentioned in the Jock Kirkcaldy book I was finished with buying clubs with a few random exceptions. The crash came and my golf club buying spell calmed down. One night earlier this year I went back on e Bay-first time in years and saw a lovely shiny Ping Zero on Chris Milburn’s excellent Heatherlea Golf site based in Hexham, and the next day had this fantastic club in my hands. It is made of good quality 17-4 stainless steel, a first for a Ping putter and with a nice Golf Pride Tour Wrap grip it feels good. Obviously it is ‘toe’ heavy but that is fine by me.
The Zero first emerged in 1973 but I like its look and feel. Apparently the design was based on a 1 iron……..
No 8 – Ping Eye 53
Despite owning a Ping Anser copy for about 40 years and having some success with it I really hate plumber’s neck putters where the shaft ends with an ugly stepped hosel. I know it is to make the ball appear at the end of the shaft of the club but I hate too much offset on any club – I must be old fashioned having been brought up on cleek-style putters and unforgiving blade irons.
I do own a fairly old Anser made of manganese bronze which has a slot cut in the sole and a chunky triangular grip which I bought for £50 from the Pro’s shop at Carnoustie. It is a wonderful putter and I can putt quite well with it but it’s not really me. I actually prefer the look of the sculpted cavity head of the Ping Pal and still have Redwood version from 2007, in black milled 333 stainless steel, tucked away somewhere. Funnily enough although Karsten Solheim is credited with the cavity backed revolution it was actually patented by Willie Ogg Jnr, a Scottish-American professional born in Carnoustie who was one of the founding fathers of the American PGA Tour and won 4 times on the tour in the 1920s. In 1933 in conjunction with Wilson Staff he created the Wilson Ogg-mented irons. Step forward the Eye 53. This came out in the 1980s following the success of Ping Eye irons and before the debut of the more famous Eye 2’s debut in 1989. It has a transitional head with a cavity at the rear looking like a steel Anser but beginning to have the scooped sole at the back which was the main feature of the excellent B60 series (introduced in 1978). Actually I do have a few B60s still including an IsoForce model from 2000 which featured 50 hexagonal copper pixels in a face insert. I don’t really like inserts much but this goes a good feel and makes the whole head feel as one. Back to the 53 which has the heel-and-toe head but the shaft is straight and joins the club at the heel with a slight slant. I have come to accept the minor offset and enjoy the weight of the club being biased towards the toe (a 4 30 toe hang I’m informed) it gives me the confidence I sometimes lacked with a pure blade.
No – Wilson TPA XVIII
Sir Nick Faldo won back-to-back Masters in 1989 and 1990 with one of these mid-mallet putters which had 5 sight lines behind the blade the diameter of a golf ball and a white line on the top edge at right angles. Faldo was a very determined and methodical man, some might say nowadays, almost autistic.
A man of few words, intimidating, and socially, according to his 2nd wife “a 24 handicapper”. Under the coach David Leadbetter he was a ferocious practiser and although a strong man and fit enough to have been an Olympic oarsman, he was not a long hitter. I sense that during his time putting become more rigid, less quirky and streaky. This putter is a joy and once again after selling off a more original model I was pleased to see that Wilson recreated a modern version in 2018 under the Wilson Staff Infinite brand and named Grant Park after a neighbourhood of Chicago near the Wilson Staff HQ. The face is double milled and refreshingly does not have an insert, something we don’t really need in Scotland with all our rain unless you are at a sandy seaside links in a heat wave when I would be going back to a nice light blade. The Infinite does have a chunky grip so we shall have to see how I get on with it in anger.
No 10 – Ping J Blade
The love affair with Ping putters (and their golf stuff in general) continues. For a while in the 1990s and 2000s I played Ping irons and wedges made of beryllium copper (BeCu). It is a non-ferrous metal which combines high strength, non-magnetic and non-sparking qualities and is used in springs etc. (what the hell’s all that to do with golf).
It gave a great feel but was found to be toxic, have carcinogenic properties and so the golf industry moved towards nickel which is another expensive alloy combining stainless steel, chromium and nickel. When used in irons most players couldn’t tell the difference and in a sense it was Ping’s way of producing better feel from cast clubs when other brands like Mizuno and Cleveland produced forged steel irons which gave a similar and arguably better feel. What killed off the Ping ISI irons was the development of plastic inserts in irons which took the jar out of the shot and reduced the need for top quality alloys.
In my view it is a different story for a putter wielded at much slower speed. The J blade I have is made of nickel and had a buttery feel off a pure face without an insert . It has a long blade, about 4 1/2 inches. The Ping Pal 2 is even longer at 5 inches and brings back to mind the long wand wielded by Jack Nicklaus to good effect on the back 9 at Augusta on his way to collecting his 6th Masters title in 1986.
I love the J blade and only resort to the Pal 2 when I am a bit rusty and need something massive in front of me on the greens to provide some confidence. The J blade doesn’t need an insert or fancy milling to deliver a pure strike. It’s just a good modern cleek with a cavity back.
Where do we go from here? Well recently I popped in to Golfclubs4cash.com at Bilston Industrial Estate, near IKEA on the Southern outskirts of Edinburgh to look at 1 irons, as one does (they’re actually called 2 irons nowadays), and surprised myself by coming away with a Titleist Scotty Cameron Select Newport 1.5.
It is similar to Tiger Woods’ preferred Newport 2 but with just a half slant hosel. I bought it second hand, much the best way to avoid ridiculous putter prices these days. There are obviously a few pros and would-be’s who buy the latest fashion kit each season and then trade it in when they don’t immediately break into the World’s Top 50 golfers. That is when you, Joe Punter strikes. Most of the drivers and irons they owned have shafts that are too stiff for reasonable golfers but putters are a different matter and if you avoid the daft models, there are good quality bargains to be had. So I appreciated the quality metal of Copy Cameron’s homage to a Ping Anser and the perfect finish of the face milling. It is ready in its gleaming cover, should any of the above stars falter. Never completely blame yourself for a bad stroke, the club has to take its fair share of responsibility!