By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos Courtesy of Titleist
CARSBAD, CA – “Make the best and they will come,” replied putter making guru Scotty Cameron, when asked to synopsize his philosophy on designing putters.
And making the best is what Cameron’s been doing since childhood – hand-crafting putters to specifications that only a vivid imagination could dream up. Cameron made his first putter at the age of eight, and for the past thirty-four years, it’s been his passion to create the very finest flat sticks that man or machine could produce, all with the goal of helping you get the ball in the hole.
“My father was an insurance investigator with a pretty decent golf game, and his hobby was collecting golf equipment, particularly Persimmon woods,” Cameron explained. “So we built a little workshop in the garage with a table-top mill, where we could drill out the lead in Persimmon woods, but also create blocks of aluminum with lead-filled holes – basically tinkering with different metals and shapes to come up with all sorts of golf club concepts.”
Inspiration first sprouts in our elementary years, and if you’ve got a gift, often-times it shows up while in grade-school. But there’s also the on-the-ground experience garnered from years of research. For Cameron, gathering know-how also began in his formative days. He said he and his father spent spare time combing through swap meets and old golf shops’ fifty-cent barrels, searching for the right clubs to haul back to the workshop to dissect and re-create.
Makes me wonder what I could’ve achieved, had I only taken more interest in my Dad’s weekly journeys to the hardware store…
Thankfully for our golf games, Cameron didn’t rely on luck to hone his craft. Even his first putter was well thought out: “My first putter was a mallet with lead weights that we actually got from a tire store, which we put in a coffee can and melted with a torch – then poured the liquid into the pockets of the mallet for heel and toe weights.”
The rest is history. Though the Scotty Cameron by Titleist brand celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2004, Cameron’s been making putters professionally for nearly twice that long, first with the Ray Cook Company, beginning in 1986 – and contributing his input into Cook’s Blue Goose and Billy Baroo lines.
Then in the early nineties, Scotty and his wife Kathy started their own company in San Marcos, California, opening a little shop and creating putters for companies such as Mizuno and Cleveland. They also began producing the first ‘Scotty Cameron’ named putters at around the same time.
Titleist purchased their company, Cameron Golf International in 1994.
We recently caught up with Scotty, who took a break from working with most of the best players in the world to talk with us on the ‘craft’ of making putters, and specifically on one of his newest creations, the Red X line:
GTMA: Your name has become synonymous with top-of-the-line putters. What makes yours different, and what makes them better?
Scotty: Well, it just seems like in today’s corporate world that everybody’s looking to make a quick profit – and 99% of companies will go overseas to manufacture the product because you save money by doing that.
But I’ve always had the philosophy, make the best, and they will come.
Along with that, I’ve never ran anything overseas – it’s all made here in the US, with the quality and craftsmanship that I demand. ‘Craftsmanship’ is a difficult word to use when looking at overseas production, because you’re talking about stamped down, mass produced products over there.
That’s okay if that’s your niche – but I don’t think you could ever imagine Ferraris being made in China.
GTMA: That’s true. Any other secrets you’d care to share?
Scotty: I don’t do castings, either, where you liquefy the metal and pour it into a mold. I use the billet of steel or whatever material I’m working on – such as copper, etc… Then we mill our designs from the billet.
I don’t do castings because when you liquefy, in simple terms, it jumbles up the structure of the steel, and it gets very hard and brittle. It changes the sound the putter produces, which changes the feel.
So I always try to work with solid blanks or blocks of steel, and carve it from that.
My focus has not changed at all over the years, and that’s to create the finest putters, and we’re always looking to make them better, more efficient, more precise, with nicer finishes. Our focus hasn’t been lost in favor of trying to squeeze out some extra profit by sending the work overseas.
GTMA: Are there any particular players that you’ve worked with who’ve influenced the way you design?
Scotty: Oh sure. Brad Faxon, Mark O’Meara, Gene Sauers, Robert Gamez, David Frost, Jay Don Blake, David Graham and Andy Bean, to name a few. And Tiger Woods has taught me quite a lot.
GTMA: How would you say a player’s input influences what you design?
