The family-run golf company on course for generations of success
Robert J. Bettinardi’s father may not have worked in golf, but it was his Dad, Don Bettinardi, who gave him the skills he would one day utilise to create world-class putters. For six years after he graduated engineering school, he worked under his father in his manufacturing business. “I learned a lot about metals - dealing with carbon steels, stainless steel, brass, aluminium,” he says. “I was getting really heavily involved in how to machine them.”
So when Robert was in a golf shop one day looking for a Christmas present, he found himself looking at the clubs through a different lens. The best ones, he was told, were milled steel. But they all involved several welded parts, which required heat that distorted the metal. He knew there had to be a better way. He’d never made a golf club, but he did know how to work metal.
He started phoning up some manufacturers and asking if he could try creating a new type of putter for them, one milled from a single piece of steel with no heat required. Eventually, someone took him on. “And because of my background of engineering and metal It really didn't take me too long to figure out how to do things,” he explains. “People were flabbergasted. It turned out to revolutionise the golf industry.”
That was in 1991. By inventing what he described as “one-piece technology”, Robert quickly became the go-to for all the top golf industry manufacturers. Soon even Tiger Woods was using his radical new putters. But despite manufacturing everything himself at his US factory, it was never his name on the club. In 1998, he decided to go it alone. Within a month, Swedish pro-golfer Jesper Parnevik had won a PGA Tour event with one of his clubs. “My first time I ever went to a tournament, which was just crazy, right?” he says with a smile. “It was really a huge blessing for me that this guy ended up winning. There's an old saying whatever wins on Sunday sells on Monday. And that's how Bettinardi got started.”
Since then, Bettinardi Golf has amassed 96 worldwide Tour wins and although its core product remains its high-end, one-piece milled putters, it has also expanded its product line to include wedges, accessories and even apparel. But arguably its most important milestone of growth was when Robert’s son Sam came on board in 2012. Having joined the company to lead the marketing and sales division, Sam is now President and plays a key role in putter design and player development. Eventually, Robert will hand over the reins to him completely.
That Bettinardi is a family company – a rarity among the major golf manufacturing firms – is part of its value and heritage. Robert prizes the independence that comes with that setup and has vowed never to sell the firm, despite multiple offers. “I think there's strength with that. If my dad or grandpa were still alive, they would be very happy with me,” he says. For Sam, the benefits are clear: “My dad and I don't have to answer to anybody, you know? We run the ship.” The hope is that eventually at least one of Sam’s two children, Matteo and Lucy, will enter the business too. “So there's a legacy that's already happening right now. That's very important,” says Robert. His son agrees: “Hopefully, it's a beautiful thing we can have for many, many years to come.”
For Sam, golf has always been a part of his life – and his future. He started playing at the age of three, and by nine he was discussing his father’s nascent business with him at the dinner table. “I can't say that I made any decisions up until maybe high school, but I was definitely aware of everything that was involved,” he says. From playing to going to Tour events to idolising the players, golf was his world right from the get-go: “I lived it, breathed it, loved it.” That meant that when it was time for Sam to officially join his father’s business after college in 2012, he brought a deep passion for the game with him. “It was more of a hobby for my father because he had two businesses, our machining company and Bettinardi Golf. So when I stepped in, I just knew there was so much opportunity to really take the brand to the next level.”
Sam brought with him a heavy focus on design, helping to evolve the product from being technically perfect to also being aesthetically desirable. Innovations over the last few years include unevenly weighted putters and new face millings. The result has been phenomenal growth – “double digits every year I’ve worked here” – particularly during the pandemic, when golf became one of the few sports that could still be played in a Covid-safe way. The last few years have also thrown up challenges, particularly in terms of sourcing materials and club components such as shafts and grips. “Our lead times are longer than where we'd like them to be,” says Sam. “But we're taking the necessary steps to get those down by buying more plants and machinery.”
Robert and Sam are coy about the plans for the future, leaving the suggestion that they may expand into other types of clubs and products hanging in the air. Whatever they do, however, they know they want to do it well. “I'm just not going to slap my name on something that's just average. I’ve got to make sure it's done the right way,” says Robert. It’s a sentiment echoed by Sam. “Quality is a big hallmark for our brand,” he says. “As long as we're making the best quality products in the world, I think it's endless where we can go.”