Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Putter for Desperate Times Is Now Hottest Thing on the Green

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Putter for Desperate Times Is Now Hottest Thing on the Green

Article excerpt

The potential for huge sales of the belly putter has those in the golf business jumping for joy.

Had Heath Martin not been lodging the butt-end of a Titleist Scotty Cameron putter against his paunchy midsection, he might have sounded as if he were reciting his jacket size.

"I'm a 39 short," he said. "When you're low to the ground and got a gut like mine, it's not going to be very long."

Martin, a club professional at Deerwood Club in Kingswood, Texas, was among the thousands of P.G.A. pros and golf shop merchandisers at the P.G.A. Merchandise Show here last week, who sought out what many consider will be the hottest product in golf equipment this year -- the belly putter.

Following the lead of a growing number of touring pros, many recreational golfers are clamoring for a putter with an extended handle that sticks into the stomach, sternum or, as some prefer, the chin. Golfers are making the switch because it promotes a more consistent setup and removes the wrists from the stroke while still allowing for a pendulum motion.

The potential for gangbuster sales has those in the golf business jumping for joy. Sales of putters have decreased for the last nine years, according to the research firm Golf Datatech. In 2003, putter sales in on- and off-course shops were about $200 million. In 2011, that figure had dropped to $141.3 million, down 4.1 percent from the previous year. But those in the golf-equipment industry say belly putter sales could invigorate the category.

"The belly putter is the great white hope," said Steve Boccieri, the maker of the Heavy Putter.

He noted that early last summer, he had struggled to sell his belly putter models to major retailers, who deemed the club "inventory poison" for its tendency to sit on shelves for months.

Then the belly putter boom began in earnest in August when Keegan Bradley won the P.G.A. Championship, becoming the first golfer to win a men's major while using a belly putter. Odyssey Golf, the maker of Bradley's 43-inch, or 109-centimeter, White Hot XG Sabertooth belly model, reported belly putter sales increased more than 400 percent last year. A combined nine tour victories with belly or long putters legitimized the clubs in the eyes of many. The veterans Ernie Els, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson also experimented with belly models in tournament play.

Suddenly, Boccieri found himself writing orders in October for 800 putters from the golf retailer Golfsmith and 1,000 from Golf Town, Canada's largest golf specialty store.

"That's more bellies than I had sold in a year," he said.

The consumer frenzy caught equipment makers and retailers flat- footed. Larry Hirsch of Villanova, Pennsylvania, an avid golfer fiddling with a Scotty Cameron belly model at the Titleist booth, said he had shopped at several stores before he located a belly putter, and had then bought the only model on the shelf. …

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