Scotty: Take Tiger Woods, for example. He’s so incredibly picky, and he keeps me on my toes. He makes me want to be better, so he tries to trick me into saying things like ‘Well, this is off, or this sight dot’s too big or too small…’
He makes me really think about what I’ve done, because he knows exactly what he wants and doesn’t send you on a wild goose chase trying to figure out what he’s trying to say.
But he’ll also say ‘If you send me something in the future, make sure it’s to these specs, I don’t want to second guess you.’ It’s his peace-of-mind knowing that I’m there for him, and with my attention to detail, knowing how picky he is – it keeps me on my toes.
These players at this level are so precise with everything, and that helps in the design process as well.
GTMA: Given that professionals are that picky, do they typically stick with one type of putter, or change it around a lot?
Scotty: It varies. Using Tiger as an example again, he’s used six different Cameron putters since he turned pro in 1996, and I think every one of his professional victories has been with one of our putters.
But most pros like to tinker and change. Sometimes when a putter goes sour – whether it’s the putter or the player’s fault – they like to have a different look or a backup to try and switch things up.
|The Futura Putter|
They’re always looking to try and understand my newer technology, and why I’m doing certain things. Like how does a Futura compare to a Newport? Is it better for me? Does it work better? Can I get it more square, more of the time?
Guys do like to switch, but it’s my job to stay up on things and create new designs and listen to them.
GTMA: Since putting’s probably the most personal part of golf, in that everyone’s pretty much free to pick a style they like – how do you go about developing new styles?
Scotty: Well, golf balls are only getting harder, and that’s making it a bit tougher to create softer sounds, which in turn creates softer feels.
Sound has a lot more to do with feel in putting than feel itself.
I make four or five lines of putters, and I make everything from a traditional style, which we call American Classics, to the Futura models, and including something like the Red X.
It’s not what I like, it’s what the golfer likes. A lot of times, players come in here to understand what’s going on with the new technology – ‘Scott, I know what I like, but how can I optimize what I like with your new technology?’
So it’s give-and-take on ‘Can I get the face more square, can I get the ball to perform better? Can I do it with old technology, or do I need new technology, or can we combine both, to give me the ultimate result?’
A lot of guys are stuck in a certain look. And, the Futura was very far out looking – it’s a great performance putter, but some guys can’t get over the look.
You just take a little bit of the best of the new and the best of the old and combine them to make a new style, or you can go out and create something totally new like the Futura, and see what works best for everyone. And everybody’s different.
GTMA: There’s a lot of debate on the role of technology in improving golf clubs, particularly drivers and irons. Has technology improved putters in the same way, or is making putters more of an art form?
Scotty: Hmm. I think it’s a combination of each.
Like I was saying – you could go so far with technology and make putters look like branding irons and potato mashers in order to get that perfect weight distribution. But you also need the art and the craftsmanship to produce a look that people will relate to – so if you combine the two, there’s great performance and looks that put people at ease.
So you can make elegant, ‘artful,’ great sounding putters more high-tech.
What I’m not a big fan of is totally computer generated design. I think there needs to be an element of the personal eye, and craftsmanship, especially with putters.
So combining high-tech and craftsmanship and design – and pull the best of all of those worlds together is when you get the best results.
GTMA: You mentioned that sound is the key element in designing putters that feel soft, and that it’s tougher to do these days because the solid core golf balls are getting harder. How do you go about getting the perfect ‘sound,’ and hence, the perfect feel?
Scotty: We work with different materials to create different sounds.
But even that’s not a perfect science, since what sounds ‘soft’ to me and you may not sound right to someone else. For example, take a David Duval or a Justin Leonard, two players who grew up in an era where a hollow, ‘tinny’ sound, like you’d get from an old PING Anser – that’s a soft sound to them.
Then there’re older players like Tom Kite, or Lanny Wadkins or Andy Bean – they consider a Bulls-eye or an 8802 style to be ‘soft’ in sound. In my book, I consider that soft also.
GTMA: Do shafts play a role in putters as well?
|The Red X Putter|
Scotty: Absolutely. Shafts create feel and sound and performance. People think that’s crazy – that you don’t hit it hard enough with a putter to get any flex in the shaft.
Well, you do actually, with putts over 20 feet. With long putts, there’s enough head movement to create flex in a shaft – and we design our own shafts for cycles, meaning vibration and sound and flex.
