As milestones go, Bettinardi at 25 years old stands as quite an accomplishment.
In 1991, Bob Bettinardi was a manufacturing engineer and a passionate golfer. He saw a poster at a pro shop for a Callaway putter milled on an old, hand-operated Bridgeport milling machine. His engineer’s mind did what engineer’s minds do and he thought to himself, “I can do better than that.”
His first putter was called This Dog Will Hunt and hunt it did. Bettinardi was soon milling putters for the likes of Cleveland and Scotty Cameron. But by 1998, it was time to strike out on his own.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
And that history is a fascinating story with several flashpoints along the way that helped turn putters made by Bettinardi into Bettinardi-branded putters.
Back in 1998, if you wanted to get on the internet, you needed an AOL account and a telephone line. Gas was $1.06 a gallon, Titanic reigned supreme at the Oscars and we watched the last Seinfeld and the first Sex and the City.
And nine-year-old Sam Bettinardi got some new hats.
“At the time, my dad was making putters for other people,” Sam remembers. “And then he started the brand and came home with a bunch of different putters and some hats that said Bettinardi. I’d show them to all my friends.
“I’m not going to say it was an ugly hat. But it was a ‘Hey, we’re starting a brand and let’s get our name out there’ kind of a hat.Less than a year later, Bettinardi got its first taste of the big time, thanks to Jesper Parnevik’s win at the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Open.
“It was my dad’s first week out on Tour,” says Sam. “When Jesper won, people asked him what putter he used. He said, “A Bettinardi.” And they said, “What’s a Bettinardi?”
Bettinardi made putters for Hogan through 2005 before signing on with Mizuno through 2008.
The golf industry, however, was changing. The fresh-out-of-college Sam joined his dad’s company in 2013 and his old man promptly put him to work.
Sales, Marketing and e-commerce
Ten years ago, Bettinardi was well known for its high-quality milled-in-the-U.S.A. putters. It was also niche. The big names now were the big names then and they dominated. Sam’s first job was no small one: Get this company some attention.
“My first five years on the job were spent building distribution,” Sam says. “Big box retailers like Golf Galaxy and PGA TOUR SuperStore, WorldWide Golf, getting into Club Champion and others. That was important.”
“That was the strategy, Dad said, ‘Go focus on sales and on marketing.’ So that’s what I did.”
Perhaps Sam’s most controversial decision was to focus on e-commerce.
“A couple of Dad’s employees said at the time it would be a horrible idea to sell online,” admits Sam. “We were selling our high-end product to distributors to resell. But in the internet age, people didn’t want to go to another website to buy Bettinardi. They wanted to buy it from Bettinardi.”
And that led to another key turning point in Bettinardi’s 25-year history: the birth of The Hive in 2017.
If you were to chart the history of Bettinardi on a graph, 2017 would be an inflection point. That’s the year the company launched The Hive: a high-end online shop where Bettinardi could sell its high-end, limited-edition products directly to consumers.
“We had always made a lot of cool, one-off putters with different logos, icons and headcovers,” says Sam. “We had a small collector base at the time and they wanted more.”
Visit The Hive today and you’ll find an amazing array of unique limited-edition putters, divot tools, headcovers and apparel, all made by Bettinardi at its Tinley Park, Ill., facility. If you’re a bargain hunter, The Hive is no place to visit. But if you’re into bold and creative collectibles, you’ll feel the buzz.
“I mean, who hasn’t played Monopoly as a kid, right?” says Sam. “We love machining, we know machining, so we reached out to Hasbro. They loved the idea.”
The Monopoly line included 91 different products, everything from $65 towels to $2,300 putters.
And they all sold out in a heartbeat.
“We’ve done other collaborations over the years,” Sam adds. “The Blues Brothers, since it’s another Chicago brand. We did something with Miller Lite. Being nimble, we can turn on a dime to do these things.
“Hasbro has such a great portfolio of brands. And without giving too much away, you might be seeing more of that soon.”
Once the Hive was off the ground, Bob decided the time was right to restructure the company. That meant it was time for Sam to take on a bigger role.
“We restructured some things in the organization,” says Sam. “And my dad essentially says, “Do what you need to do. I’m here but go do it.”
Unless you’ve been intimately involved working in a family business started by a patriarch, you have no idea how much trust and faith it takes for that patriarch to turn the next generation loose. But from the day he started in 2013, Sam says the Old Man had a plan.
“He didn’t give me an office for a year-and-a-half. He had me sit in his office, which was really difficult, but it gave me some of the best business lessons I could have ever learned.”
Sam’s larger role coincided with a remarkable run by the Bettinardi’s PGA TOUR staff.
“We won 10 times in 2018 alone,” says Sam. “And (Francesco) Molinari put an exclamation point on it by winning the British Open and going 5-0 at the Ryder Cup.
“Things have just been snowballing from there.”
When Sam started in 2013, Bettinardi had about 15 employees and one building. Today, there are three buildings and 85 employees. The 1,200-square-foot Bettinardi Fitting Center( Studio B) overlooks the main factory floor in Tinley Park. It’s served the company well but Sam says it’s time to move forward with a full Bettinardi retail center due to open this summer.
The Custom Room will represent something completely different. You’ll be able to sit down with a custom putter designer and design your own bespoke putter right there.
“I don’t think anyone else is doing that in golf. We want customers to come in to touch and feel our company and learn what Bettinardi is all about.”
The Bettinardi factory will remain in Tinley Park as the existing facility but the new retail center will be in Oakbrook, some 25 miles west of Chicago.
Bettinardi at 25: Still All in the Family
Bob Bettinardi has been in the golf business since the day he saw that milled Callaway back in 1991. And he’s been in the machining business since 1982 when he went to work for his father. Sam still marvels that the Old Man gave him the keys to the store.
“To be able to do this with him is really, really cool. And now I have kids (son Matteo, daughter Lucy). If either of them chooses to work with me, that would be incredible.”
“Whether it’s topline thickness, a radius on a bumper, a new style, artwork, colorways … he’s so good at that stuff,” says Sam. “I have ideas. He has ideas and that’s the fun and challenging part of a family business: getting everyone to agree.”
“Seeing my mom and dad both working their butts off back in 1998 to create logos and branding. They did so much back then when I was a kid. And I took it all for granted because, hey, I was a kid and you don’t realize what goes into it.
“Growing up in that work ethic, grinding and working your butt off … my grandfather gave that to my dad and I hope I can give that to my son. Be the best you can.
“Why would you want anything less?”