For putts over 20 feet, there is ‘kick,’ and if you have kick, you add loft. And if you add loft, the golf ball spins backwards. So there’s a combination of head weight and shaft flex to get your optimum golf ball performance.
GTMA: And here we thought it was just rolling the ball on short grass.
Scotty: There’s so much more to it than just a flat face hitting a ball, and then the ball goes in the hole.
That’s one of the reasons why our Studio has been so successful – we can show the facts. We don’t do things from theories – we have theories and prove them into facts.
Then when a player comes in, it’s a lot more than ‘Hey, here’re three putters, go see which one goes in the hole the most.’ He’s able to see and understand from all our years of research, why something happens. And we can make adjustments in the putter heads and shafts to maximize what a player’s trying to accomplish.
So when the players are out on the golf course, they’re not thinking about this stuff – they can just go play golf.
GTMA: Speaking of shafts, what are your thoughts on the legality of long putters?
Scotty: I think, if you as a player need it, it’s an advantage – and if you don’t, don’t worry about it.
For example, when Paul Azinger won for the first time (after he took a break from the Tour to battle cancer) at the Hawaiian Open with a long putter – that was partly due to some fitting work with a laser that we’d done previously in the Studio. The laser demonstrated that he would achieve a lot more consistency by using a long putter.
But the long putter – I think takes a lot of movement out of your putting stroke, whether it’s anchored in your belly area, or anchored in your chest or your sternum -- it stops the butt of the grip from moving backwards or forwards, so you have fewer moving parts.
Some people struggle with that, either flipping at it, or they drag the butt through, blocking putts to the right. So, if you need it, it’s great – if you don’t, it’s not a big deal.
I think if you were to take it away from guys like Freddie Couples and Robert Gamez and Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam -- they would not be as successful because they have moving parts in their putting strokes. The laser helps determine that, and that’s why those guys have switched to using long putters.
GTMA: There’s also quite a ‘science’ these days in fitting golf clubs. Do you think putter fitting is as precise as it is in other equipment areas?
Scotty: If it’s done correctly, very, very much so.
But I think the key to fitting is the understanding of what’s to happen, regarding how the golf ball is supposed to perform a certain way.
Now that’s relative to not only your putter head, but realistically, your putter shaft affects your putter head, meaning forward press or backwards press. Then you figure that the person affects the shaft; the shaft affects the head; and the head affects the ball.
And with the use of high-speed video – I have six patents on this high-speed performance device which measures what the golf ball does relative to the golf club head, relative to the golfer.
So we now design our own loft and lie gauges for putters, so we can get a precise reading off of a putter face, relative to the shaft. Then it comes down to the player. If a player thinks he’s doing something wrong, then we can take the precise measurements and see whether he’s doing what he thinks he’s doing, and make changes accordingly.
GTMA: Switching gears a bit -- do you think the commercial success of Cameron putters is because of their success on Tour?
Scotty: Very much so, because we don’t advertise, and we never really have.
The advertising comes on Saturday and Sunday, in hoping we have a couple putters in the last two groups. So we get the ‘usage’ advertisement versus the print ad.
I think it’s much more powerful to turn on the TV and catch that Cameron name on the putter than it is to open up your Golf Digest and weave through it and you have a full-page, four-color ad saying ‘We’re number one.’ Never have I done that, and never do I want to do that.
My goal is to create the best putters for the best players and let the rest happen.
GTMA: Moving towards the future, what are the next generations of putters going to be like?
Scotty: We’re always working in advance (they’re currently working on products for 2007), and I always try to be a leader and not a follower. We’re working with materials for sounds, but we’re also working with different weighted materials, like tungstens and coppers.
We’ll use the different materials to put in places where they’ll optimize performance.
We’re excited about the things we’re working on, and it’ll ensure that there are interesting and new products coming out all the time.
GTMA: Looking at the Red X putters, which came out this year (2004), what’s the concept behind them?
Scotty: If we back up a bit, the Red X putter concept originated from me trying to re-create an old ‘zebra’ style putter, which I’ve been a huge fan of since it came out in, I think it was 1974.
And mallets – years ago I created a mallet putter for Ray Cook called the M1X, which Nick Price used when he had his big winning streak in the early 90’s. So I hadn’t been doing mallets for a long time, and I wanted to pick apart the best mallets in the industry, and then put my twist on them.
The Red X is – it used to be convex, meaning a round-top mallet, like an old-style zebra. But once I did that, and milled that out of the block, I saw that it was not very high-tech – and how was I going to take the old mallet and make it more user friendly?
So I made it concave, and made the mound, and pushed it down -- and made it more heel and toe weighted. But the inside guts – meaning when you take off the sole plate – is perimeter weighted, like a Futura.
And I worked hard on getting the weight behind – like a horseshoe weight behind the ball, which is kind of taking the technology of the new stuff, of the back-weighted putters (like a Futura) and putting it into something classic like the Red X.
So using the best of the old world technology and the new world technology, weight distribution, performance and craftsmanship – and combining those together.
GTMA: And why the ‘Red X’ name?
Scotty: For years, I always did the ‘X’ – like the M1X I did for Ray Cook, which came out in the late 80’s.
I’m not a huge motorcycle fan, but Harley Davidson’s first motorcycles were called ‘AX’ for ‘American Experimental.’ And the ‘X’ always stood for ‘experimental.’
And, we had a bunch of putters with a color, then an ‘X’ -- we had a Blue X and a Green X and a Yellow X and a Red X – and when players would come through, we’d ask their opinions on different designs and feel.
And hands down, they favored the ‘Red X’ from a look, shaft, and weight distribution standpoint. So, it just became the ‘Red X,’ for ex-perimental.
GTMA: How would you say the ‘Red X’ is different from what you’ve done in the past?
Scotty: I’ve done a lot of classic things like the Newport, the Newport 2 and the Napas – and we’ve done testing with longer lines (in the back of the putter) for alignment. If your alignment’s off, you’re going to have to manipulate your stroke to get it back on line.
Something like the Futura is very easy to line up. The Red X is too. The Red X is kind of coming back to reality versus the Futura – people who love the Futura love it, and people who don’t, think it’s just too far out.
So, the Red X brings things back a bit. The lines in the back are very important for alignment, so you don’t have to manipulate or ‘fix’ bad alignment. We make putters with lines, with dots and with nothing – for me to say ‘you need a line’ is wrong.
GTMA: In that sense, it’s personal. I’ve had people ask me if the lines on the Red X bother me.
Scotty: All I’m saying is ‘What do you like?’ and in the studio, with lines and without lines, we put lasers down, and we shoot a laser out of the wall and put a mirror on the face – and we bank back the laser above the hole, and it bounces off a grid pattern on the wall.
Some guys can do vertical lines, some guys can do horizontal lines, some guys think it’s just too complicated – ‘I don’t want to think that much.’
So there’s no right and no wrong – what makes it go in the hole more, with less effort and less manipulation is what’s important.
GTMA: That’s the key, getting it in the hole.
Scotty: Exactly. And a lot of times, some guys are thinkers, some guys aren’t – so when you’re working with these guys, you kind of get a feel on how far you can go without the guy saying ‘Hey, this is too much stuff going on.’
So in each case, each player has his likes and dislikes and you just try to learn and not push too far.
In case it isn’t obvious from reading Scotty Cameron’s words, he’s more than just a scientific drone hovering over a workbench pounding on metal blocks with a hammer and chisel. Cameron can sink some putts himself, as he demonstrated in winning his club championship – he’s a member at The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe (home of the annual ‘Battle at the Bridges’), which boasts another pretty good putter amongst its membership, Masters Champion Phil Mickelson.
Cameron laughed when I asked him if he beat Phil in the club tournament – Mickelson wasn’t allowed to compete, for obvious reasons – but the putter maker’s association with some of the game’s great players, together with the fact he plays to a scratch handicap himself (he uses a belly putter), demonstrates that there’s a player’s understanding going into the work he does in the shop.
And it shows.
Now that Cameron’s new Studio is complete, he says he’s going to go out on the road to a lot more Tour events next year (twenty, as compared to eight this season), no doubt to the benefit of his many devoted Tour followers. And that means there’ll probably be a lot more golf balls hitting the bottom of the cup, too.
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Scotty Cameron makes a full range of putter products, and his website contains a plethora of information on his background, philosophies and even offers putter care tips. Consult the website for further information.
Our thanks to Scotty Cameron for adding his wisdom and enthusiasm to this review.
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